AGA President David Lieberman, MD, AGAF, was on Capitol Hill advocating for legislation to ensure that digestive disease patients have timely access to lifesaving treatments and touted the importance of increasing access to colorectal cancer screenings. Specifically, Dr. Lieberman sought support for H.R. 1570/S. 668, the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act, legislation that would fix the current Medicare screening colonoscopy coinsurance problem. Currently, when a Medicare beneficiary has a screening colonoscopy that turns therapeutic, the procedure is no longer considered a screening and the patient is on the hook for the “surprise” bill. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would fix this problem for beneficiaries.
Dr. Lieberman also participated in a congressional briefing sponsored by AGA, ACG and ASGE on the importance of colorectal cancer (CRC) screening and spoke of the geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic barriers to colorectal cancer screening and how it impacts the rates of screening. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-MA, chair of the House Rules Committee, also spoke about the importance of CRC screenings and the number of lives that can be saved with screening. He also stressed that we have made strides in screening because of the research that is funded through the NIH which Congress needs to continue to support.
Protection for patients who are subject to step therapy protocols was another area that Dr. Lieberman emphasized during his meetings with congressional staff. Step therapy is a utilization management tool where insurers force patients to fail one or more therapies before they will cover the initial therapy recommended by their physician. This policy is more and more common especially for patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who rely on biologics for treatment. Dr. Lieberman stressed that forcing a patient to fail a medication that they know will be ineffective is in violation of the Hippocratic oath. Restoring the Patient’s Voice Act, legislation soon to be reintroduced by Reps. Raul Ruiz, D-CA, and Brad Wenstrup, R-OH, would provide an expeditated appeals process and provide some common sense exceptions for patients when subjected to step therapy.
Dr. Lieberman stressed the importance of funding the NIH and requested Congress increase their budget by $2 billion in fiscal year 2020. Dr. Lieberman described the NIH as our country’s crown jewel since it invests in biomedical research that will ultimately find cures for countless conditions, increase our country’s economic competitiveness and spur industries and invests in our country’s best and brightest scientists. We hopeful that Congress will reject the Trump Administration’s recommendation of a 12 percent cut for NIH and instead continue to provide the necessary increases the agency needs to remain competitive.