As 116th U.S. Congress Begins, ASCO Focuses on Policy Priorities for Coming Year

January 22, 2019

As the 116th Session of the U.S. Congress gets underway in Washington, D.C., committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over cancer-related policy priorities are taking shape and selecting new and returning leadership, including:

  • House Appropriations: Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX)
    • Labor Health and Human Services Subcommittee: Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK)
  • Senate Appropriations: Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
    • Labor Health and Human Services Subcommittee: Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • House Energy and Commerce: Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Vice Chairman Yvette Clark (D-NY)
    • House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health: Chairwoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Ranking Member Michael Burgess (R-TX)
  • Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP): Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • House Ways and Means: Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA), Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX)
    • House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health: Chairman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Ranking Member Devin Nunes (D-CA)
  • Senate Finance Committee: Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR)
    • Senate Finance Committee Subcommittee on Health Care: Chairman Pat Toomey (R-PA), Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

With this new committee leadership in place, ASCO will continue its efforts to advance policy priorities including: federal funding for cancer research, patient access to clinical trials, oral parity legislation, and other potential barriers to care such as the high cost of cancer drug treatment, step therapy, and prior authorization policies.

Federally funded research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has contributed to significant advances against cancer. While there have been funding increases for NIH and NCI in recent years, the agencies are still recovering from stagnant funding from 2003 to 2015. ASCO supports a federal budget that prioritizes cancer research again in 2019.

Patient access to clinical trials is an important aspect of high-quality cancer care. ASCO continues its work to ensure that as many patients as possible can participate in clinical trials and supports legislation that would guarantee coverage for the routine costs associated with clinical trials for Medicaid enrollees.

While oral anticancer drugs can provide clinical advantages over more traditional anticancer treatments, some health plans impose higher cost-sharing requirements for people on oral medications. ASCO supports state and federal oral parity legislation to help patients access the care they need.

Addressing Drug Costs and Utilization Management

Like ASCO, Congress and the Administration are focused on efforts to address the cost of prescription drugs in 2019. The society will continue to work with Congress and the White House on drug pricing policies that benefit Americans with cancer, while continuing to caution against any strategies to contain costs that may limit patient access to care.

ASCO also supports legislation to limit step therapy and policies to ease the administrative burden from prior authorization. For people with cancer, step therapy—which requires a patient to try and fail on the payer’s preferred drug before the payer will cover the drug originally prescribed by the physician—can delay access to the right treatment and possibly cause irreversible damage to their overall health.

Prior authorization requires a patient or provider to secure pre-approval as a condition of insurance coverage for a prescribed medication or treatment. This process can be long and complex, and often delays patient access to care while creating a heavy administrative burden for providers.

ASCO is looking forward to working with the new Congress on these and other cancer policy priorities in the year ahead. Stay tuned to ASCO in Action for updates on these issues and breaking cancer policy news.