Category Archives: Across the Nation

ACCC Expresses Serious Concern Over the AHCA

By Leah Ralph, Director of Health Policy, ACCC

U.S. CapitolOn May 4, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a bill that would repeal and replace key portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces significant concerns over the projected decrease in coverage and increase in cost, and will likely undergo a substantial re-write.

While the bill faces uncertainty, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) remains very concerned about the impact the AHCA, as currently written, would have on cancer patients’ ability to access comprehensive, affordable health insurance coverage. The bill violates a number of ACCC’s health reform principles, which were central to our recent advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill.

Previous Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports estimate that 24 million more Americans will be left without coverage under the AHCA, while disproportionately increasing out-of-pocket costs for elderly, low-income Americans in the individual and non-group markets. Recent amendments to the bill also weaken protections for patients with pre-existing conditions, like cancer, and the requirement that insurers cover defined Essential Health Benefits, such as cancer screenings. The current legislation also effectively rolls back the Medicaid expansion and proposes to fundamentally restructure the Medicaid program, inevitably shifting costs to the states and squeezing Medicaid benefits for low-income cancer patients across the country.

ACCC will continue to work with Congress to advocate for meaningful health reform policies that protect patient access to appropriate, affordable health insurance coverage and decrease costs for the patient and the healthcare system.

ACCC urges its membership to contact their Senators opposing the bill as currently written.

Patient Navigation: Creating a Toolkit for Caregivers

The first post in a two-part blog series focused on support for caregivers.

by Tricia Strusowski, MS, RN

Two hands offering support

Several years ago, I facilitated a Patient and Family Advisory Council at our cancer center.  Our patients and families provided us with great insight on our program and helped us create our yearly goals.  On one occasion, one of our family members said, “Hey, what about us? The patients get these great journals, but we need resources too.”  This became our next project.  Two important takeaways from our experience:

  • Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: In creating a toolkit for caregivers, first keep in mind that there are excellent caregiver resources available through national organizations, so there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.
  • Be Concise: Keep your information short, educational, and practical. Our advisory council and countless focus group participants at many cancer programs have said, “Don’t give us so much information! If I get too much, I don’t read anything.”

For navigators interested in putting together a caregiver toolkit, read on for some basic but very good information to share with caregivers.

Remind caregivers that “the care you give yourself is the care you give to your loved one.” The stress of caregiving can take an emotional and physical toll. Caring for someone you love with cancer is undoubtedly difficult. The stress of caregiving can often manifest itself both emotionally and physically.  While caregiving is a rewarding experience that can strengthen the bond between you and your loved one, 60 percent of caregivers report symptoms of depression and other painful signs of strain.

Physical effects of caregiving can include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach/digestive problems (cramping, constipation, gas, heartburn, etc.)
  • Headache
  • Weakened immune system
  • Skin changes

Emotional effects of caregiving can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling of isolation
  • Withdrawal
  • Substance abuse
  • Mood swings/irritability
  • Lack of concentration/memory

While your main concern is surely that of your loved one, it’s vital to care for yourself as well during this difficult time. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, contact your physician and ask what your healthcare provider suggests. Fatigue is usually the first and most common complaint of caregivers, so ask your doctor about effective ways to manage your fatigue.

Encourage caregivers to ask for help. Provide some practical tips, such as the following:

  • You may have had offers of help with everyday tasks such as running errands, getting groceries, making a meal, taking your loved one somewhere, etc.  At first, most people are reluctant to accept these offers. Consider that friends, family, and neighbors really want to help. People will often say, “If there is anything I can do, let me know.” Take advantage of the offer!
  • When asking someone for help, you may want to go over a list of things you need assistance with, letting them choose what they’d like to help with.
  • Some people report being the sole caregiver serves to increase stress and may cause tension within the family. One caregiver’s solution to this problem was to create a weekly calendar where family members could record the tasks they performed for their mother with cancer. This way, tasks could be spread out evenly among her children.

Offer some coping strategies for the caregiver, including:

Set Boundaries. Primary caregivers tend to absorb the entire caregiving role. Care recipients often go along with this, preferring the care of the primary caregiver to that of a less familiar family member or a stranger.  You cannot do everything; set limits on what you can do yourself and what tasks can be delegated to others.

