The second largest state in the nation (after Alaska), Texas covers a total area of 268,581 square miles and has a diverse population of over 26 million people. In 1987, the Texas Society of Medical Oncology, now the Texas Society of Clinical Oncology (TxSCO), was formed to address the oncology needs of Texas residents.
With over 500 members, which include more than 450 hematology and medical oncologists from every discipline as well as nurses, social workers, and pharmacists, TxSCO is among the largest and oldest of ASCO’s State Affiliates, officially becoming a State Affiliate in 1994. The Society is also the largest organization in the state representing oncologists.
The ASCO Post spoke with TxSCO President Gladys Rodriguez, MD, about the Society’s past accomplishments and its future goals.
Part of a Larger Community
Why was it important for TxSCO to become an ASCO State Affiliate?
Initially, the Society was formed to represent medical and radiation oncologists, but about 4 years ago the bylaws were changed to include other oncology professionals who help in the care of patients with cancer, such as nurses, pharmacists, and social workers. Texas is a very large state with a diverse population living in both rural and urban cities. We have a large Hispanic population and a huge underserved and underinsured population, so ensuring quality care for every patient can be challenging.
Being an ASCO State Affiliate allows us to collaborate with physicians both in community practices and academic cancer centers to improve oncology care for patients. It also gives us the opportunity to have a national platform and to work with other State Affiliates that might have similar problems so we can learn from other groups, share resources, and be part of a larger community.
What are some of the challenges you face that are unique to Texas?
Because our state is so large, patients living in rural areas may have to travel 300 or 400 miles to find oncology care, and the care may be uneven because some areas lack the resources oncology practices in larger cities have. Our mission is to provide advocacy for cancer patients and to promote standards of excellence for high-quality cancer care.
The theme of our annual meeting in September was Changes in Oncology: How to Improve Care. We had sessions on ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®), implementation of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ICD-10 codes, genomics and cancer care, and how to ensure patient access to treatment.
We provide information on our website to help patients and private oncology practices find the latest information on changes to health-care laws and to Medicare and Medicaid. We also post clinical trial details and patient assistance and reimbursement resources.
Public Policy Activities
How active is TxSCO in crafting or advocating public policy?
We are very active. We have a legislative committee, which studies issues relevant to our patients and physicians, and we partner with other societies and groups like the Texas Medical Association to ensure that all medical decisions remain between the physician and patient.
We also use a lobbying group called HillCo Partners to help us with changes to laws proposed by the Texas legislature, including Medicaid issues, and in providing information to patients about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and how to access the health insurance exchanges. Texas has opted out of creating a state-based health insurance marketplace, so we are evaluating how we can help patients access the federally created marketplace.
What legislative successes have you had?
One of the first pieces of legislation we championed was the Oral Chemotherapy Drug Parity bill Texas passed into law in 2011. We also were instrumental in helping low-income, uninsured women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer get medical assistance through the Medicaid for Breast and Cervical Cancer program. In 2007, any woman diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer who met eligibility requirements began receiving services. This was an important breakthrough because it allows patients to get care, including chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, for 5 years after they’ve been diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer.
Is TxSCO currently involved in other public policy issues?
Yes. In 2009, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) was created to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research programs throughout the state. Several of TxSCO’s board members worked with CPRIT to establish a statewide clinical trials network so promising cancer treatments could be matched with the genetic makeup of a patient’s tumor and the patient could be immediately enrolled in the trial.
We were very proactive with major cancer centers, including MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, to liaison with the medical and patient communities to ensure that patients had access to those clinical trials. Unfortunately, the program is on hold due to some accountability issues involving how CPRIT picked projects. But reforms have since been put in place so, hopefully, CPRIT will soon begin taking new grant applications and the clinical trials program will resume.
Importance of State Societies
Why is it necessary for ASCO members to belong to a State Affiliate?
I know that probably not every ASCO member belongs to a State Affiliate, and I’d like members to know that there are state societies available to them. It’s important to join a state society because it makes you aware of the problems colleagues and patients in your local community are dealing with. It also provides a forum to find common solutions that could help not only the individual practitioner, but also colleagues across the state. You can then use ASCO’s resources to help solve some of those problems. ■