Washington Scene: STS Continues Fight against Tobacco after Historic Victory

STS News, Summer 2021 — The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars within the next year. The historic move, when implemented, will help to protect children from tobacco addiction, advance health equity, and prevent tobacco-related illnesses.

The Society has long been committed to protecting patients against the harmful effects of tobacco, and mitigating e-cigarette and tobacco use, especially among kids and young adults, remains a priority.

The menthol ban is due largely to the collective efforts of many organizations, including STS, and critical grassroots advocacy participation from physicians from across the country.

Despite this major victory, STS continues its aggressive fight against tobacco.

The Society is among the organizations pushing for a $72.5 million increase in funding (for a total of $310 million) for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health (OSH). This increase would allow OSH to strengthen efforts that address the e-cigarette and tobacco use epidemics and expand programs to assist regions disproportionately harmed by it.

In addition, STS and more than 50 medical organizations are supporting the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act. This legislation, led by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), would ensure that all Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program enrollees have access to a full array of evidence-based tobacco cessation treatments for the duration of the COVID-19 public health crisis and the subsequent 2 years.

Equally important, STS members are amplifying the Society’s anti-tobacco initiatives. They have sent numerous messages to their legislators and are active on social media in promoting STS advocacy efforts in the fight against tobacco.

Details of the Society’s anti-tobacco position are available in the policy paper on tobacco and nicotine, which is included in the STS Health Policy Compendium. STS also has divested from investments that include companies tied to the tobacco industry.

STS members who are interested in joining the fight and becoming an advocate for patient health can join the Key Contact Program. For more information, visit sts.org/keycontact.

Sen. John Boozman Recognized for Commitment to Health Care Policies

In May 2021, STS presented its Legislator of the Year award to Senator John Boozman (R-AR) during a virtual ceremony for his outstanding legislative contributions that impact cardiothoracic surgeons and their patients.

An optometrist by training, Sen. Boozman is committed to sharing his experience with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and finding “commonsense” solutions to challenges in the health care system. He consistently has been a champion of reforms that lower costs, improve quality, and increase affordable access to patient care. Most recently, Sen. Boozman led bipartisan efforts to halt damaging Medicare reimbursement cuts for cardiothoracic surgery.


Q&A with Sen. Boozman

What are the most important health care issues our country faces in the current COVID-19 environment?

As a result of COVID-19, medical providers are implementing telehealth alternatives to provide quality care that is convenient, safe, and efficient for patients. This practice has become more common and will continue to play a central role in the future of health care delivery. We must ensure providers have the tools and resources, particularly in rural areas where broadband deployment is underdeveloped, to expand this access to health care.

We’ve always known the importance of physicians and health professionals, but to see how the medical community was overwhelmed as a result of COVID-19 demonstrates the importance of ensuring we have the personnel in the pipeline so we can be prepared for future health challenges. One thing we can do to strengthen this foundation is develop a plan to address the growing shortage of primary and specialty care physicians. That’s why I’ve helped introduce legislation to increase Medicare-supported residency positions. This will enable us to better provide quality health care throughout the country.

In the last few months, Congress has prevented implementation of the proposed cuts to physician payments by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. We need an environment that encourages physicians to continue practicing, so we must avoid these cuts, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care providers shouldn’t have to worry about their bottom line when they are on the front lines treating patients with COVID-19 and administering life-saving vaccines.

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

Congress best solves problems when folks outside of Washington offer solutions. The answers must come from the ground up instead of bureaucrats looking at spreadsheets. During this difficult time, it’s even more important that we have bipartisan cooperation to prevent undercutting physicians
with lower reimbursement rates or unfunded reporting requirement mandates that add extra burdens to providers when they’re already short-staffed. These actions ultimately affect patient care.

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

COVID-19 has and will continue to impact the health care landscape in some capacity, so it’s important that providers continue to engage with policymakers about the challenges they face. The voices of physicians will be necessary to helping us recover, improve health care, and prepare us for
future pandemics.

How would you advise cardiothoracic surgeons on advancing important issues such as Medicare reimbursement and the accessibility and affordability of health care?

Real life stories that show how policies affect patients and patient care are the most compelling. As an optometrist by training, I understand how well  respected physicians are in the community. It’s important to be vocal because citizens look to you for leadership and public servants need to understand how their decisions or lack of action on an issue impact your ability to provide the care and treatment we rely on.

Expanded Coverage for Lung Cancer Screening

At press time, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) was considering public comments after reopening its National Coverage Determination for low-dose computed tomography lung cancer screening. The health care community had been urging CMS to update lung cancer screening payment parameters to match new guidance from the US Preventive Services Task Force. A decision from CMS is expected by November, and the process should be completed by February 2022.