Radiation oncologists urge Congress to protect patient access to cancer care

ARLINGTON, Va., June 25, 2018

Radiation oncologists from across the United States will visit Capitol Hill tomorrow to urge Congress to support policies that safeguard cancer patients’ access to high-quality, high-value health care. The doctors will meet with Congressional leaders during the 15th annual American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Advocacy Day.

Radiation oncologists—doctors who treat cancer patients with radiation therapies—will emphasize several legislative priorities in meetings with policymakers:

  1. preserve patient access to quality cancer care by allowing radiation oncologists to participate in an advanced alternative payment model (APM) and stabilizing Medicare payments;
  2. support cancer research with continuous and stable funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI);
  3. avoid disruptions in health insurance coverage for cancer patients; and
  4. protect medical access to radioactive material.

"More than one million cancer patients are treated with radiation therapies each year, either to cure their cancer or relieve pain and other difficult symptoms. Radiation oncology provides immense value to the health care system," said Brian Kavanagh, MD, MPH, FASTRO, Chair of the ASTRO Board of Directors. "Radiation oncologists are visiting Capitol Hill to remind Congress of the multidisciplinary nature of cancer care and call for the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the nationwide transition to value-based health care."

Alternative Payment Models (view infographic)

Most American cancer patients are Medicare beneficiaries, and a stable and fair system of compensation for Medicare providers is critical to ensure access to lifesaving cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy. In 2015, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) reformed the health care system by accelerating the shift from volume to value in patient care. ASTRO has proposed an alternative payment model for radiation oncology (RO-APM) that incentivizes adherence to nationally-recognized clinical guidelines for five of the most common cancers treated with radiation therapy (breast, prostate, lung, colorectal and head and neck). The RO-APM would allow radiation oncologists to participate fully in the transition to quality initiatives that improve cancer outcomes and reduce costs.

ASTRO continues working with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to develop and launch the RO-APM. Radiation oncologists will thank legislators for their support for a RO-APM, while also urging them to work with the Administration to move forward expeditiously with the launch of a value-based RO-APM that aligns closely with proposals from ASTRO and the radiation oncology community.

Stable Medicare reimbursement (view infographic)

From 2009 to 2014, radiation oncology Medicare reimbursement rates sustained significant cuts, particularly to community-based clinics. ASTRO strongly supports recent bipartisan legislation that froze reimbursement rates at 2016 levels through the end of 2019. This stability has temporarily created a more secure environment to allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to work with stakeholders on the development of a successful RO-APM.

"With the support of key Congressional leaders, we currently have much-needed stability in radiation oncology payments. Congress must prevent any additional payment cuts to radiation therapy centers to avoid jeopardizing access to critical, life-saving services and compromising our progress toward value-based care," said Dr. Kavanagh.

Cancer research funding (view infographic)

Federal investment in cancer research has played a role in every major innovation in the fight against cancer, including significant advances in radiation oncology, and has led to a decline in cancer deaths in the United States. Stable federal funding for cancer research is essential to continue this progress and sustain the efforts to cure cancer. Investing in cancer research also equates to investing in economic prosperity; according to the Milken Institute, every dollar in grants from the NIH generates $2.21 in U.S. economic growth.

The President’s budget proposes cutting $2.3 billion from the $37 billion NIH budget for fiscal year 2019, which could lead to a $300 million cut for NCI. ASTRO members are asking Congress to reject any proposed cuts and instead support an increase of $2.2 billion for NIH, with a $410 million increase for NCI.

Coverage for cancer patients (view infographic)

Studies have shown that a lack of adequate health insurance coverage leads to delayed diagnosis and treatment, resulting in higher mortality rates. Inadequate coverage also leads to higher costs that are felt throughout the economy. ASTRO strongly supports bipartisan solutions that protect cancer patients from losing or not being approved for coverage following a cancer diagnosis, as well as efforts to rein in restrictive practices from prior authorization groups that abrogate physician and patient judgment.

Access to radioactive source material (view infographic)

Finally, ASTRO members also are advocating to preserve access to radioactive source-based technology in health care. Limiting health providers’ access to radioactive isotopes would subsequently limit cancer patients’ access to lifesaving radiation therapy treatments. ASTRO continues to support policies that enhance the safe and effective use of these materials.

ABOUT ASTRO
The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) is the world’s largest radiation oncology society, with more than 10,000 members who are physicians, nurses, biologists, physicists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and other health care professionals who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. The Society is dedicated to improving patient care through professional education and training, support for clinical practice and health policy standards, advancement of science and research, and advocacy. To learn more about ASTRO, visit astro.org or RTanswers.org, sign up to receive our news and follow us on our blog, Facebook and Twitter.