Washington Scene: Members Tackle Physician Reimbursement, Lung Cancer Screening Issues with Lawmakers

STS News, Summer 2017 -- By all accounts, the June 12-13 STS Legislative Fly-In was a big win for the Society.

Eleven STS members representing all career stages, from medical student to seasoned surgeon, joined the Society’s new Public Director Chris Draft in meetings with lawmakers and legislative aides on Capitol Hill. They discussed a number of issues important to cardiothoracic surgeons, including physician reimbursement, ways to reduce the resident physician shortage, passage of legislation providing medical liability reform, funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and both lung cancer prevention and early detection.

Lung cancer is a topic about which Draft is especially passionate. The former NFL player lost his young wife to lung cancer in 2011; she was a non-smoker. He also lost an uncle to lung cancer. His uncle was an Army veteran who had spent years smoking cigarettes.

“In my meetings, I pushed for a bill that would prohibit smoking in VA facilities,” explained Draft. “When we talk about this bill, it’s not just about getting people to stop smoking. It’s about helping people. Veterans took care of us and, unfortunately, many are addicted to smoking. We’ve got to help them now. We can’t continue to enable them by allowing them to smoke on VA campuses.”

Fly-In participants also spoke out against proposed payment cuts for low-dose computed tomography scans for patients at high risk for lung cancer. The messages were delivered to veterans such as Sen. Gary Peters, Rep. Ruben Gallego, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, the ranking member on the VA Subcommittee on Health (Rep. Julia Brownley), and high-profile lawmakers such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Rep. John Lewis.

Chris Draft with Rep. John Lewis

Chris Draft with Rep. John Lewis

“You have to be excited when you meet Congressman Lewis,” said Draft. “He’s an American hero, and he’s my congressman from Atlanta, so it was even more special.”

Todd Rosengart, MD, from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, described his Fly-In experience as amazing: "Government regulation, oversight, and payment strategies—as we all know—are an increasingly unavoidable and heavily influential part of our professional lives. Meeting with legislators and their aides provided us with a real chance to influence these processes and the fate of our professional experience. It was enlightening and positive. All of our membership CAN and SHOULD partake!”

STS Legislator of the Year

The night before the Capitol Hill meetings, Fly-In participants gathered for a preparatory dinner and to meet with Rep. Ami Bera, an internal medicine physician, who was presented with the STS Legislator of the Year award for exceptional support of cardiothoracic surgeons and their patients.

“It’s an honor to be a doctor in Congress,” Rep. Bera said as he accepted the award. “Most of us went into the profession because we wanted to serve our communities and serve our patients. We live in a unique time; we all have an obligation to step up and serve and move our nation forward. Every physician and surgeon has a role, and, right now, the country needs our leadership."

Rep. Ami Bera with STS Fly-In participants

STS Legislator of the Year Ami Bera, MD (center) with Fly-In participants (from left) Drs. Eric Jeng, Jess Thompson, Todd Rosengart, Natalie Lui, Alan Speir, Malini Daniel, David Blitzer, Paula Guinnip, Fred Grover, Paul Linsky, Bryan Steinberg, and Raymond Strobel

Draft agreed: “We’ve got some tremendously intelligent people with us today that are making a difference in this world. To share what they’re seeing on the ground is important. But at the end of the day, this is bigger than me; it’s bigger than STS. We have to work as a team, take advantage of our strengths, and play to those strengths to make a difference.”

To see a video of the award presentation to Rep. Bera, visit the STS YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/user/ThoracicSurgeons. To see more photos from the Fly-In, visit the Society's Flickr album.