In the last issue of the newsletter, I suggested that physician anesthesiologists would rise to the occasion. What we have done is nothing short of heroic. Despite the personal risks, despite the lack of equipment and PPE, despite drug shortages, despite the economic hardship, we persevered in delivering care to our patients.
We stepped up when others wouldn’t. We have demonstrated our value to our hospitals and health systems. We will continue to do what’s right for our patients as long as this pandemic continues.
In this issue of the newsletter, you will read stories of resilience, adaptability and ingenuity. Throughout the pandemic, anesthesiologists across the Commonwealth relied on expert training and experience to provide superior care to patients despite the risks. This situation was difficult for all of us, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we should all be poised to enter the recovery phase and continue to lead in our communities. In this issue, we will highlight some COVID success stories, personal accounts, and heroic actions.
Throughout this experience, our work to advocate for ourselves and our specialty has and will continue to go on. I would argue, that there has never been a better time for anesthesiologists to demonstrate to our patients, our colleagues, administrators, the public, and lawmakers who we are and what we do. It is our job to explain what COVID means to the specialty of anesthesiology and why our background, training and experience is vital to this fight.
On your behalf, your VSA leadership continuously explained our role and how it was affected by COVID through phone calls, virtual meetings and other communication with our elected leaders and government agencies, emphasizing our “can do” approach and proposing solutions to problems.
Despite what is going on back at home, every year the ASA Legislative Conference is an opportunity to organize and educate ourselves on the key federal issues impacting our specialty. After the conference, we meet with our legislators to advocate for anesthesiology. During the pandemic, this year the ASA legislative conference became a virtual meeting, so your VSA leadership was not able to represent you personally with our legislators in Washington.
However, many VSA members attended the conference remotely on Saturday May 30, and learned about the important federal advocacy issues we are facing. COVID was front and center in our legislative priorities in two important ways. First, we advocated for increased Medicare payment for anesthesiologists taking care of COVID patients.
Did you know that hospitals receive a 20% bonus payment from Medicare for COVID patients? Under legislative language proposed by ASA in the CCASPR act (Critical Care and Anesthesia Services Payment Reform), physician anesthesiologists would receive additional payments related to the complexity and difficulty with the care of COVID patients. We all realize how challenging the disease can be to manage, and physician anesthesiologists deserve to be paid more than we are for “routine” patients, just like hospitals.
Second, we communicated the critical role residents play on the front lines of the COVID battle and advocated for some debt relief, as well as relaxation of interest accrual on loans during training.
We discussed two other important federal topics with our lawmakers. First, we advocated for Safe VA Care and asked for assistance with reversing the VA’s emergency action to suspend physician supervision for nurse anesthetists in the VA Health System. It is simply wrong that our veterans should be treated with a lower standard of care than the rest of us.
Second, although the issue was put on the backburner during the pandemic, we reemphasized the importance of solving the problem of balance billing for our patients. None of us want patients to be put in the middle between physicians and insurance companies, but we must advocate for a fair payment system for our services. Through phone calls with legislators and their staff, we were able to communicate the importance of considering all of these issues.
Advocating for our practices and our specialty will always continue, whether there is a pandemic or other issues in the world. When we advocate for anesthesiologists, our patients benefit and for this purpose we are united.
If you are more interested in our advocacy efforts, visit the ASA Advocacy website at https://www.asahq.org/advocacy-and-asapac and make sure to sign up for the Grassroots Network. This is a great time to join us in spreading the word about how physician anesthesiologists make a difference.
As always, if you have ideas or feedback, please reach out to me at Jeffrey.email@example.com. We are always looking for additional anesthesiologists to get involved and make important connections across the Commonwealth.