When Mark Fesen, M.D., was invited to serve on a nationwide health-care advisory committee, he jumped at the chance. What better way to learn more about new health-care issues and share his real-world input with national lawmakers.
Dr. Fesen is a medical oncologist at Salina-based Central Care Cancer Center. He treats patients at Heartland Cancer Center at Great Bend in partnership with St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center, and Garden City in partnership with St. Catherine Hospital.
He also sees patients at the Central Care facility in Wichita.
“I wanted to be part of this because there are so many changes affecting access to health care,” Dr. Fesen said. “These changes can be scary for everyone – patients, providers and health-care facilities.”
The invitation to serve on the panel came from Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who represents the 32ndDistrict in Texas. The approximately 35 physicians from around the country keep in contact on a regular basis and have met twice so far – in Dallas and Washington, D.C.
A third meeting will be scheduled.
“It is rare to get this sort of access to the congressional leadership,” Dr. Fesen said, noting he appreciates Sessions’ invitation. “Usually, the physicians advising politicians represent large medical societies or other entities.
“And they are not necessarily practicing physicians,” Dr. Fesen continued. “I want this direct access so lawmakers understand our everyday challenges and patients understand the leadership’s challenges.”
While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is bringing about many changes, access to treatment is a key concern.
“A lot more of what happens is driven by treatment guidelines,” Dr. Fesen said. “We are trying to do what it takes to care for patients. Many are chronically ill and/or elderly, and maybe of modest means; they are not in the best position to advocate for themselves.
“We must ensure everyone – no matter what walk of life they come from - has access to all types of health-care providers,” the oncologist added. “Our panel wants to be their voice.”
There is a palpable “fear of the unknown,” Dr. Fesen noted. “People are wondering if Medicare will pay for this test or that test. The treatment could be delayed or not happen at all.”
The approximately 20 congressmen who attended the Washington meeting are involved in writing legislation “with consideration for what they see as flaws of the ACA,” Dr. Fesen commented. “They are trying to ease the concerns and it was helpful for me to meet them. A lot of them are physicians, which gives them special insight.”
As part of its advocacy, the committee is sharing information about cumbersome numeric codes used to inform insurance companies. For example, if a patient has knee pain, there could be up to 250 insurance codes involved.
“It is a far bigger hassle for patients,” Dr. Fesen said. “And providers need more staff to handle the paperwork, while simultaneously, reimbursements are being cut. Every day is another hurdle.”
Dr. Fesen noted that everyone wants a more streamlined health-care system that would control costs, and limit overuse and redundancy. Electronic medical records have been touted as one answer, he said, but there is an inherent problem.
“You have this computer system and that computer system, and they don’t talk to one another,” he explained. “It is flaws like this we want to address. We need ease of use and information exchanges that help patients and protect their privacy.”
For instance, if a patient has a CT scan today in Kansas but is later out-of-state when another scan is considered, the new physician needs quick, reliable access to the first scan. “We don’t want to repeat a scan because the first results cannot be located,” Dr. Fesen said.
Two other Kansans attended the Washington meeting – Beloit’s Craig Concannon, M.D., and his wife, Susan, Kansas representative in the 107thDistrict. “It was great having the Concannons there,” Dr. Fesen said. “They brought a lot of expertise to the conversation.”