By Brett Coldiron, MD, March 02, 2015
When I was sworn in as president of the Academy, I had an agenda: to help the individual dermatologist meet the challenges we face as health care evolves; to defend against threats to our patients and our specialty; and to activate our entire profession. With your excellent support, I believe our Academy has tackled some of the most significant challenges head on, and made great strides to protect our specialty and our patients. It would be unthinkable to wrap up my term without highlighting several of our achievements.
Early on in my tenure, we learned that several Medicare Advantage (MA) plans narrowed the scope of their provider networks and, as a result, many of our patients cannot get dermatologic care. As a specialty, we hit the ground running on this issue, meeting with the White House, CMS, members of Congress, private payers, MedPAC, and our physician colleagues in other specialties. As a result of our efforts, Congress introduced the Medicare Advantage Participant Bill of Rights Act of 2014, which would enhance beneficiary and physician protections and improve transparency in the MA networks. Additionally, the AMA approved a policy that calls on insurance companies to provide patients with an accurate and comprehensive directory of participating physicians. CMS also joined the fight and issued a proposed rule that would implement new standards for network directories to ensure patients have accurate and up-to-date provider information. When this rule becomes effective many of our patients’ access problems will be resolved because it will be obvious that there are not enough dermatologists in their networks.
As a specialty, we ignited this fire and without our efforts this serious issue would not be at the forefront of policy discussions.
From promoting access to care to banning access to indoor tanning devices, we also continued our efforts on skin cancer prevention in 2014. We wrote letters to our local representatives, the FDA, the CDC, the Surgeon General’s office, and members of Congress, and talked to our patients about the dangers of indoor tanning and UV exposure. As a result, not only did the FDA strengthen its regulations on indoor tanning devices, four additional states banned indoor tanning for minors under the age of 18. Additionally, with our input and guidance, the Office of the Surgeon General and the CDC issued a national call-to-action on skin cancer prevention. Tanning has become the new tobacco. Our work on this issue was instrumental in each of these accomplishments.
However, the year was not without challenges. Last year, CMS released raw payment data on thousands of physicians without providing context, giving the public and policymakers an unfavorable and inaccurate impression of our specialty. In addition, we are increasingly up against venture capitalists looking to make exorbitant profits off of patients through retail clinics and telemedicine —all at the cost of quality care. As a result, the Academy’s Board of Directors has stepped up to these challenges and is launching a data registry that will define our role as specialists and provide members the tools they need to demonstrate their quality of care with insurers and policymakers.
Finally, our specialty is strengthening its voice through its collective involvement in grassroots advocacy. Nearly 140 physicians attended the 2014 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. and met with 180 congressional offices representing 32 states. SkinPAC — the American Academy of Dermatology Association’s political action committee — raised almost $1.5 million during the 2014 election cycle. Due to SkinPAC’s careful consideration and selection of candidates, 93 percent of candidates who received SkinPAC support secured victories in their elections. Thank you for your contributions. Keep it up!
This brief summary of our achievements is only the tip of the iceberg, and it’s a wonder how we got so much done in such a short time. However, it would be unwise to assume that our job defending access for our patients is finished. Health care and policy are evolving, and as a specialty we need to continue our charge and adapt our strategies to the changes and priorities at hand. Your work is not done; my work is not done; our work is not done. Protecting my patients is my ultimate responsibility. I know you all feel the same and I hope you will continue to defend our patients’ access to quality dermatologic care. I may move on, but I will never rest.