Who Says You Can’t Fight City Hall?

Commentary from Jack Angel,

Coalition for Healthcare Communication

Education Foundation Executive Director

March 9, 2015 – I am not sure who created the phrase, “you can’t fight city hall,” but it is certainly not a premise that those of us at the Coalition for Healthcare Communication have accepted.  Indeed, we have extended our purview well beyond City Hall, because the threats to the free flow of healthcare communications rain in from a variety of sources, as they have since our founding in 1991.

You see, there are those who are convinced that any commercial involvement in healthcare can only be a corruptive influence and, therefore, should be eliminated completely.  Thankfully, a growing segment of the provider community – benefactors of commercial support – sees the benefit (improved patient outcomes) that results from collaboration between industry and healthcare professionals.

We believe that the facts, as well as the needs of the rapidly changing healthcare community, will win out in the long run, but we know that cannot happen without constant vigilance and the willingness to stand up for what is right and best for patient care. Our biggest challenge and concern is creating awareness within our industry of what the threats are and what needs to be done to eliminate or mitigate those threats.

2015 could be the most challenging year we have ever faced, and, as such, we feel compelled to inform our constituency of what is at stake. More importantly, we want you to know what we are doing about it and what we need from you to expand our resource base and industry engagement.

H. R. 293

As the Affordable Care Act wound its way through Congress with the Sunshine Act attached, we were not really concerned because, as written, it addressed openness in the relationships between industry and professionals, which should be a good thing.  However, after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) got through drafting rules to implement the Sunshine Act, several features were included that were not intended by Congress and even worse, could have a significant, negative impact on patient care.

Specifically, the current rules will seriously deter support and participation in continuing medical education (CME) activities and limit the distribution of important medical information from textbooks, journals, reprints, and supplements that help medical professionals keep up to date.

The Coalition and its allies participated in several meetings and conversations held with CMS in an attempt to further clarify the intent and importance of these educational endeavors.  Initially there was some success with CME, as this was excluded from reporting under certain conditions, but that decision has been reversed three different times since the original rules were issued and CME is now a reportable activity.

Through this process we began to realize that if we were going to make any progress on these issues, Congress was going to have to make its intent known.  We are pleased to report that as a result of the efforts of a dedicated group of Washington-based CME and publishing advocates, H.R. 293 has been introduced by Reps.  Michael C. Burgess, (R-Texas), a physician, and Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), an original author of the Sunshine Act.  We are seeking additional sponsors for the measure and wish to formally ask you if you have any connections in Congress who we can contact to support this legislation.

More Trouble Ahead?

Those “in the know” regarding the inner workings of Washington feel certain that a tax bill will be introduced later this year that has the potential to greatly impact our industry, largely through a reduction of the tax deductibility of advertising costs.  This is not a new thought inside the Beltway, but this time the increasing costs of the Affordable Care Act are creating additional pressures to raise revenues.

Through our expanding circle of partners, we are convinced that you can fight City Hall, but that it requires a village that includes a variety of talents and contacts who have a stake in making sure that the rules that emanate from Washington and beyond are fair and sensible and represent the people and not just Beltway interests.  This is where you come in.  Get in touch with John Kamp, our Executive Director, (jkamp@cohealthcom.org) to answer questions and offer suggestions on how you might contribute to this important mission.

I will be updating you periodically so you will always know where these issues stand and how you can help us in our mission to promote the free exchange of medical and scientific information.