COA to Celebrate 20 Years of Advocacy at Annual Conference

Topics to be addressed at the annual conference, which will bring more than 1900 attendees to Kissimmee, Florida, include the Enhancing Oncology Model, efforts to regulate pharmacy benefit managers, and 340B reform.

This week, more than 1900 physicians, pharmacists, nurses, administrators and other leaders with a stake in the nation’s community oncology practices will gather in Kissimmee, Florida, for the premier event of the Community Oncology Alliance (COA), the 2023 Community Oncology Conference. The meeting opens with a president’s reception Wednesday evening, and sessions take place Thursday and Friday at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center.

This year’s theme, “The Next 20 Years of Community Oncology: Adapt. Evolve. Transform,” celebrates COA’s 20th anniversary of advocating for the physician-owned practices that serve slightly more than half of the US population diagnosed with cancer each year, which in 2022 was estimated to be 1.9 million people. The theme also highlights COA’s mission of working to help member practices stay current with best practices, the year’s clinical highlights, legislative and regulatory updates, and technology needed to embrace practice transformation.

Just 3 years after COA had to make its in-person conference go virtual on the fly, this “rite of spring” meeting now has record attendance and several new faces, as key staff members have joined the organization since last year. They include Judith Alberto, MHA, RPh, BCOP, director of Clinical Initiatives, and Shiela Plasencia, director of Practice Support.

“In addition to having a bigger and better crowd than ever before, we get to celebrate the achievements of community oncology over the last 2 decades, and then also chart the path forward with new topics, new ideas, and fresh leadership. So, it's going to be a really great conference,” said Nicolas Ferreyros, COA’s managing director of policy, advocacy, and communications said in an interview leading up to the meeting.

With the 20th anniversary, “There's a lot of excitement around that, and a lot of our past presidents will be there,” Plasencia said in a separate interview. Given the path that community oncology has taken over the past 20 years, she said, “it’s great to reemphasize that, and to look and see where we were, what we've gotten to now, and what we have in front of us.”

COA’s opening day welcoming session will feature remarks from the meeting’s co-chairs: Stephen “Fred” Divers, MD, of Genesis Cancer & Blood Institute and the American Oncology Network; Kathy Oubre, MS, CEO of Pontchartrain Cancer Center; Debra Patt, MD, PhD, MBA, vice president, Texas Oncology and the US Oncology Network; Stephen Schleicher, MD, MBA, chief medical officer, Tennessee Oncology; and Jeffrey Vacirca, MD, FACP, CEO and managing partner, New York Cancer & Blood Specialists and OneOncology.

A follow-up session, “20 Years of COA: the Value of Community Oncology,” will be moderated by COA Executive Director Ted Okon, MBA, and will feature COA President Miriam Atkins, MD, FACP, of AO Multispecialty Clinic; Lucio Gordan, MD, president and managing physician, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute; Barbara L. McAneny, MD, CEO, New Mexico Cancer Center; and Jeffrey Patton, MD, CEO, OneOncology and chairman of the board, Tennessee Oncology.

Thursday’s mid-morning highlight will be keynote speaker Will Flanary, MD, an ophthalmologist also known as the comedian, Dr. Glaucomflecken. Flanary’s humor is informed by his days as a medical school resident and also his experiences as a patient. A 2-time survivor of testicular cancer, he also survived a cardiac arrest thanks to his wife’s ability to perform CPR. His use of comedy as an outlet to relieve stress has become a unique window in the US health care system, academic publishing, and certain conflicts of interest.

As always, COA’s Community Oncology Conference offers insights into how actions by state legislators, members of Congress, and health care regulators affect both patient care and the survival of their practices. Heading into the 2023 meeting, a pair of perennial topics and a new one are top of mind, all best known by their initials: EOM, PBM, and 340B. All will be on the agenda:

The Enhancing Oncology Model (EOM), proposed last June as Medicare’s primary alternative payment model for cancer care and a successor to the Oncology Care Model (OCM), is set to start July 1, 2023, but many questions remain. COA’s Director of Clinical Initiatives, Alberto will moderate a session Thursday morning on the EOM and commercial payment reform initiatives.

After years of advocacy, COA’s efforts to highlight abuses of the 340B program reached a wider audience in the past year, as articles by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal chronicled how the drug discount program was helping the bottom line of large hospital systems without necessarily helping the impoverished areas it was meant to serve—or the patients who most needed help paying drug costs. COA has long maintained that the 340B program puts community oncology at a disadvantage, even though physician-owned practices deliver care more efficiently. This issue will likely come up at a Thursday morning session, “The Hospital Conundrum: A Gameplan for Fending Off Attacks and Coexisting,” to be moderated by Ferreyros.

Although practices by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) have been on COA’s radar screen for some time, complaints about prior authorization have escalated in recent years. COA members say prior authorization and PBM abuses follow mergers that integrated large payers with specialty pharmacies, as well as some provider groups. Patt, who is the current COA vice president, recently testified before a Senate committee about PBMs, and since last year’s conference, the Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into PBM practices.

On Thursday afternoon, David Eagle, MD, COA’s chair of Legislative Affairs and Patient Advocacy and an oncologist with New York Cancer and Blood Specialists, will moderate a session, “State and Federal Policies Aimed at Curbing PBM Bad Behavior.” On Friday morning, Okon will moderate the annual session on legislative updates, which will likely have more information on COA’s advocacy on this topic.

Clinical sessions and special topics. COA offers attendees clinical updates track over both days of the conference, with this year’s sessions featuring:

  • Erika Hamilton, MD, director of the Breast and Gynecologic Cancer Program at Sarah Cannon Research Institute (SCRI)/Tennessee Oncology, on triple negative and locally advanced breast cancers;
  • Gregory J. Riely, MD, PhD, vice chair of clinical research, Department of Medicine, Memorial Sloan Cancer Center, on advances in lung cancer;
  • Meredith Pelster, MD, MSCI, assistant director, gastrointestinal research SCRI/Tennessee Oncology, on systemic therapies for upper GI cancers;
  • Mike Lattanzi, MD, genitourinary medical oncologist, Texas Oncology / Austin, on genitourinary system diseases;
  • Amber Orman, MD, DipABLM, chief wellness officer, AdventHealth Medical Group, on “Empowering Patients Through Lifestyle Medicine: an Innovative Approach to Wellness.”
  • Richard L. Martin, III, MD, MPH, medical director of health equity and community engagement, Tennessee Oncology, on “Enhancing Equity in Clinical Research: Lessons Learned From Community Engagement Efforts.”

Other sessions cover the nuts and bolts of practice management and marketing, such as avoiding cyberattacks, improving social media, and working directly with employers.

In an interview earlier this year, Eagle said he looked forward to celebrating COA’s milestone anniversary. “I think a new oncology organization gets born about once every generation, and so we’re proud that we’ve been around for 20 years now,” he said.

Sessions on the EOM are very timely, as practices decide whether to move forward with the model. “I think we’re in a tricky time for that,” Eagle said. “We’ll be figuring out very soon thereafter whether it makes sense for practice to enroll.”

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