February 14, 2019
ASA Member Testifies before Key Senate Health Committee
On February 12, 2019, ASA member Halena Gazelka, M.D., Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine and Director of Inpatient Pain Services at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee for a hearing on “Managing Pain During the Opioid Crisis.”
Dr. Gazelka is also the Chair of the Mayo Clinic Opioid Stewardship Program and she highlighted in her testimony the program’s efforts to oversee prescribing practices across Mayo’s enterprise, as well as her insight on guaranteeing the needs of pain patients are met while also ensuring responsible prescribing practices.
Other witnesses before the HELP Committee included Cindy Steinberg, National Director of Policy and Advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and Policy Council Chair of the Massachusetts Pain Initiative; Andrew Coop, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; and Anuradha Rao-Patel, M.D., Lead Medical Director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.
Committee questions and the broader hearing discussion focused on research into non-opioid therapies; ensuring there is adequate patient and provider education; patient access to appropriate pain treatments and substance use disorder treatment; physician payment and reimbursement for services; biases and stigma in patient care; and the importance of finding the right balance between adequate pain care and responsible prescribing. Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-LA) emphasized that the Committee has never desired to limit prescribing or issue legislation on how providers should practice, rather they have left that up to the states and those practicing. Additionally, he noted that the Committee convened this hearing to gather information and learn more about what needs to be done.
There was interest by several Senators into how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain have been implemented. Dr. Gazelka commented that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Pain Management Inter-Agency Task Force, of which she is a member, has examined this issue. The Task Force Draft Report recommends a review of the Guidelines, both an update of the scientific evidence and current content. ASA has long supported efforts to clarify the intent and appropriate use of the Guidelines.
ASA commends Dr. Gazelka for her testimony and is pleased the HELP Committee recognizes the importance of physician anesthesiologists and pain medicine specialists in treating complex patients with acute and chronic pain.