List things you need for self-care. Make a list of activities that will provide a pampering break from your caregiver responsibilities. Give your morale a boost by such activities as taking a hot bath, exercise, going out for a meal, or reading a book.  Post this list as a reminder to yourself and others in the household.

Plan for respite care. Obtaining those short breaks for self-care requires a plan for others to care for your loved one. Your plan should include the type of care required, hints/suggestions on giving the care so that routines are not severely altered. The plan should also include how often and for how long a time period the respite caregiver will be used.

Make time for laughter. A funny movie, a visit from a fun-loving friend, reading a book authored by a humorist, sharing a good joke can really help lighten things up. Humor helps keep frustration in perspective and minimize anger.

Keep in touch with friends. When caring for a loved one, the primary caregiver’s social life is often the first thing to go. You may think you do not have either the time or energy for keeping up with friends; however, it’s been shown that caregivers who remain socially active experience less depression and physical illnesses. Socially active caregivers are less overwhelmed by the responsibilities than their counterparts who turn down social invitations and lose contact with friends.

Shift gears. When you begin to feel rushed, you need to slow down. Researchers have found that hurrying often actually slows down caregiving activities. For example, rushing can led to delays caused by dropping items, spilling liquids, and misplacing keys, just to name a few. Try to slow down during caregiving and take time to relax throughout the day.

Keep it in perspective. Take time to read the morning paper or listen to the news. Staying abreast of what is happening in your community and the world helps put your problems in perspective. If the major topics of conversation in the house are focused on the health and care of your loved one, plan to set time aside when the conversation centers on some other topics. Mealtime is a time when this works well. Everyone participating in the meal can agree in advance to discuss other topics.

Plan for occasional indulgences and rewards. We all need some occasional pampering to maintain both physical and mental health.  Take time for your favorite snack, listen to music, or just take some “alone time” and enjoy whatever makes you smile.

Join support groups.  Members of a support group offer you understanding at a level others cannot because they are going through a similar experience.  They have real-life experiences to share including tips on how to cope.

Source: Caring to Help Others, A Training Manual for Preparing Volunteers to Assist Caregivers of Older Adults, 2000.


Stay tuned for Part Two: 25 Tips for Caregivers.

ACCC member Tricia Strusowski, MS, RN, is a consultant with Oncology Solutions, LLC.

Going the Distance: What We Heard at the OCM Workshop

By Leah Ralph, DIrector of Health Policy, ACCC

ACCC-OCM-CollaborativeWe are now 10 months into the groundbreaking Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) Oncology Care Model (OCM). Just a few weeks ago during the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, a number of OCM practices came together to share updates, pain points and successes, and to collaborate on innovative approaches to meeting OCM requirements during ACCC’s OCM Workshop.

Shaping Up
Participation in the OCM has been likened to “training for a marathon,” requiring cancer programs to do an honest self-assessment of their financial and operational capabilities, and double down on their investment in workflows, staffing, and data collection—all while trying to reduce costs and meet a number of beneficiary-level reporting requirements. EHRs (electronic health records) play a critical role in these efforts, and practices are finding that much of the quality and clinical data CMS is asking for is not readily accessible, requiring time-consuming chart abstraction and manual reporting. In addition to data analytics, other major challenges include:

  • increased staffing needs,
  • investment in IT systems, and
  • clinician education and engagement.

Some practices have hired full-time patient care coordinators—similar to research coordinators for clinical trials—to manage OCM requirements, including identifying and tracking patients, coordinating episodes and required measures, and billing the Monthly Enhanced Oncology Services (MEOS) payments.

While there is agreement that the OCM’s policy goals—improving care quality and reducing costs—are the right ones, operationalizing the program has proven to be far more complex than originally anticipated. Even by CMS. And, like all major payment reform initiatives, course corrections will be needed along the way.

