In 2022, ACP advocacy led to legislation aimed at lowering prescription drug costs, preventing firearm violence, and protecting well-being of health care workers
Jan. 13, 2023 (ACP) — From pushing for the passage of legislation to lower prescription drug costs and rein in firearm violence to prioritizing physician well-being and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, the American College of Physicians moved the needle forward on many key advocacy issues in 2022.
These efforts helped improve the landscape for patients and doctors and will set the tone for what is to come in 2023.
“It was a very active year in spite of challenges given the ongoing pandemic, and we had a number of significant wins in Congress,” said Shari Erickson, ACP chief advocacy officer and senior vice president.
One overarching theme in all ACP advocacy efforts in 2022 and going forward is diversity, equity and inclusion. “Every initiative has a strong focus on health equity and addressing health care disparities,” Erickson said.
Among the more significant ACP advocacy victories of 2022 was the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which allows Medicare to negotiate prices of prescription drugs, caps some out-of-pocket drug costs and eliminates cost-sharing for vaccines in Medicare, and improves subsidies for ACA health insurance, among other provisions that ACP has supported.
The first changes, which limit Medicare Part D insulin copays to $35 a month and eliminate cost-sharing for vaccines for seniors under Medicare Part D, will take effect in the beginning of 2023.
“Enhanced subsidies will continue through 2025 for people who buy their own health coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and the Inflation Reduction Act also made real investments to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time,” Erickson said.
Making Strides Against Firearm Violence
Last year ushered in the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which includes many of the suggestions outlined in the ACP policy paper on firearm violence prevention.
The law enhances background checks for prospective gun buyers aged 18 to 21 years and requires that juvenile records are vetted for potentially disqualifying material. It also incentivizes states to pass “red flag” laws that allow firearms to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed to be too dangerous to possess them and closes the “boyfriend loophole” to prevent domestic abusers in recent relationships from buying firearms. Previous laws only barred people from having guns after convictions against spouses or partners if they lived together or shared children.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act also expands behavioral health services to address firearm violence, Erickson said.
“This is the first bill signed in a decade to address firearm violence,” Erickson noted.
“It is a strong step in the right direction, even if it doesn't go as far as we would have liked.”
Expanding Access to Telehealth Services
Telehealth came of age during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is here to stay. “We had helped secure a 151-day extension beyond the public health emergency (PHE) with Medicare, and then the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 further extends Medicare telehealth flexibilities, including continued coverage for audio-only telehealth visits, until the end of 2024,” Erickson said.
Coverage of audio-only visits is important for patients in rural areas, older and/or more frail patients, those facing significant challenges with social drivers of health, and others who do not have access to broadband technology, Erickson explained.
The PHE was supposed to end mid-January but will likely be extended for at least another 90 days, she said, adding: “Thankfully, we are covered for telehealth through 2024 due to the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act that was passed at the end of the year.”
Championing Physician Well-Being
Another major advocacy accomplishment in 2022 was the passage of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which provides federal funding for behavioral health education and awareness campaigns aimed at protecting the well-being of health care workers.
Dr. Breen died by suicide in April 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACP will continue to push to remove questions about behavioral health, addiction or substance use history on licensing and other applications, as this deters physicians from seeking care, Erickson said.
Putting Patients Before Paperwork
ACP also doubled down on efforts to support physician practices in 2022. These efforts included changing the 2023 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule so that outpatient and hospital documentation requirements are streamlined across evaluation and management codes.
As part of its Patients Before Paperwork Initiative, ACP joined forces with Medicine Forward on a webinar series to address the burden of prior authorization and develop solutions to mitigate unnecessary requirements. Moreover, ACP supported the Improving Seniors Timely Access to Care Act, which streamlines the prior authorization process and protects patients from unnecessary delays.
ACP also urged Congress to pass a bipartisan bill that would have prevented the budget neutrality cuts scheduled to begin on Jan. 1. While the worst of the cuts were prevented, more work is needed to come up with a solution that ensures physician payment is sufficient to cover the cost of caring for patients, Erickson said.
In 2022, ACP also offered several policy recommendations to strengthen the federal food-insecurity response and empower physicians and other medical professionals to better address those social drivers of health occurring beyond the office doors.
An infographic, “How ACP Advocated for You in 2022,” can be viewed on the ACP website.