J.T. Rutherford Fellow Urges ACR Members to Contact Congress

I am a third year radiology resident at Cleveland Clinic participating in the J.T. Rutherford Fellowship.  The Rutherford Fellowship is named in honor of the ACR’s first lobbyist. This fellowship provides radiology residents with direct personal exposure to ACR government relations activities to facilitate an in depth knowledge of state and federal legislative and regulatory processes.

In Washington D.C., I experienced the positive effects of becoming and staying politically active.  At Capitol Hill visits, our primary focus was urging members of Congress and their staff to enact H.R. 4015/S. 2000, the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act.  This important bill seeks to repeal the antiquated SGR formula, which subjects all physicians to severe annual cuts in reimbursement.  Absent Congressional action before March 31, my colleagues and I will face a 24 percent reduction in Medicare payment!

H.R. 4015/S. 2000 also includes important provisions mandating ordering physicians consult appropriateness criteria developed by national medical specialty societies prior to referring Medicare patients for advanced diagnostic imaging services.  I believe that enactment of this policy will lead to better patient care and lower health care costs.

The Rutherford Fellowship has significantly enhanced my understanding of the governmental factors that impact the future of radiology. I have already taken a few minutes out of my busy schedule to contact Congress about the importance of passing H.R. 4015/S. 2000.  I urge all ACR members to follow my lead and TAKE ACTION TODAY!

Author – 2014 J.T. Rutherford Fellow, Esther Udoji, M.D.

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Dr. Udoji with Rep. David Joyce (R-OH)

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SGR and the Debt Ceiling Legislation

Last week, the House and Senate voted to raise the debt ceiling until March 2015 avoiding another round of political brinksmanship and taking a big political issue off the table as Congress faces mid-term elections later this year.

What many may not realize is that the debt ceiling agreement came very close to derailing passage of legislation to repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate. Originally, the House of Representatives’ debt ceiling bill included a nine-month SGR patch extending the current SGR program and formula until the end of the year. Had this version of the debt ceiling agreement passed, the chances of enacting comprehensive SGR reform legislation in 2014 would have been doomed. Understanding that significant imaging provisions supported by the American College of Radiology (ACR) would be at risk if a nine-month patch were attached, the ACR and numerous other stakeholders, vigorously protested the inclusion of the patch. Thankfully, congressional leadership quickly capitulated, allowing efforts to pass SGR reform by March 31 to continue.

This behind-the-scenes glimpse offers us another example of why it is so important that radiologists maintain a strong presence on Capitol Hill and why it is equally important for radiologists to support these efforts.

Author – Howard B. Fleishon, M.D., MMM, FACR

Changing of the Guard

Max Sieben Baucus is the senior U.S. Senator from Montana. Serving in the U.S. Senate since December 15, 1978, he is Montana’s longest-serving U.S. senator, and the third longest serving of current U.S. senators.

Senator Baucus announced that he would not seek re-election for another term, which is up this year. However, his departure from the Senate was accelerated as he was recently confirmed as the next U.S. Ambassador to China. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon will be the new Senate Finance Committee chair.

This transition has several implications for radiology. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Baucus has been pivotal in crafting the compromise Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) language that is being considered and his resignation may impact the momentum of the SGR legislation, which contains several long-sought ACR-supported provisions. In addition, through the tireless efforts of our government relations team, Sen. Baucus and his aides have come to understand radiology and the issues surrounding diagnostic imaging, and educating new staff can always be a challenge.  Thankfully, we have also established relationships with a number of Wyden’s staff so we are hopeful there will be little disruption. The ACR government relations team will closely monitor this changing of the guard and modify tactics as needed to represent our collective interests.

Author – Howard B. Fleishon, M.D., MMM, FACR