Advocacy Monthly: January/February 2020

Coronavirus Outbreak May Impact Access to Drugs, Medical Devices
STS is closely monitoring the drug and medical device supply chain in light of the coronavirus epidemic. Chinese imports such as heparin, which already was affected by the Chinese swine fever outbreak, may be negatively impacted. In addition, some STS members have reported concerns with accessing certain medical devices and durable medical equipment as a result of the epidemic. If you are having difficulty obtaining adequate supplies of any drugs or medical devices, please inform the STS Government Relations team and report the shortage or supply issue to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). More information is available on the FDA’s MedWatch Voluntary Reporting page.

STS Finalizes Tobacco Policy Paper, Endorses Legislation
The Society’s Board of Directors recently approved a policy paper on tobacco and nicotine for inclusion in the STS Health Policy Compendium. The policy paper serves as a guide for STS advocacy efforts to combat tobacco use, including the legislative and regulatory solutions the Society is pursuing. STS also is taking steps to divest from mutual funds that include companies tied to the tobacco industry.

Additionally, the Society joined a letter authored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids urging the House of Representatives to pass H.R. 2339—Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019. This legislation would prohibit the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes (including menthol), ban online sales of most tobacco products, and ensure that the FDA promptly implements graphic health warnings on cigarette packaging and advertising materials. The Society also supported H.R. 4742, which would impose a tax on nicotine used in e-cigarettes.

Panel Discussion Highlights Vaping as New Gateway to Smoking
As bills related to solving the vaping crisis wind their way through Congress, cardiothoracic surgeons must stay on top of the changing landscape of tobacco use. In a panel discussion, Shanda H. Blackmon, MD, MPH, J. Robert Headrick, MD, MBA, Matthew A. Steliga, MD, and Keith S. Naunheim, MD, described the “terrifying” statistics about vaping, why patients are often afraid to seek help, the use of graphic warnings, and why making smoking/vaping cessation resources more accessible to patients may become imperative. You can view the discussion as a video on the Society’s YouTube channel or listen to the episode on the STS Surgical Hot Topics podcast.

Society Takes Action to Protect Peer-Reviewed Science
STS, along with a number of cardiovascular specialty societies, sent a letter to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding a proposed Executive Order that would require all federally funded research to be made publicly available immediately—rather than after 1 year, which is the current standard. This would include all related manuscripts submitted, peer reviewed, and accepted for publication by journals such as The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. The letter notes that the 1-year mandate allows professional societies and publishers to recoup the costs involved with supporting rigorous peer review systems; moving to an open-access model may shift these costs onto researchers.

STS Criticizes Changes to Quality Measures Program
The Society joined more than three dozen physician organizations in sending a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expressing concerns with how the agency values quality measures from Qualified Clinical Data Registries (QCDRs), including the STS National Database. CMS removed measures that the agency deemed to be “topped out” and imposed new measure testing and reporting requirements on QCDR measures. This means that measures from the Database that have been proven to improve patient care and outcomes may no longer be used by Medicare payment programs. The letter offers alternative strategies that would promote meaningful quality reporting in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System.

Seth Wolf (left) with Chair of the STS-PAC Board of Advisors Keith S. Naunheim, MD

Key Contact Connect: STS Recognizes Key Contact of the Year
At the Society’s recent Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Seth Wolf, a medical student at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine in Burlington, was presented with the STS Key Contact of the Year Award in recognition of his extraordinary efforts advocating for the specialty. In the past year, Seth arranged and led local meetings in Vermont with the offices of Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch. He also participated in the 2019 STS Legislative Fly-In, where he gained valuable insight into what is required for advocacy on a national scale.

"As medical students, we represent the future workforce of physicians, which comes with the responsibility of fighting for the rights of tomorrow’s patients. It is with privilege and enthusiasm that I choose to carry this torch."

Seth Wolf