Raising the voice of IR
Meridith J. Englander, MD, FSIR Summer 2020
It has been a busy spring for members of the SIR government affairs team (GA). As interventional radiologists everywhere were preparing for and then facing the challenges posed by COVID-19, GA was taking steps to advocate for IR with Congress and several federal agencies. We have collaborated with the American Medical Association (AMA) and other specialty societies in asking for relief for physicians and other health care workers dealing with the realities of the pandemic. In addition to calls for greater access to PPE and liability protections for those working on the front lines, we have also sought relief for practices negatively impacted through expanded telehealth payments and workforce financial assistance. The SIR website has been updated regularly with links to government resources as well as other practical information available from the AMA and other organizations.
If interested in joining SIR's new grassroots advocacy program, visit sirweb.org/voices
Even with all the focus on COVID-19, the routine work of GA did not stop. Looming changes to evaluation and management (E&M) codes threaten to have a significant negative impact on IR practices. These cuts, which are supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, were included in the CY 2020 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) Final Rule issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The E&M coding changes in the MPFS had to meet the budget neutrality rule enacted by Congress in 1983, which requires that program spending must be offset by savings. SIR has been working with the American College of Radiology (ACR), as well as many other specialty societies, to advocate for a waiver of the budget neutrality requirement. Given that physician practices have been so hard hit by the pandemic, there could not be worse timing for a rate decrease. To be sure that the voice of IR was heard, we recently organized a congressional call to action. SIR members responded to a request to reach out to their representatives in both Houses of Congress. Over 500 members answered our call. SIR recently partnered with VoterVoice, an online advocacy tool, that was used to generate over 1,600 letters to 305 congressional offices. Although it will likely be several months before we know if this advocacy has been effective, we are optimistic that these cuts will be mitigated.
This summer, SIR will launch its new grassroots advocacy program called Voices for IR. We hope this program will tap into the enthusiasm we saw with the recent E&M call to action. Designed to be driven by members, Voices for IR will create a network of IRs who will serve as champions for our specialty. Volunteers will participate in a series of webinars at the start of the program that will introduce them to the process and provide training on the issues so they can be effective advocates. All volunteers will be asked to communicate with their elected officials, sharing SIR’s position on legislative and regulatory issues. Some volunteers will have additional responsibilities and will be asked to cultivate relationships with their elected officials. They will meet with their representatives at home and in Washington. In addition, these volunteers will also serve as team leaders in their geographic regions, training new volunteers and organizing all volunteers in their region. It is essential that we have IRs from around the country who are excited to participate in Voices for IR. The more volunteers that we have, the stronger our voice will be. If you are interested in joining, you can sign up at sirweb.org/voices.
Advocating for IR has always been important. Given the realities of the current pandemic and economic crisis facing medicine, it is critical that we are able to communicate our value to decision makers in Congress and regulatory agencies. GA works with colleagues in economics to protect the interests of all IRs. Although we sometimes work with other societies and value these collaborative efforts, no other organization is solely committed to serving IR. Members of the Government Affairs Committee set the priorities and agenda for staff efforts.
Although the focus in Washington has been appropriately targeted on COVID-19, other issues will start to gain traction soon. The upcoming elections will hopefully offer opportunities for SIR volunteers to interact with candidates and highlight the work that we do. While we do not know when in-person meetings will return, we do know that the work of GA does not stop. We will be working through the summer, always advocating for IR.