• Advocacy Goals Shift Due to COVID-19

    Each year, a member of the Academy’s Young Ophthalmologist Advocacy Subcommittee attends the Academy’s Federal Affairs Secretariat meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss and set Academy federal advocacy priorities for the upcoming year. This year’s meeting was held before the COVID-19 pandemic. YO Dan Terveen, MD, discusses how this year’s goals have been affected.

    What were the top subjects that you spent time discussing?

    Among the topics we discussed were the Relative-value Update Committee (RUC) process with the reduction in cataract payments, evaluation and management (E/M) reductions and new Merit-Based Incentive Payment System quality measures. 

    Our positions on these topics had a central theme of maintaining physician reimbursement and protecting E/M codes from payment reductions. The Academy’s Federal Affairs team does an amazing job monitoring the various legislative and rules changes in Washington, D.C. and are constantly advocating for ophthalmologists. Many of the things we discussed, however, are on pause for this legislative year due to COVID-19. 

    A major focus on the legislative front was drug pricing, and there was some traction on that before COVID-19. Medicare is responding to the COVID-19 crisis and has already extended waivers on MIPS, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act eliminated the sequester, which will help our profession this year.

    What do you think the impact of these three topics is to YOs? Should they be concerned?

    If YOs aren't speaking up to protect reimbursement to our profession, it will slowly be cut, making it harder and harder for ophthalmology to remain the vibrant independent specialty that it currently is. YOs will be the most impacted by decreasing revenue and increasing regulatory burdens, and we need to advocate if we want the trends reversed. 

    An important topic YOs should focus on is the ophthalmologists running for Congress. There are currently two, and it is important to have strong advocates in our profession at the decision-making table. YOs should look to follow that example and get involved in state and local politics whenever possible.

    What’s next in terms of advocacy on these topics?

    Everything at this point has been placed on pause due to COVID-19. The coronavirus will fundamentally change the way we practice and will have huge implications for healthcare. We have already seen some changes to Medicare rules regarding telehealth and HIPAA. It will be interesting to see if these changes persist after the crisis is over. 

    In the immediate term, it is important for YOs to talk to their legislators and instruct them on how hard this crisis has been on small practices. Relief for physicians who are unable to practice due to closures will allow us to come out of the crisis and provide the important service that we do: restoring sight.

    Dan Terveen

    About the author: Daniel C. Terveen, MD is member in training in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and a member of the Academy’s YO Advocacy subcommittee.