To address the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) enlisted feedback from its members, which led to the development of clinical resources, increased member engagement through virtual technology, and the advancement of new and existing advocacy priorities, according to a report in Gastroenterology.
In July and August of 2020, the AGA created and distributed the COVID-19 Needs Assessment survey to its members via email. Results were used to develop timely resources for the gastroenterology and hepatology (GI) community, inform advocacy efforts, and advance a legislative agenda that resulted in support for COVID-19-related legislative and regulatory protections.
Among survey respondents who were asked how their GI practices would be affected without future federal grants and loans, 42% of 313 respondents indicated that their practices would be “smaller (than pre-COVID-19 levels) and financially unhealthy.” About 95% of 358 respondents predicted a return to endoscopic volume lower than baseline prior to COVID, and a quarter of respondents predicted that a return to pre-COVID-19 levels would take longer than 12 months.
The Clinical Guidelines Committee and the Clinical Practice Update Committees created the Rapid Review Working Group for COVID-19 to develop evidence-based recommendations to guide use of personal protective equipment and preprocedure COVID-19 testing for endoscopic procedures. In addition, the AGA advanced existing gastroenterology advocacy priorities, leading to legislation that would close the Medicare colonoscopy loophole within COVID-19 relief legislation.
With use of the online AGA Advocacy Center, 364 members sent 1296 letters to their representatives in Congress regarding reimbursement cuts and 944 members sent 3047 letters regarding COVID-19 relief. The response to COVID-19 also aided existing advocacy programs, including 84% growth in the AGA Congressional Advocates Program. AGA members also increased engagement via the AGA political action committee.
The AGA supported a number of legislative and regulatory initiatives in 2020, directly addressing COVID-19. Efforts included supporting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ payment parity for audio-only telehealth visits and the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act, as well as delaying the proposed 5% cut to Medicare physician payments for 2021.
The AGA endorses the Building COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Act and the COVID-19 Prevention and Awareness Act of 2021, which fund vaccine promotion efforts in vulnerable populations and those at increased risk for COVID-19-related complications.
“Because the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges for GI physicians and their patients, the AGA is committed to continuing its engagement of its members for input, collaboration with other key stakeholders, and support of advocacy efforts,” the group stated. They concluded, “We are optimistic that by continuing to iterate on this approach, the AGA will continue to support its members and the patients they serve in any future disruptions in care.”
Mathews S, Natarajan Y, Sofia A, et al. Development of AGA’s policy agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gastroenterol. Published online May 11, 2021. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2021.04.076