One student's perspective of the 2017 ASCLS Legislative Symposium
By: Erin Barger
ASCLS-OH Student Member, University of Cincinnati MLS Program Class of 2018
Attending this year’s ASCLS Legislative Symposium I felt like I had a real voice for change. I not only received a glimpse into the how-to’s of congressional lobbying, but was also presented with the real-world issues that face our career field today. These issues go beyond the newest healthcare bill, and in some cases beyond current administrations. These are the issues that affect not only our profession specifically, but have overarching implications for healthcare in the US.
The first such issues addressed was PAMA, (Protecting Access to Medicare Act) and was the most immediate threat to our field. Initially, PAMA was a cost-saving measure whereby CMS could take data from “applicable labs” and assess the CLFS (Clinical Lab Fee Schedule). The overall problem is that the CLFS is based on incomplete data taken from only a few labs across the country, although all Medicare/Medicaid recipient labs will be affected. ASCLS went to The Hill to ask Congress to push back data collection and reporting deadlines until next year to give us time to revise the definition of “applicable laboratory” to help clear confusion and to delay enforcement of the guidelines until 2019. Additionally, CLFS hasn’t been reviewed since its inception in 1986, whereas other healthcare fields have been, such as the Ambulance and Radiology Fee Schedule.
Another issue ASCLS was asking Congress to consider was the severe workforce shortage the CLS/MLS field faces. Bureau of Labor statistics expects there will be a 16% growth in our field over the next 10 years (ASCLS). Nationally, colleges would need to graduate 12,000 students per year to cover that growth; unfortunately, current trends only see about 5,000 graduates per year. Additionally, the age of the laboratory workforce is steadily increasing, averaging 43.7 years, and aging 78% faster than the entire US labor market (ASCLS). We asked Congress to consider this through the Veteran’s Health Administration to begin to address this concern. As it stands, the VA Hospital in Cincinnati, OH has already expanded their VALOR (VA Learning Opportunities Residency) internship program beyond nurses to include qualified Medical Lab Science students at the University of Cincinnati.
The third issue ASCLS addressed centered around the regulation of Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a proposal in 2014 for a three-tier system, risk-based framework for LDT oversight. And in January 2017, the FDA released a discussion paper and announced it would be withholding final guidance until the public had a chance for discussion and Congress had a chance to find a legislative solution. ASCLS had numerous responses for the discussion paper, and those can be found outlined on the ASCLS website in the “Leave Behinds” section for the Legislative Symposium (http://www.ascls.org/education-meetings/legislative-symposium).
As a student, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being involved early in your career in conversations like these. ASCLS is quite literally shaping the future of the medical laboratory field, and everyone, from student to professor to laboratory professional, needs to be involved.
Growing Crisis in the Clinical Laboratory Workforce. ASCLS March 2017 http://www.ascls.org/education-meetings/legislative-symposium