Some Pain, Some Gain
Despite challenges, ACCC OCM Workshop participants are also finding that the OCM’s  “practice transformation” requirements are strengthening their programs. Many have taken a “good, hard look” at palliative care and pain documentation, care coordination, and end-of-life conversations. Others have implemented social work and dietitian services that they were not previously able to make available to patients. While many cancer programs were engaged in these activities in some form before the OCM, participation in CMMI’s demonstration program has made these components robust and consistent, improving patient care. One practice called it an “awesome byproduct” of the program.

Another byproduct? Practices are also finding that the OCM is creating an imperative for the C-suite to make certain investments and providing leverage with EHR vendors; requests that were previously considered optimization items are now considered “must haves” to meet OCM requirements.

Dealing with Data
Last month OCM practices faced their first big data reporting deadline and they also received their first feedback reports following the first episode of care, breaking out cost per episode and comparing performance to other OCM practices. These data came in a format that was not easy to interpret, and required several practices to outsource the data analysis and interpretation. With the feedback reports practices are seeing their spending on OCM patients, and getting a sense of how they may fare with performance-based payments down the road, but practices won’t see reconciliations against target prices until early 2018.

Watchful Waiting
Where OCM practices succeed and struggle carry important implications for all cancer programs and the transition to value-based care. As one practice put it, the OCM is “the pebble in the pond for us.” We should all be watching the ripples closely. And taking notes.

To learn more about the ACCC OCM Collaborative, visit  accc-cancer.org/OCM. All OCM participating programs are invited to join our online community at ocmcollaborative.org to hear what else your colleagues are saying.

 

Drug Pricing in the Crosshairs

by Amanda Patton, ACCC Communications

Drug pricing reform is in the news again this week as the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) voted unanimously April 6 in support of the Commission’s multi-part Part B recommendations that include a Drug Value Program (DVP) with elements that align with President Trump’s interest in requiring drug companies to bid for government business.

ACCC17-Cancerscape“Despite Trump’s outreach to industry leaders and declaration of support for reducing drug prices, any attempt at price reform will be hard fought,” Jessica Turgon, MBA, ECG Management Consultants, told attendees last week at the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE. The “how” of executing drug pricing reform will be “impressive,” Turgon said. She outlined five possible reform scenarios for lowering U.S. drug costs. The unknown: which reforms will the Administration stick to the most?

  1. Importing cheaper drugs from other countries in an effort to reduce average domestic drug prices. Pro: This might force drug companies to lower prices domestically. Con: It could result in higher drug prices worldwide.
  1. Increasing availability of generic drugs by requiring the FDA to speed up the approval process for generic versions of drugs. There is a similar option being put forward to hamper or make illegal the practice of “pay to delay,” which slows generic drug advancement. In fact, one study found that “pay to delay” has cost U.S. consumers $14 billion by keeping brand name drugs as the sole source product when cheaper, generic versions were available.
  1. Allowing Medicare to negotiate for drug prices using its leverage as the largest healthcare payer to achieve lower drug prices. This would require legislation or possibly execution through the regulatory process. However, the Congressional Budget Office has indicated this option would not have that great of an impact on federal spending, Turgon said.
  1. Increasing the use of value-based drug purchasing, i.e., paying for drugs based on the outcomes they achieved (i.e., treatment effectiveness) and not on a flat fee or other standard pricing approach. If this were integrated into protocols or pathways, it’s not clear how the financial results would be quantified, Turgon noted. However, as last year’s proposed Medicare Part B experiment showed, the impact would be very hard on providers.
  1. Scaling back the scope of the 340B Drug Pricing Program, for example, by revising the definition of a covered entity. The program remains in MedPAC’s crosshairs, Turgon warned. In FY 2013, covered entities saved $3.8 billion on outpatient drugs through the program; the number of 340B covered entity sites grew to 16,500 in 2013, a rise of nearly 8,000 sites from 2008. Turgon’s take-home message for cancer programs: Ask yourselves, “If I had to operate without my 340B program what would my cancer program, hospital, or health system look like?” Would it would likely have a significant impact on your health system overall? Is 340B funding “everything else” [e.g., services that are currently not-reimbursed, such as patient navigation] at your hospital right now?

