Advocacy Monthly: March 2020

Note: The STS Legislative Fly-In scheduled for June 15-16 in Washington, DC, has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

STS Responds to COVID-19 Pandemic
The Society is actively communicating with the federal government on a number of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been the leading voice in elevating the concerns of cardiothoracic surgeons to the Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Federal Emergency Management Agency. As one example, STS is working closely with the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization to ensure that extracorporeal membrane oxygenation coordination is part of the country’s emergency response.

In addition, the Society joined several organizations in urging the Administration to provide medical associations with regular, timely information on COVID-19 that can immediately be disseminated to society membership. STS also signed letters asking Congress to pass legislation that:

Recent action by the Administration and the stimulus package passed by Congress have addressed some of these concerns. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program; to address cash flow issues, surgeons may request advanced Medicare payments based on historical payments. In addition, the CARES Act legislation provides $562 million in Economic Injury Disaster Loans for small businesses, including those run by physicians.

STS will continue fighting to ensure that cardiothoracic surgeons on the front lines have the resources needed to treat patients during this global crisis. Members can stay informed about COVID-19 and the Society’s response through an online community that allows the sharing of news, best practices, and guidance, a resources page with links to relevant information from a variety of organizations and entities, and a video message from STS President Joseph A. Dearani, MD. Another video will be published early this week.

STS President Joseph A. Dearani, MD, updated members on the COVID-19 pandemic.

CMS Delays MIPS Data Submission Deadline
In light of the fight against COVID-19, CMS has granted exceptions from reporting requirements and an extension for hospitals and providers participating in Medicare quality reporting programs. The deadline to submit 2019 data for the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System has been extended from March 31 to April 30, 2020. CMS also is evaluating options to provide relief for 2020 data submissions.

FDA Requires New Health Warnings for Tobacco Products, Ads
The FDA recently finalized a rule requiring prominent, graphic health warnings on cigarette packaging and advertisements beginning in June 2021. The warnings consist of statements and realistic images depicting the negative health consequences of smoking. The Society’s policy paper on tobacco and nicotine encourages these types of graphic warning labels.

The above warning is one of 11 developed by the FDA.

Specialty Societies Comment on NCDs for Artificial Hearts, VADs
STS, the American College of Cardiology, the Heart Failure Society of America, and the American Association for Thoracic Surgery submitted comment letters to CMS as it reconsiders two National Coverage Determinations. The first letter disagreed with a proposal that would remove the requirement that data on artificial hearts and related devices be collected within a national registry. The second letter applauded efforts eliminating the unnecessary distinction between bridge‐to‐transplantation and destination therapy for coverage of durable ventricular assist device implantation.

STS Supports CMMI Safeguards
The Society has endorsed H.R. 5741, the Strengthening Innovation in Medicare and Medicaid Act. This bipartisan legislation would enact patient and provider safeguards for testing new health care delivery and payment models from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. It would limit the length of these tests to no more than 5 years, restrict the scope of the models to only the number of participants necessary for a statistically valid sample, and establish continuous, real-time monitoring of the effects of new models to immediately address any adverse impacts.

Society Backs Funding Requests for CDC, NIH, AHRQ
STS has signed letters requesting that fiscal year 2021 funding include: