Physicians take to the Hill as protectors of patients

The delivery of healthcare is complicated, the business of healthcare even more so, and patients are directly affected by both. One way for physicians to play an active role in their patients' healthcare outside of the office or hospital is to participate in lobby days on Capitol Hill.

Meeting face to face with lawmakers provides a unique opportunity for providers to explain the current challenges of care delivery and discuss areas for improvement while reviewing recent medical advances that improve patient outcomes. Recently, nearly 400 members of the American College of Cardiology participated in their annual Legislative Conference in Washington, those members representing all roles within the cardiac care team including physicians, cardiac care associates, fellows-in-training and practice administrators.

A singular item that continuously threatens Medicare patients' access to care is the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, a concept that is universally regarded as flawed.  Rather than repeal it, Congress has voted 15 times to enact short-term patches to prevent the current 27 percent reduction in reimbursement from taking effect.

This uncertainty regarding Medicare policy makes it impossible for physician practices to plan sustainable care delivery models and it erodes the confidence of beneficiaries in the stability of the Medicare program. With improving economic conditions, Congress has an excellent opportunity to repeal the SGR as the cost projected for full repeal has decreased from $245 billion to $138 billion. ACC members stressed this point during Capitol Hill visits this year as they met with over 350 Congressional offices from both the House and the Senate.

Despite numerous obstacles impeding the delivery of cardiac services, cardiovascular patients have enjoyed a 20 to 30 percent reduction in morbidity and mortality over the past two decades, in part due to ACC's commitment to improving patient care through research, education and quality improvement paradigms. The development and application of clinical data registries, appropriate use criteria and comprehensive guidelines have resulted in significant improvements in the quality of care for all heart disease patients.

The important message that we must continue to deliver to Congress and the nation is simple: Access to high-quality, timely and appropriate care is mandatory for all cardiovascular patients. The ACC is committed to working with all Congressional leaders as we strive to rise above partisan rhetoric and reach for those goals. Participating in events like the ACC’s legislative conference gives physicians a chance to interact with lawmakers and lets them know we are paying attention and looking out for our patients in the medical setting and the policy arena.

Our patients are counting on us.

Dr. May is chairman of the American College of Cardiology’s Board of Governors.