Add to the mix, MedPAC’s recommendations for reducing spending in Medicare Part B. (Spending has gone up 9% every year since 2009, Turgon noted, which is not sustainable.) Briefly put, MedPAC’s recommendations fall into two track recommendations:

Track 1: Improve the average sales price (ASP) system.

  • Require drug makers to report ASP data and increase penalties for non-compliance.
  • Reduce WAC (wholesale acquisition cost), cut the add-on payment from 6 percent to 3 percent.
  • Require drug makers to give Medicare a rebate when the ASP price for a product exceeds an inflation benchmark.
  • Require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement a common billing code for a reference biologic and its biosimilars.

Track 2: Establish a Drug Value Program

For this voluntary program, Medicare would contract with private vendors to negotiate prices for Part B drugs using tools like a formulary. The Drug Value Program vendor would negotiate directly with drug manufacturers. Providers would purchase all DVP products at the price negotiated by their DVP vendor. Medicare would reimburse providers for the DVP-negotiated price AND reimburse DVPs an administrative fee with a shared savings opportunity.

What Cancer Programs Can Do Now

What seems certain is President’s Trump continued interest in drug pricing reform. How (or if) reform is executed remains to be seen. MedPAC serves in an advisory role to Congress on Medicare issues—and whether Congress will consider MedPAC’s recommended changes to Part B is also uncertain. In the face of the many uncertainties surrounding drug pricing reform, cancer programs can still take proactive steps to address the rising cost of drugs, Turgon said. To do so, she suggested that cancer programs:

  • Develop and adhere to clinical pathways and protocols.
  • Determine the availability of evidence-based alternatives that are cheaper and comparable to high-priced drugs, and remove the higher-priced drugs from your formulary or tighten guidelines around use.
  • Deploy clinical pharmacists to educate prescribers about high drug prices.
  • Hold cost-of-care conversations with patients.
  • Reduce waste associated with high-cost drugs.
  • Keep negotiating with GPOs and wholesalers.
  • Identify signs of increases in drug prices as close to real-time as possible to avoid delays in taking action to minimize financial impact.
  • Keep the lowest possible inventory of high-cost drugs.
  • Keep communication lines open with senior administrators so they stay informed of the impact on the drug budget.

Final takeway: “Run your hospital-based cancer program as a private practice and know where your costs are,” Turgon advised.

Next Steps for Value Frameworks?

by Amanda Patton, ACCC Communications

ACCC17-Value Framework Panel (2)The mantra of “moving from volume to value” is ubiquitous in healthcare today.  So what do cancer programs need to know about evolving value frameworks in oncology? Attendees at the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE, in Washington, D.C., heard real-time updates on two of the leading frameworks—ASCO’s work-in-progress Value Framework  and NCCN’s Evidence Blocks™.

Both value frameworks aim to be tools used in support of patient―physician shared decision-making according to panelists Stephen Grubbs, MD, FASCO, Vice President of Clinical Affairs, American Society of Clinical Oncology, and Robert Carlson, MD, CEO, National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

ASCO’s Value Framework was not built on drug pricing, but to have a discussion with a patient on potential financial toxicity and the benefit of the treatment in the context of how much the treatment will cost the patient, explained Dr. Grubbs. ASCO’s framework uses three primary parameters to calculate value: clinical benefit, toxicities of treatment, and cost. “Our goal at ASCO is to develop a tool that could be customized with information for each individual patient,” said Dr. Grubbs.

After receiving more than 400 comments on its original Value Framework draft, ASCO published a revised version in May 2016.  Grubbs made clear, however, that ASCO’s framework is still a work in progress. “It’s not yet ready for use,” he stressed.

In 2017 ASCO is working on improving the framework methodology, Dr. Grubbs explained, noting that a current weakness is that the framework is set up to compare a randomized clinical trial between two different treatments.  “If I have a treatment where I use drug A versus drug B, and than I have a trial that compares drug B to drug C—how do I compare drug A to drug C?” Work is underway at ASCO to address cross-trial comparisons and also to “anchor the net health benefit score in some meaningful way,” Grubbs shared. Finally, ASCO will continue work with patient advocates and patients to identify endpoints that are meaningful for patients.

