Conference Coverage

Bills affecting rheumatologists make way to Capitol Hill



– Rheumatology advocates have been working to get a variety of bills passed in Congress, including efforts on creating exemptions to step therapy or “fail first” insurer policies, increasing osteoporosis screening payment, and raising research dollars for arthritis in the Department of Defense, Dr. Angus Worthing said at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

Dr. Angus B. Worthing is chair of the ACR’s Government Affairs Committee and a practicing rheumatologist in the Washington area

Dr. Angus B. Worthing

Visits by rheumatologist advocates to receptive members of the House and Senate have been fruitful for these issues, said Dr. Worthing, who is chair of the ACR’s Government Affairs Committee and a practicing rheumatologist in the Washington area.

“There’s a bill in the House [H.R. 2077, Restoring the Patient’s Voice Act], reforming step therapy that would institute appropriate exemptions if a doctor can predict that a drug that’s the first step in a step therapy will cause side effects, will be ineffective, or has already been used by a patient, as well as other appropriate guardrails,” so that the policy can be circumvented and the patient can get the prescription that the doctor ordered, he said.

The ACR is working with coalition partners such as the National Psoriasis Foundation and other patient organizations to get a companion bill to H.R. 2077 introduced in the Senate, Dr. Worthing noted.

The ACR is also working to advance separate bills in the House (H.R. 1898) and Senate (S. 3160) to increase payment levels for dual x-ray absorptiometry scans, which were cut by 60%-70% about 10 years ago.

The two bills have broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. “Watch for that to hopefully become law,” Dr. Worthing said.

The ACR has been advocating for the last 4 years to increase research dollars specifically for arthritis and rheumatology at the Department of Defense. After years of trying, rheumatologist advocates were able to get funding for studying trauma-related osteoarthritis and military serology data banks added as an amendment in the most recent appropriations bill. However, it was pulled at the last minute because of a lack of support.

“But with that advancement we’ll be able to go into the next Congress in January and either get it into the bill or hopefully have the amendment voted on next year,” he said.

Dr. Worthing called for those interested in advocating for rheumatology to visit the ACR’s Legislative Action Center.

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