Oncology Pharmacist Awareness and Advocacy for Patients by Patients: HOPA Hill Day 2022
Submitted by HOPA's Patient Outreach Committee
HOPA seeks to support pharmacy practitioners through promotion and advancement of hematology/oncology pharmacy to optimize care of individuals affected by cancer. We are all familiar with ways HOPA supports our development, including annual conference programming, special interest groups, committees, and the BCOP preparatory course; however, what may be less familiar is the role HOPA plays in advocacy not only on our behalf, but also on behalf of our patients. HOPA has been holding an annual Hill Day since 2012 where members have the opportunity to meet with legislators and discuss current bills, with a goal of improving access to care and the role of the pharmacist.
In 2020, annual Hill Day was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and resurfaced as a virtual Hill Day in October of 2021. That year, 26 HOPA members, including 1 patient from the Patient Advisory Panel, completed a total of 43 meetings across 20 states. On September 20, 2022, HOPA Hill Day resumed in person in Washington DC with 19 HOPA members and 3 patients from the Patient Advisory Panel holding 42 meetings with representatives of 16 states. The main goals of HOPA Hill Day 2022 were to discuss the Oral Chemotherapy Parity Bill (H.R. 4385/S. 3080: Cancer Drug Parity Act of 2021), and to educate legislative staff on the role of hematology/oncology pharmacists and their importance to patient care.
The Oral Chemotherapy Parity Bill (H.R. 4385/S. 3080: Cancer Drug Parity Act of 2021) seeks to apply the cost sharing rules of physician-administered treatment to oral anticancer medications with a goal of improving the affordability of oral chemotherapy for approximately 140 million patients covered by federally regulated group health plans. The hope is that this bill would allow for patients to receive the best care, without having to compromise optimal treatment based on affordability. While 43 states and the District of Columbia have already enacted oral chemotherapy parity laws, federal legislation is still needed to protect employer-sponsored group health plans. While this is not a bill that addresses actual cost of the medication itself, the Oral Chemotherapy Parity Bill would prevent a health plan from increasing out-of-pocket costs, reclassifying benefits with respect to anticancer medications, or applying more restrictive limitations on oral or intravenous anticancer medications – ultimately addressing coverage, access to care, and health insurance.
While 1 member of HOPA’s Patient Advisory Panel joined HOPA Hill Day virtually in 2021, HOPA Hill Day 2022 was the first year where patients from the advisory panel joined HOPA members in person on the hill! In this way, patients were able to support the mission of HOPA through their personal stories of how pharmacists play a direct role in their oncology care:
- George Valentine brought a notebook with him to his meetings that contained every prescription label from every medication he has been prescribed since he was diagnosed with CLL in the early 2000s. He used this notebook to show how vital pharmacists are to his care, and mentioned that his pharmacist is the one provider he had that knew every medication he takes. Offices were blown away by this visual representation of the importance of pharmacists.
- Steven Merlin brought his actual medication bottles with him to the Hill to illustrate the volume of medication he takes and spoke to the importance of patients having access to affordable treatments.
Nicole Watts, HOPA’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, had the opportunity to work with Erin Buss during Hill Day and states, “It was a humbling experience getting to spend the day with Erin and listen to her story and journey as a cancer patient and survivor. Her energy is infectious and her description of what we do as oncology pharmacists reminded me of why I became an oncology pharmacist. She was better able to articulate the impact of what oncology pharmacists do better than any of the oncology pharmacists in the room. She is a great champion and supporter of our profession and we couldn’t have done it without her.”