On the other hand, NCCN’s Evidence Blocks are operationalized. NCCN’s goal was to create a “flexible value system that could be used to develop each patient’s equation for what is valuable,” said Robert Carlson, MD, CEO, National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Evidence Blocks are built on five metrics:

  • Effectiveness (efficacy)
  • Safety (adverse events, toxicities)
  • Data quality
  • Data consistency
  • Affordability

The Evidence Blocks are presented in a graphic format so that a user can look for “30 different options in about 4 or 5 seconds and come up with regimens that would be optimal for a specific circumstance,” Dr. Carlson said.

Like ASCO, NCCN intends the Evidence Blocks to support a patient-centered approach to integrating a value discussion into everyday practice. “We look at Evidence Blocks as a conversation starter, not an answer,” Carlson said.  “We don’t tell the patient, because the Evidence Block looks like this, this is what you should do. It’s a question of what’s most important to them.”

Currently, 33 of the NCCN guidelines have Evidence Blocks associated with them. By the end of 2018 all of the NCCN guidelines that have systemic therapies should have Evidence Blocks, according to Carlson. NCCN also intends to expand the Evidence Blocks into other treatment modalities. “We are now starting to look at other modalities, radiation oncology, surgical oncology, and diagnostics . . . in terms of the same sort of scales,” he said.

Rounding out the discussion, panelist Ali McBride, PharmD, MS, BCPS, The University of Arizona Cancer Center added perspective on the cost/value discussion as it may unfold on the frontlines of care. “Many patients may not be able to afford the 20% copay cost for IV therapy, let alone the out of pocket cost for many oral therapies,” he said. “We have to spend a lot of time detailing out those costs for patients, and if they can’t afford it, we have to say, then what’s our next step in that guideline pathway?”

All three panelists noted the need for financial transparency for patients and providers as one component of the value discussion.

In closing, panel moderator Christian Downs, JD, MHA, Executive Director, ACCC, asked panelists to consider what the value framework discussion might look like 10 years down the road.

Acknowledging the difficulty of making any predictions about the future shape of the oncology value discussion, Dr. Carlson envisions technology playing a pivotal role. “My own expectation and hope is that within a decade we will have computer-based systems that patients are able to interact with directly and help define and discover their own value system,” he said. Such a system would enable patients to indicate if they were more concerned with neurotoxicity or cardiotoxicity, for example. Plus the system would also have the capacity to query payers so that patients could know the financial impact of their therapy.

Big data (if the promise is realized) may change the face of value frameworks, noted Dr. Grubbs.  The potential of extensive real-world databases will bring “much more information on what happens to patients outside the narrow clinical trial that has the best, the most robust patients. . . [and extend to] what happens in the real-world. . . . if we had a big data system that had all this information about what happened to everybody and you could really home in on what happens to a 75-year-old person who was not in the clinical trial and have the cost data, you might come up with a very different looking value [framework] from what we’re showing you here today.”

Finally, as value frameworks continue to evolve, community cancer programs and practices have an important role to play, panelists agreed.  “There’s a huge reservoir of expertise and experience in community oncology, and we’d love to tap that, to learn from that. [One of the] ways you can help us, is to continually give us feedback in terms of whether we have it right or wrong. . . . talk to us,” Dr. Carlson said.

Dr. Grubbs concurred, adding that community oncologists are key to making value frameworks functional. “When you see this come out, please make comments back to ASCO on how to make this better, because nobody is going to get this right…right from the beginning.”

CANCERSCAPE Kicks Off with Perspectives on Policy and Business

by Amanda Patton, ACCC Communications

Last week’s events on Capitol Hill provided a dramatic backdrop for the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE, March 29-31, bringing together hundreds of oncology professionals from around the country for insights, strategies, and perspective in the midst of healthcare reform ambiguities.

Cancerscape 2017-keynote panelIn a keynote session Thursday morning, policy insiders Kavita Patel, MD, MS, of The Brookings Institution, and Dan Todd, JD, Todd Strategy, LLC, shared insights on possible next steps toward Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal or repair under the Trump Administration. ACCC Health Policy Director Leah Ralph moderated the point-counterpoint discussion covering what went wrong with the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA) legislative effort at ACA repeal, mounting political pressures on Capitol Hill, legislative or administrative options to effect ACA repair, flaws in the design of the faltering individual insurance exchanges and what may (or may not) happen next, and whether the Administration will act on the hot button issue of drug pricing.

Cancerscape 2017 keynote panel 2Asked for one final takeaway that attendees should bring back to their programs to help their colleagues understand the policy landscape, Dr. Patel shared this perspective for frontline clinicians and administrators:

“No matter who is the party in power there’s always going to be this emphasis on cost. I don’t see the pressure to decrease costs going away. It may come in the form of programs like MIPS and commercial programs like ACOs and patient-centered medical homes, but as a physician who is in all of those programs, it’s all about having me [as a physician] understand where I’m over utilizing care . . . . If there’s one takeaway . . . it’s not to sit . . . and wait to see how things shake out.” Start looking for where you have unwarranted variation, where you can start implementing programs that actually matter to patients, Dr. Patel advised. “Take back some introspective ability to look at your variation, look at your costs, look at all the things that fall into P & L for administrators and how do you translate that to where clinical care is delivered.”

Dan Todd left attendees with one final advocacy takeaway: “It’s a new Administration with training wheels still on. . . they’ll ultimately get their balance. . . . If you have priorities, educate your congressional members on [them]. . . your voice is really, really important.”

For more, read OncLive’s coverage of the session here.

Conway-The Advisory BoardThe morning’s second session shifted the focus outside the Beltway to explore emerging cancer care delivery trends and potential impact on the business of providing cancer care. Lindsay Conway, MSEd, of The Advisory Board, briefed attendees on The State of Today’s Cancer Programs, highlighting five key trends shaping the delivery and business cancer care delivery:

  • Healthcare reimbursement and reform is at a pivotal point. Uncertainty continues around the future of the ACA and the insurance exchanges.
  • Increasing numbers of cancer patients with comorbidities requiring enhanced care coordination. From 2000 to 2010, the number of Medicare patients with multiple chronic conditions grew 22%. Proactive steps in care coordination for this population include regular distress screening to identify issues early and devising and implementing care maps for navigators.
  • Telehealth technology bringing care to patients where they are. These technologies and emerging patient-centered tools—ranging from real-time virtual visits, to phone apps, to patient portals, to remote patient monitoring—have tremendous capacity for expanding patient access to care
  • Growth of healthcare consumerism requiring cost and quality information. There are growing online resources for healthcare review, cost and quality information. To address consumerism in cancer care, it’s important for cancer programs to provide information to help patients select the right provider and the right services.
  • Genomic medicine is transforming cancer care. With the rapid pace of change in this area, cancer programs are challenged to invest carefully as they move forward to integrate precision medicine into practice.

More coverage on this session is available here.  To learn more about the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE,  visit us at accc-cancer.org.

A Strong Voice in Challenging Times

By Amanda Patton, ACCC Communications

ACCC Capitol Hill Day 2017On Capitol Hill yesterday, in nearly 100 meetings with legislators and staff, ACCC advocates spoke out sharing the real-world impact of policy on cancer patients and cancer care delivery in communities across the country. Walking the halls of Congress were ACCC member physicians, nurses, administrators, pharmacists, social workers, financial advocates, and other members of the care team—from cancer programs and practices large and small—representing 23 states.ACCC Capitol Hill Day 2017

In conversations with legislators ACCC advocates urged that Congress:

  • Protect patient access to care, encompassing access to comprehensive affordable insurance coverage
  • Maintain meaningful access to clinical trials
  • Reject the NIH funding cuts proposed in the President’s FY 2018 budget and instead increase funding for NIH and the National Cancer Institute that is critical to our federal research infrastructure
  • Support federal oral parity legislation

Rep. Higgins-ACCC 2017 Hill DayDuring a lunch address, Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY), who co-sponsors the Cancer Drug Parity Act of 2017 (H.R. 1409) told ACCC members, “Your constituents are our constituents,” and “your presence here [on Capitol Hill] is very important.”

