Alec Stone
Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

This was the only race I ever lost in my life, but in the process, I learned two extremely valuable lessons. During the campaign, my father had left me to my own devices, but when it was over, he pointed out that I had taken my own neighborhood for granted. He was right: I had received a tremendous vote in the other sections of the city, but I hadn’t worked hard enough in my own backyard. ‘Let me tell you something I learned years ago,’ he said. ‘All politics is local.’

Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill’s autobiography, speaking about what he learned from his 1935 campaign for Cambridge City Council, which became an American axiom in politics

’Tis the season. Well, at least in DC, it’s an exciting time. A political year. A long summer recess. A host of bills that are on the verge of passing. We are all aflutter with anticipation of the possibilities. But legislators need to remember who sent them to Washington and for what reason. Advocacy begins at home, and elected officials are heartened by what their constituents request, especially when that legislation is bipartisan and emotional and can affect people’s lives.

When it comes to advocacy, ONS is literally at the table. Sitting with coalition partners, oncology nurses add real value and understanding to the discussions about health care. As the most trusted profession, nurses’ input makes a difference in how policy is introduced, interpreted, and implemented. The role of the nurse in health care is paramount and holds a unique place with decision makers.

Some of the important legislation that ONS has prioritized this congressional session include:

STAR Act: The Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research Act of 2018 (S. 292), known as the STAR Act, was signed into law by President Trump on June 5, 2018. It creates new authorities and extends and modifies existing ones related to childhood and adolescent cancer research, tracking, and survivorship. It was a piece of bipartisan legislation that U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced this year and, with the help of patients, providers, and the entire cancer community, was signed into law. (See sidebar for childhood cancer statistics.)

PCHETA: The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Treatment Act, known as PCHETA, has more than 270 bipartisan cosponsors in the House (H.R. 1676) and 30 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate (S. 693). The bill is intended to help providers manage patients’ pain and other symptoms, explain treatment options, and give patients more control over their care. The quality-of-life community eagerly believes that after many years, the bill may pass in 2018.

Visit ONS’s palliative care page for ideas and resources for oncology nurses.

Cancer Drug Coverage Act: Often referred to as the Oral Drug Parity Act by advocates, this bill’s (H.R. 1409) goal requires health plans to cover anticancer medications administered by providers at the same cost as those administered by patients. This is also a bipartisan piece of legislation with 159 cosponsors in the House but no Senate sponsorship yet. Although the bill has great support in the lower chamber, work in subsequent congressional sessions is required in the upper chamber to secure passage.

Cancer Care Planning and Communications Act: A new piece of bipartisan legislation, introduced just a few months ago, the Cancer Care Planning and Communications Act (H.R. 5160) has only a few members of the House of Representatives currently supporting it, but it continues to receive interest from many offices. The idea is to have Medicare coverage for providers’ work in cancer care planning and coordination. Because this is a new bill, and it is late in the legislation season, it will not become law and will need to be reintroduced in subsequent congresses. This is not an unusual path for bills, and the cancer community expects the process to continue for some time. However, once the foundation is laid, building on the first attempts will be easier.

Politics is an interesting game. Often called a figurative “blood sport,” it has many moving parts before getting to the goal line. One component is ensuring that representatives receive support from their constituents. That means that nurses have to be a player in their home legislative districts. Although efforts are essential in Washington, DC, it is equally important that nurses contact their House and Senate members in their states to reinforce that legislation resonates with those back home, too. 

Through ONS chapters, health policy liaisons carry ONS’s organizational policy priorities to federal representatives. This is a deliberate and continual process of educating elected officials and their staff on the role of the nurse in health care: implementing patient-centered, evidence-based research in a coordinated care environment. These are part of the ONS agenda, and don’t let your federal representatives forget that. One nurse can make a very big difference in public policy. 

Learn more about how you can get involved