RheumWATCH Archives


Read the RheumWATCH archives on topics such as rheumatology advocacy, policy updates, insurance advocacy, and practice management.


Flex-IT 2 Act Introduced to Alleviate Practice Burdens

Flex-IT 2 Act Introduced to Alleviate Administrative Practice Burdens

Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-NC) made use of the final day before the August recess to introduce new legislation aimed at providing relief to physicians and healthcare providers from CMS reporting requirements. Last year, the ACR actively helped advance the original Flex-IT act by Rep. Ellmers. That initial effort was successful in pressuring CMS to maintain a 90-day reporting period for Meaningful Use, instead of transitioning to a full year of reporting.

Congresswoman Ellmers, a nurse from North Carolina who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has championed important issues affecting practicing rheumatologists. Building on the success of the original Flex IT Act, and receiving feedback from healthcare providers, Ellmers began working on new legislation to further address practice burdens that take away from quality time with patients.

The Flex-IT 2 Act (H.R. 3309) pointedly confronts issues with the Meaningful Use program through five robust approaches:

  1. Delaying Stage 3 rulemaking until at least 2017, or until MIPS final rules by CMS, or until at least 75% of doctors and hospitals are successful in meeting Stage 2 requirements (currently only 19% of physicians and healthcare providers have met Stage 2).
  2. Harmonizing reporting requirements for MU, PQRS, and IQR to remove duplicative measurement and streamline requirements from CMS.
  3. Instituting a 90-day reporting period for each year, regardless of state or program experience.
  4. Encouraging interoperability among EHR systems.
  5. Expanding hardship exemptions for providers.

The ACR and our advocates look forward to supporting this legislation when Congress returns in September. You can make a personal difference by sending a message to your lawmakers here asking for their support of H.R. 3309, the Flex IT 2 Act.

Federal Funding for Arthritis, Rheumatic Disease Research Dropping

Federal funding given to researchers who study arthritis and other rheumatic diseases has dropped significantly over the past five years, according to a report from the Rheumatology Research Foundation. As federal funding has dropped, private organizations are working to fill the gap.

Research into better understanding and treating debilitating rheumatic diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, and gout, is a serious concern for millions of people across the country. More than 11 million adults in the U.S. have a rheumatic disease and, including arthritis, these diseases are the number one cause of disability in the country, according to the CDC. The best way to prevent disabilities caused by arthritis and rheumatic diseases is to increase patient access to rheumatology specialists and develop better treatments through high-quality research.

In Analysis of Funding for Rheumatology Research and Training for the Period 2010–2014, the Foundation collected data on research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and 11 private foundations with interests in rheumatology from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2014. The Foundation then determined how much of that funding went to rheumatology professionals. According to the report, funding given to rheumatology researchers fell from more than $1.1 billion ($1,161,725,604) in 2010 to less than $700 million ($686,235,085) in 2014, amounting to a 40 percent drop in federal funding.

With federal support for rheumatology research decreasing, the burden of filling the widening gap falls in part on private organizations. From 2010 through 2014, private foundations infused more than $140 million ($140,363,090) into arthritis and rheumatic disease research, which covers less than 30 percent of the overall drop in federal funding.

David Karp, MD, PhD, president of the Foundation, says, “While funding from private foundations doesn’t completely offset the loss in federal support, we are excited to see that our efforts combined are making a big difference in ensuring scientific discovery within the field continues.” In an effort to fill the growing gap in federal funding, many of the organizations that provided data for the report are discussing ways to collaborate and work more efficiently. They are also encouraging lawmakers to support rheumatology research through the NIH. For more information on the state of funding for rheumatology research and training, read the Foundation’s full report.

Voice Your Concerns on Meaningful Use Requirements

While most physicians have adopted electronic health records (EHRs), usability issues have made EHRs burdensome, and many physicians haven’t been able to meet Meaningful Use requirements. After you ask your lawmakers to support the Flex IT 2 Act by Rep. Ellmers, please also take part in the AMA’s campaign to postpone new Meaningful Use regulations.

Share your story online, watch a video of real physicians discussing their own issues with the program, and email your members of Congress at breaktheredtape.org.

Message from the RheumPAC Chair

Ed HerzigPACs come in many forms; yours is a medical subspecialty society committee that represents you and the interests of all rheumatologists, rheumatology health professionals, and their patients. It is part of the ACR’s advocacy arm in conjunction with the Committee on Government Affairs (GAC). It has increased our collective ability to have face-to-face dialogue with influential representatives and senators.

In this way, we are able to present our issues, as defined by the GAC and the ACR Board of Directors, directly to members of Congress. The importance of this is illustrated in our successful efforts to put forward legislation that will benefit our patients and profession. Here are a few examples:

First, ACR members voiced their concerns to the College about ICD-10 implementation, and the ACR was able to weigh in with key members of Congress; implementation of the new code set was successfully delayed again last year. This year, again working with key lawmakers, legislation proposed by the ACR was introduced to apply a safe harbor for ICD-10 implementation (H.R. 2247, ICD-TEN Act). CMS subsequently announced they would go along with creating a safe harbor for 12 months during which claims would not be rejected due to having an incorrect ICD-10 subcode, as long as a valid code in the correct family is submitted.

Second, the Patients’ Access to Treatments Act (PATA; H.R. 1600) was also proposed by the ACR. Because of the in-person contacts we have made with members of the House of Representatives, GAC Chair William F. Harvey, MD, MSc, was able to give direct live testimony in a committee hearing. A number of your colleagues have had conversations with other House and Senate members about PATA. The coalition co-founded by the ACR and the Arthritis Foundation, the Coalition for Accessible Treatments, continues to grow in support of PATA.

Third, the idea of loan repayment for pediatric rheumatology fellowship trainees came from the ACR’s GAC. Many of us had conversations with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) because of the access afforded by your PAC. When the Affordable Care Act was written, Sen. Brown expanded the idea to include other cognitive pediatric fellowship trainees.

Finally, we have built our relationships and trust with members of the House and Senate, and their legislative aides ask for the ACR’s opinion about health-related legislation. This gives us input and equal access to our legislators, similar to the levels of such large medical societies as the AMA.

These are just some of the many examples of how your donations are used to Advance Rheumatology!

Donations & Dispersal

We are often told that ACR members do not want to contribute because they don’t want to donate to elected officials whose political views are contrary to their own or because they are concerned about partisanship. The answer is that in 2014, our contributions were almost evenly dispersed among the two major political parties. We still have to move our legislative agenda forward; only those who are in Congress can do this.

RheumPAC was authorized by the ACR Board of Directors approximately nine years ago at the urging of former ACR President Joseph Flood, MD. Yet still only approximately 4% of ACR/ARHP members contribute annually. We raised almost $140,000 last year. We must do better. A small society can have a big impact with targeted contributions.

I am asking that you please join your colleagues and visit RheumPAC to learn how you can get involved in these efforts. We also encourage you to get involved locally. If there is a candidate who you like and think would help us advance our legislative priorities, let us know at RheumPAC@rheumatology.org. We have developed a questionnaire to evaluate their views.

If you want to attend a fundraiser in your community, RheumPAC can sponsor your attendance. We will also help prepare you for the meeting if you are participating in a fundraiser as our representative for the first time. Remember: RheumPAC is the Voice of the ACR. Please express your personal support for rheumatology advocacy by donating to RheumPAC this year.

Thank you for your support and your unceasing dedication to Advancing Rheumatology!

Ed Herzig, MD

Chair, RheumPAC