In these challenging times, as Congress continues to deliberate reforms to our healthcare system, ACCC advocates spoke with a united, strong voice, encouraging their legislators to set aside politics and put patients first. Summing up the experience, Hill Day participant ACCC President Jennie R. Crews, MD, MMM, FACP, said, “Being on Capitol Hill today, it’s apparent that health reform is not dead and we need to remain vigilant that protections are there for our patients.”


ACCC Capitol Hill Day kicks off the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE. Follow the meeting conversation on Twitter using #CANCERSCAPE as we live-tweet top takeaways. Stay tuned for blog updates with meeting highlights.

Why I’m Going to Capitol Hill On March 29

By Virginia Vaitones, MSW, OSW-C

U.S. CapitolACCC Capitol Hill Day 2017 happens to coincide with national Social Work Month, which the National Association of Social Workers is marking with theme Social Workers Stand Up.  As an oncology social worker, this year I’m putting on my patient advocate’s hat, standing up, and going to Capitol Hill to share with legislators the stories of how my patients are being impacting by worry and uncertainty about how  changes to the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid program may affect their insurance coverage and access  to care.

My home state of Maine has the distinction of having the oldest population in the country per capita and Knox County, where I live and work, has the oldest population in the state.  Many of my patients who are on Medicare also have MaineCare (Maine’s Medicaid program) as their secondary insurance.  The current proposed changes to how the federal government supports states with Medicaid funding will have a tremendous impact on my patients.

Besides the elderly population that I need to advocate for, the proposed cuts and changes in payment will have an impact on my younger patients who become disabled with their cancer diagnosis and depend on Medicaid to cover the cost of their cancer treatments.  As a patient advocate, I will be standing up for these patients as well.

My advocacy skills also are needed to bring the stories of how cancer impacts parents, small business owners, and working adults with a cancer diagnosis, who for the first time were able to afford health insurance under the ACA and now face uncertainty about whether they will have coverage or be able to continue to afford the cost of coverage.

Last but not least, I work in a rural community hospital whose doors are always open and that will treat patients whether or not they have insurance coverage.  I need to advocate for my hospital so that we can keep our doors open.

Capitol Hill Day, March 29, will bring together ACCC members representing cancer programs from across the country.  Together we will be standing up for our patients, for access to quality care close to home, and for our cancer programs.


Virginia Vaitones, MSW, OSW-C, is oncology social worker at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Maine, and a past president of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC). 

Oncology Social Workers’ Role in Patient-Centered Care

By Fran Becker, LCSW, OSW-C

JPG-2017SWM-LogoWebMarch is National Social Work Month.  This year, the National Association of Social Workers’ theme is “Social Workers Stand Up.”  This is a time to acknowledge the contributions of all social workers.  Some social workers are part of a team, others work independently—all are patient centered in their approach to care.  Oncology social workers are part of this proud group—but our work differs in several ways.  While master’s degree prepared social workers are trained in assessing the psychosocial needs of their clients and in provision of a range of services, oncology social workers often have additional expertise and specialized clinical training in the meaning and impact of a cancer diagnosis on patients and their families.

Oncology social workers must have a working knowledge of cancer treatments, the side effects of treatment, and the psychosocial impact on the patient and family.  This skill set is a broad one, especially for those working in community cancer centers who are called on to help patients and families at all stages of illness and diagnoses. Oncology social workers may assist patients with a wide range of concerns, including issues faced by patients at high risk of cancer, those newly diagnosed, patients in active treatment, as well as helping with survivorship, palliative care, and end-of-life issues.

Oncology social workers need to be knowledgeable about individual and family coping styles, resources, clinical interventions, and employ a myriad of other skills to help patients and families manage the multidimensional (emotional, financial, and physical) impact of a cancer diagnosis through their long journey. This management can range from distress and depression screening to assisting with transportation issues. It can encompass educating patients (and their caregivers) about stress management and self-care. It can entail working with parents on how to talk about cancer in an age-appropriate way with their children or with employees on how to discuss their needs with their employers, and extend to finding community resources to assist with a number of problems.  And, at times, it is sitting with a family facing the loss of a beloved family member.

