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    AUA's chief advocate sets an aggressive agenda for Congress

    Prostate cancer research, Medicare reimbursement among top priorities

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    Bob Gatty
    Washington—Members of Congress and their staffs can expect to hear more about prostate cancer and the need to support research initiatives, now that AUA has a new chief lobbyist on board.

    Alec Stone, who has spent more than a decade advocating for biomedical research initiatives, took over as AUA's new director of government relations and advocacy on Sept. 1, and he intends to significantly increase AUA's visibility and influence on Capitol Hill.

    "When members of Congress hear about AUA, I would like them to think about prostate cancer," Stone told Urology Times in a recent interview. "Then we can go on to work on the other issues that are so important to our members."

    Some of those issues include the need to reform the Medicare payment system to avoid reimbursement reductions, the challenges involved with pay for performance policies, and self-referral and in-office imaging restrictions, among others.

    "I can't talk about details yet," Stone said, explaining that he has been working with AUA's health policy team to craft the association's legislative agenda. But he acknowledged that practice management, patient advocacy, and funding for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health will be on that agenda.


    Fast Facts
    "I have multiple piles—stacks of paper—on my desk, all representing different areas that we need to address," he said. "There is a lot to do and it will take time."

    He added that AUA will continue to work with other medical and specialty societies and organizations on issues in which there is broad interest and concern.

    In late September, Congress passed legislation that would have significantly expanded the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and submitted it to President Bush, who vetoed it Oct. 3. Congress was unable to field the two-thirds majority vote needed to override the veto.

    The House version of that legislation included a provision that would raise Medicare physician payments by .5% in 2008 and again in 2009 to prevent annual cuts required by law. Physician organizations, including AUA, had hoped that negotiators crafting a compromise between the House and Senate bills would preserve that language. However, lawmakers decided to pass a "clean" children's health insurance bill to preserve bipartisan Senate support of a measure that President Bush promised to veto. Thus, lawmakers said a resolution to the physician pay issue would not be able to ride through Congress in the children's health bill, although it remains a priority, as the effective date for next year's estimated 9.9% cut is Jan. 1.

    Meanwhile, Stone says AUA will be working hard to educate members of Congress and their staffs about prostate cancer and the need for adequate funding. He said AUA supports legislation sponsored in the House by Reps. Elijah Cummings and Albert Wynn, both Maryland Democrats, that would earmark more than $600 million for prostate cancer imaging research and education. It has 50 bipartisan co-sponsors.

    A similar bill, the Prostate Research Imaging and Men's Education Act (PRIME Act), was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and John Kerry (D-MA).

    A key point of the House legislation, Stone said, is to commit the federal government to supporting efforts to provide better diagnostic tools for prostate cancer, giving it the same level of priority attention as breast cancer has. During a Capitol Hill news conference in September, when the bill was introduced, Angelo De Marzo, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology, oncology, and urology at The Johns Hopkins University, noted that current diagnostic tools for prostate cancer are inadequate.

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    Bob Gatty
    Bob Gatty, a former congressional aide, covers news from Washington for Urology Times.

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