2014-09-18 15:06:50 UTC

Gastroenterologists Present United Front on Capitol Hill

Bethesda, MD (Sept. 18, 2014) — Physician members of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) will travel to Capitol Hill tomorrow to send a clear message to Congress that impending changes in health care will jeopardize both the science and practice of gastroenterology. The inability of Congress to address key issues of concern to our members will directly affect our ability to care for Americans with digestive disorders. Gastroenterologists understand that barriers to lifesaving patient care are increasing, medical innovation is being challenged by regulatory hurdles, and funding for both medical research and training of the next generation of physicians is disappearing.
The message that we will take to Capitol Hill is that physicians and Congress must work together to change this dynamic.
“Millions of Americans are affected by gastroenterological disorders — there are 72 million doctor visits for digestive diseases each year.1 AGA members will tell lawmakers that patients need support for research focused on improving care and physicians need relief from increasing regulatory burdens that interfere with our ability to help patients maintain or regain their digestive health,” according to Anil K. Rustgi, MD, AGAF, chair, AGA. “We’re working to ensure that gastroenterologists can provide care that helps patients live more healthful and productive lives.” 
Digestive diseases that are potentially debilitating or deadly include colon, liver and pancreatic cancers, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, foodborne illness, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and inflammatory bowel disease, among others. Rarer diseases that take a dreadful toll on people include metabolic disorders of the liver, nutritional disorders, obesity and cirrhosis.

AGA Will Advocate for Increased NIH Funding

Medical research has brought us closer to developing lifesaving treatments and cures for peptic ulcer disease, many cancers, inborn errors of metabolism and even organ regeneration. Despite these advances, we still do not understand the cause and transmission of many other digestive diseases.
“AGA members understand current fiscal constraints faced by our country,” said Dr. Rustgi. “However, research funding will promote patient health and national economic development. The AGA stands firmly behind a recommendation that Congress funds the NIH at $32 billion for fiscal year 2015. This figure represents the minimum investment necessary to avoid further loss of promising research and to allow the NIH budget to keep pace with inflation.”

Transparency Should Benefit All Health-Care Procedures

Last year, more than 100 endoscopic procedures underwent reimbursement analysis in a manner that AGA believes is in direct contradiction to previous practice. The process that resulted in a dramatic reduction in procedural reimbursement in the 2014 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule was announced only weeks before the reduced reimbursement rates went into effect and without the opportunity for public comment. As a result, gastroenterologists were unable to prepare their practices for the new rates. In response, the AGA, along with our sister societies, urged fairness and transparency in the rulemaking process for Medicare reimbursement and petitioned the agency to create an opportunity for physicians to comment on the proposed payment rule, which was published in July. 
“The AGA appreciates the support we’ve received from members of Congress in asking CMS to make decisions about reimbursement for medical services in a transparent manner,” said John I. Allen, MD, MBA, AGAF, president, AGA Institute. “We believe that services that are currently under review, including life-saving colorectal cancer screenings, must be a result of a more transparent process so that the implications of reimbursement changes can be thoroughly discussed and vetted prior to implementation. It is especially disheartening to know that CMS is proposing to once again allow endoscopic services to be considered without adequate transparency. This time, this opaque process concerns our colonoscopy codes, a procedure that has resulted in a reduction in colon cancer burden for this country that has been dramatic and well documented.”
Dr. Allen continued, “During our visits to Capitol Hill, we will call upon CMS to delay final review of upper endoscopy codes and interim final review of lower endoscopy codes until CMS issues concerning moderate sedation and intensity of service are more fully considered using the new transparency process proposed by CMS.”
The AGA is a strong advocate for advancing both the science and practice of gastroenterology. We take a strong stand on issues facing gastroenterologists, including increasing NIH funding, ensuring fair reimbursement for GI procedures, reforming the Medicare payment system, reducing regulatory burdens and eliminating colonoscopy cost sharing. Learn more at www.gastro.org/advocacy-regulation
1 Everhart JE, editor. The Burden of Digestive Diseases in the United States. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2008; NIH Publication No. 09-6443.

About the AGA 

The American Gastroenterological Association is the trusted voice of the GI community. Founded in 1897, the AGA has grown to include 17,000 members from around the globe who are involved in all aspects of the science, practice and advancement of gastroenterology. The AGA Institute administers the practice, research and educational programs of the organization. www.gastro.org
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