Key to success as an oncology social worker is the ability to be present, to engage open-heartedly with empathy and compassion, to start where the patient is, focus on hearing the patient and/or family needs, and helping them to meet those needs, which may range from a simple referral to managing complex multidimensional issues.

I often hear—“Your job must be very hard, I don’t know how you do it.” In my career as an oncology social worker, one of the most important things that I’ve learned after 30 years of working with cancer patients and their families is that it is a privilege to walk alongside them during their journey, whatever the outcome.  There are fears and tears, but laughter and warmth, too. To me, oncology patients and their families are role models of courage and grace in the face of an often traumatic and life-changing experience.

As we join in marking National Social Work Month, I would like to acknowledge my fellow oncology social workers and say “thank you” for your contributions as part of the multidisciplinary cancer care team.


Guest blogger Fran Becker, LCSW, OSW-C, is manager of Cancer Support Services, Carl & Dorothy Bennett Cancer Center, Stamford Hospital, and a past member of the ACCC Board of Trustees.

ACCC thanks all oncology social workers for their efforts as part of the multidisciplinary team delivering patient-centered care in cancer programs across the country.

Navigation Metrics & Value-Based Care: Measuring Up

By Tricia Strusowski, RN, MSN

Compass pointing at answers-SMALLAs the move to value-based care and Alternative Payment Models (APMs) continues, oncology patient navigators need to become more business savvy and have a full understanding about value-based cancer care metrics.  Case in point: Medicare’s Oncology Care Model (OCM) pilot, the first oncology-specific alternative payment model developed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). Data collection and reporting metrics are integral elements of this five-year pilot program, which seeks to achieve higher quality, more highly coordinated care, and smarter spending.

The challenge: Navigation programs lacked strong evidence-based metrics to demonstrate the impact of navigation on the key areas of quality, coordination, and cost-effectiveness.

The good news: the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN+) recently released 35 evidenced-based metrics in the key categories of patient experience, clinical outcomes, and return on investment.

These metrics were developed using the AONN+  evidence-based Navigation General Certification Domains:

  • Community Outreach and Prevention
  • Coordination of Care/Care Transitions
  • Patient Advocacy/Patient Empowerment
  • Psychosocial Support Services/Assessment
  • Survivorship/End of Life
  • Professional Roles and Responsibilities
  • Operations Management/Organizational Development/Healthcare Economics
  • Research and Quality Performance Improvement

The metrics were developed so that any cancer program or practice can utilize them regardless of the navigation model in place.  The goal in providing these standard metrics is for cancer programs and practices to use them “as a baseline to prove the efficacy and sustainability of their [navigation] programs.”1 Learn more and access metrics.

Partnering to Advance Value-Based Cancer Care
As oncology providers work to improve care coordination and demonstrate delivery of patient-centered, efficient, quality care, patient navigators can play an important role in establishing connections by partnering with physician practices.

For example, navigators can integrate with physician practices to:

  • Increase efficiency and timely access to services by providing comprehensive assessments and referrals to appropriate disciplines
  • Reinforce patient education and empowerment through decision aids and patient appointment checklists
  • Create standing order sets, physician profiles, pathways, and guidelines
  • Increase support for clinicians, i.e., provide early discussions about palliative care, goals of care, advance care planning, and pre-habilitation
  • Increase contacts with “frequent flyers” to decrease ER visits and avoidable admissions
  • Provide automatic referrals to financial counseling at time of diagnosis (generate self-referral reports)

On Thursday, March 30, I will present a more in-depth look at the potential for “Creating Partnerships Between Oncology Nurse Navigators & Oncology Practices” in a session at the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE.  The oncology landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace.  I believe now is the time to explore how navigators can support value-based care initiatives with physician practices, as we all work to keep patients at the center of care delivery.

I hope to see you at CANCERSCAPE, March 29-31, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Reference

1 Strusowski T, Sein E, Johnston D. Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators Announces Standardized Navigation Metrics. J Oncol Nav Survivorship. 2017; 8(2):62-68.

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ACCC member Tricia Strusowski, RN, MSN, is a consultant with Oncology Solutions, LLC, with 20 years of experience in patient navigation.