ASTRO COVID-19 Impact Survey: Fewer patient visits despite enhanced COVID-19 safety measures for radiation oncology clinics
ASTRO's new COVID-19 Impact Survey finds that, despite facing challenges such as PPE shortages, radiation oncology clinics quickly implemented safety enhancements that allowed them to continue caring for patients. All 222 physician leaders in the survey said their practices continued to provide services, yet 85% also reported lower patient volume by an average of one-third. Protective measures included masks for staff and patients, screening, social distancing and prohibiting visitors, among others. Telehealth also emerged as an important aspect of continuing care, with 89% saying their clinics now offer telemedicine. Despite these changes, patient volume declined at most clinics due to delays/deferrals and fewer referrals. All respondents estimated their clinics would lose revenue, and most had staff reductions, due mainly to less patient volume. Very few practices had reductions due to COVID-19 illness among staff. This is the initial report of a longitudinal survey, and results are available in the Executive Summary. For more on ASTRO's response to COVID-19, including advocacy efforts on behalf of practices, visit astro.org/covid19.
ASTRO issues summary of 2021 IPPS proposed rule
On Monday, May 11, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued the 2021 Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) proposed rule. The proposed rule contains several issues of interest to the field of radiation oncology, including a proposed policy for the collection of private payer MS-DRG relative weights to inform payment methodology changes; New Technology Add-On Payments (NTAP); clarifications of the alternative pathway for the FDA’s Breakthrough Devices Program and more. For further details, read ASTRO's summary of the rule and its impact on radiation oncology.
APEx, ASTRO’s practice accreditation program, offers a new payment option
ASTRO is offering a new partial payment option for practices applying to the APEx - Accreditation Program for Excellence®. This payment option reduces the upfront cost — with half of the accreditation fee due at the end of the application phase and the remaining balance due before the facility visit date is finalized — and is available to practices that submit an application from now through the end of this year. Initial accreditation and reaccreditation applicants can take advantage of this payment option by contacting ASTRO staff for details, as well as for other general APEx inquiries.
ASTRO requests public comment on proper care pathway
ASTRO and the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) request public comment on a joint recommendation on the proper care pathway for patients receiving molecular targeted radiopharmaceutical therapy (MTRT). The recommendation comes from the Theranostics Work Group, composed of members from ASTRO and SNMMI. This guidance and the format of this document draw from aspects of the Patient-Centered Oncology Practice Standards of the National Committee of Quality Assurance (NCQA) and the National Academy of Medicine (formerly known as the Institute of Medicine) workshop on patient-centered cancer treatment planning. Public comment is open through Wednesday, July 1.
Representatives urge pause to prior authorization requirements
Members of the House Committee on Small Business, Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Sharice L. Davids (D-Kan.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), and Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), have sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma urging CMS to waive certain prior authorization requirements for the duration of the current national emergency. The representatives reference how the current CMS recommendations to postpone elective surgeries have left providers only administering critical treatments. They argue that the patients needing critical care should not be burdened with delays caused by prior authorization requirements and that providers should be devoting their time to their patients not to red tape. Read more about the letter in What’s Happening in Washington.
ASTRO supports push for more health care worker mental health resources
ASTRO has joined 53 organizations in supporting congressional efforts to provide mental health resources for health care workers. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) led colleagues in a bipartisan letter signed by 90 members of Congress calling for the consideration of funding of mental health resources for health care workers. To recognize and address increases in distress and anxiety, they suggest the establishment of a grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to confidentially assess and treat the mental health of those workers and funding a comprehensive study within HHS focused on finding ways to mitigate long-term mental health impacts. For more information, see What’s Happening in Washington.
House passes new COVID-19 relief package; Senate fate uncertain
On May 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed (208-199) the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act; H.R. 6800) to provide more financial relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While not expected to be passed by the Senate, the bill includes some key provisions advocated for by ASTRO to be considered in future negotiations. Some notable provisions include an additional $100 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, subsidies to ensure health insurance coverage for those who have lost their job, additional Paycheck Protection Program funding and eligibility expansion to include 501(c)(6) organizations, such as ASTRO. For more information on the bill, check out What’s Happening in Washington. To tell Congress to include radiation oncology policy priorities in the next wave of COVID-19 relief legislation, visit www.astro.org/advocate.
Application deadline closing soon for the ASTRO Leadership Pipeline Program
The deadline to submit applications for ASTRO’s Leadership Pipeline Program is Friday, May 29. This two-year program is designed to get ASTRO members involved in leadership activities, with the goal of increasing diversity in future ASTRO leadership. The program is not exclusive to underrepresented minorities or women, as anyone with an interest in health equity, diversity and inclusion is encouraged to apply. Visit the ASTRO website for the list of qualifications and an overview of the program.