Q&A with Sen. Bill Cassidy

STS News, Fall 2019 – This summer, the Society presented its Legislator of the Year Award to Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA). Sen. Cassidy, a gastroenterologist who has served in the Senate since 2014, has championed STS advocacy priorities such as helping the STS National Database gain access to Medicare claims data and repealing the Sustainable Growth Rate. He also is working to protect patients from surprise medical bills by creating a fair process for settling discrepancies between providers and insurers.

Read about Sen. Cassidy’s thoughts on how cardiothoracic surgeons can help legislators resolve health care issues, how being a physician has prepared him for public service, and how advocacy can help overcome inertia to change.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA, center), was presented with the STS Legislator of the Year Award.

What are the most important issues in health care today? 

The main issue, in a broad sense, is lowering the cost of health care. By ending surprise medical billing, lowering the price of drugs, and creating price transparency in our health care system, we can achieve better outcomes for patients. I want to give the patient the power when it comes to their health care needs. Patients should know the actual price of a procedure before they agree to pay for it. If they are able to shop around for the quality and affordability that matches their individual needs, prices will come down and the system will better serve them.

What can cardiothoracic surgeons do to help resolve these issues?

The best ideas come from a source of experience. As doctors, we know where the system works and where it doesn’t. Engage with policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels of government with solutions to issues you see. It is also important for these surgeons to develop a persuasive argument and educate lawmakers and staff on why these issues are important. Another way they can help is by unifying with allied stakeholders on a common ground in order to amplify the message.

How do you think Congress can best address the concerns that have been raised by the physician community?

Congress must work with all groups affected by a potential policy change, address the various concerns involved, and create a consensus policy solution that fixes the problem and minimizes unintended consequences.

Explain why you introduced legislation to protect patients from surprise medical bills, and what do you see happening in this area in the next year?

My wife and I are both physicians, but even we have been hit with surprise medical bills. Patients already have a difficult time navigating our complex, opaque health care system no matter how prepared. Someone who has done their research on provider networks and made every effort to avoid a surprise bill can still get stuck with a surprise bill. That’s wrong. We want the patient safeguarded and completely removed from billing disputes that arise between providers and insurers. The same goes with an emergency situation. I believe we are very close to striking a compromise that will protect the patient, while providing physicians a safety valve to dispute an insurer procedure payment.

How has your career as a physician prepared you to become an elected official?

As an elected official, you need to do the same things you would as a physician: know the case, study the issue, identify the problem, develop a strategy to solve that problem, and execute.

What role does advocacy play in the policymaking process, especially in health care?

Educating lawmakers and the public is vital for any successful policymaking effort. People are adverse to change, even when it’s from worse to better. Advocates are critical to overcoming the inertia that sets in and making positive change happen.

How would you advise cardiothoracic surgeons on advancing important issues such as Medicare payment reform and health care price transparency?

Meet with your federal legislators to educate them on what you do, what services you provide in the community, and why payment reforms in DC have a real impact in their states and districts. MACRA is not the flashiest issue and can be very complicated, but its impacts are great. The more surgeons who can explain its importance and possible solutions, the better.

What does the STS Legislator of the Year Award mean to you? 

As a doctor and senator, improving health outcomes and strengthening patient-physician relationships is a top priority. It is an honor to receive this award from an organization which has shaped how quality measures are approached. I look forward to future collaborations to benefit patients, our profession, and our country.