House Passes Legislation to Combat Opioid Abuse

In March 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines for prescribing opioids in an effort to curb reported abuse by a growing number of Americans. On May 11, 2016, the House of Representatives passed a package of bills that would create an interagency task force to update and review best practice guidelines for opioid prescriptions. This bipartisan effort stems from the developing heroin and opioid abuse epidemic reported in the United States.

Along with creating the task force, the bills will introduce a number of programs and initiatives aimed to address issues surrounding drug abuse. Providing a way to properly dispose of unused medications, creating greater access to addiction treatment, and addressing the dangers of neonatal abstinence syndrome were chief among the programs listed. Although the issue of opiate abuse is an exceedingly dangerous one, ONS has voiced concern that stricter regulations may impact patients living with cancer and those with complex care needs. 

Long Island-Queens Chapter Advocates in DC

On May 23, 2016, the Long Island-Queens ONS chapter brought its board members to Washington, DC, for a first-ever advocacy day. Prepped in advance with ONS's Health Policy legislative priority agenda, the oncology nurses met with both of their New York U.S. Senate staff and four U.S. House offices, including Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY). Most of the meetings were to thank their federal representatives for supporting federal legislation for palliative care education funding. 

The one-day event was led by Christine Guarnieri, RN-BC, MSN, ONC®, chapter president, who said that "the Board is absolutely engaged in public policy issues and now better understands the value that ONS provides for oncology nurses on Capitol Hill. We recommend this exercise for other chapters. It was a real eye-opener on the importance of advocacy." This is a great example of nurses taking initiative for the profession, the practice, and the patients.

ONS, CMS, Others Discuss Medicare Changes

On May 9, 2016, ONS President Susan Scheinder, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, Chief Executive Officer Brenda Nevidjon, RN, MSN, FAAN, and Health Policy Director Alec Stone, MA, MPA, met with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), along with members from the Association of Community Cancer Centers and the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association to discuss the proposed change to reimbursement for Medicare Part B. The CMS-proposed change would alter the way physicians are reimbursed for the drugs they prescribe. Currently, physicians may be compensated more for prescribing one drug over another, despite both drugs delivering similar outcomes. This has led CMS to question whether prescriptions are being written to take advantage of this disparity in compensation. 

CMS representatives were interested to obtain feedback on the proposed change. ONS submitted comments regarding possible repercussions that may exist by altering the current method of compensation. During the meeting, ONS mentioned that alterations may create staffing issues in smaller community clinics impacted financially by the change. Having qualified oncology nurses on staff is critical to the safety of patients with cancer and the staff administering treatment. Any clinic under financial burden may be forced to cut staff, which may lead to safety-related issues. ONS also issued a private letter of thanks, encouraging CMS to continue evaluating their position before implementing any changes.