ASTRO 'Disheartened' It May Lose Seat at the AMA Table

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

November 29, 2021

The American Society of Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) could lose its seat at the American Medical Association (AMA) "table," unless the radiation oncology organization boosts its AMA membership.

According to a blog post earlier this month, ASTRO was "disheartened" to learn it was in danger of losing representation at the AMA's House of Delegates.

Membership in the House of Delegates requires that a certain percentage of each society's members also hold membership in the AMA. Unfortunately, ASTRO has not fulfilled that requirement and is currently in a 1-year probation period, after which "ASTRO's voice will be silenced in the House of Delegates," the authors of the blog post write.

"My friends, it is absolutely critical that we continue to have ASTRO delegates at the table to advocate and testify at the AMA in support of radiation oncology interests," write authors Thomas Eichler MD, immediate past chair of ASTRO board of directors; Shane Hopkins MD, ASTRO delegate to AMA; Ankit Agarwal MD, MBA, ASTRO alternate delegate to AMA; and Shilpen Patel, MD, ASTRO delegate to AMA.

The authors acknowledged the skepticism some radiation oncologists have voiced on social media regarding AMA's representation of their specialty. However, skeptics may be unaware of the extent to which the AMA has advocated on behalf of radiation oncologists and for issues that benefit the specialty.

In August, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed changes to the Radiation Oncology Alternative Payment Model, which received intense pushback from ASTRO and other stakeholders. The final rule remained flawed despite "relentless" ASTRO advocacy and engagement with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to achieve fair and predictable reimbursement. The AMA made its opposition known, sending a detailed letter to CMS that reflected ASTRO's concerns.

Here, the AMA put "the weight of the whole of organized medicine behind" ASTRO, the bloggers write.

This is not the only time the AMA has put its weight behind issues that affect radiation oncology. ASTRO worked with the AMA on a letter to the director of CMMI, detailing alternative payment model (APM) recommendations. The AMA was instrumental in combatting cuts to sustainable growth rate, until it was finally repealed in 2015. The AMA successfully fought insurance mergers, such as one between Anthem and Cigna, which would have cost physicians $500 million in annual payments. The association has also been a leading voice for reforming prior authorization burdens and will be representing physician interests on the upcoming Senate bill S.3018, the Improving Seniors' Timely Access to Care Act.

"The AMA is one of the largest lobbying groups in the country, and the value of having them go to bat for us simply can't be replaced," the bloggers write. "In short, the Association has fought against perennial challenges to our autonomy as physicians."

If ASTRO wishes to maintain AMA support and continue to vote on the many issues that affect radiation oncology and other specialties, more radiation oncologists need to join the AMA, the authors urge.

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