ACLA Prepares to Tackle Tough Lab Industry Issues

New initiative designed to educate Congress, health officials, and public about value of lab tests

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CEO SUMMARY: At its annual meeting last month, the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA) rolled out a new campaign to educate Congress, government and private payers, and the American public about the value of laboratory testing. Called “Results for Life,” the campaign is a well funded and ambitious effort to carve out a place at the table for laboratory testing. A growing number of lab industry players are joining the effort.

SINCE THE EARLY 1980S, about the time that Medicare introduced DRGs (Diagnosis-Related Groups), the nation’s laboratory industry has failed to receive consistent funding and support from both federal health programs and private payers.

Now a credible effort to reverse this situation has commenced, under the leadership of the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA), based in Washington, DC. Under the title “Results for Life,” ACLA is “ready to take the offensive with a message about the value of laboratory testing,” stated Alan Mertz, President of ACLA. “We are determined to get the message to members of Congress, policymakers, the media, and other stakeholders.

Invisible Component

“For too long, laboratory testing has been a rather invisible component of the American healthcare system,” declared Mertz. “Because of this fact, patients and even many physicians remain unaware of the extent to which laboratory testing contributes to improving healthcare outcomes while simultaneously contributing to a reduction in the overall cost of the healthcare encounter.

“Second, legislators, private payers, and other stakeholders, failing to fully appreciate the leverage and value that laboratory testing contributes on precisely these points, has been engaged in a sustained, 25-year cycle of funding reductions, reimbursement cuts and even counterproductive coverage guidelines for laboratory testing.

“It is time to reverse this situation and elevate the awareness of laboratory testing’s value to the proper level,” continued Mertz. “Our spearhead for this effort is ‘Results for Life,’ but that is just the starting point in what will be a long, persistent campaign to help decision-makers and stakeholders gain a full and deep appreciation of the compelling benefits of laboratory testing.” (www.labresultsforlife.org)

ACLA is not alone in this effort. In addition to the full support of its 30 member laboratory organizations, it has the financial support of outside participating sponsors that include Abbott Molecular, the College of American Pathologists (CAP), Roche Diagnostics, Siemens Medical Solution Diagnostics, and Sysmex America.

To further demonstrate the credibility of the “Results for Life” campaign, at the kick-off press conference in Washington, DC, on April 18, one of the main speakers was Charles Rangel (D-NY), who is Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives.

Pete Stark At ACLA Meeting

Over the next two days, at ACLA’s annual meeting, formal remarks were delivered by Pete Stark (D-CA), who is Chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee in the House, and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who is Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee in the House.

The presence of these influential congressmen at a laboratory industry event was a signal that ACLA has attracted their attention. Certainly the cause of laboratory testing has an element of “Mom, apple pie, and the American flag” to it, which is always attractive to politicians. However, in the remarks these representatives made, they showed an awareness of specific issues critical to the success and future of laboratory testing.

Another element of “Results for Life” demonstrates that this campaign is organized to have maximum credibility and effectiveness. It incorporated the services of Public Opinion Strategies (POS) of Arlington, Virginia. Founded in 1991, The New York Times calls Public Opinion Strategies “the leading Republican polling company.” Currently POS is engaged and doing work on behalf of 18 senators, 50 representatives, and eight governors.

In healthcare, Public Opinion Strategies includes among its clients such organizations as the American Hospital Association (AHA), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Lab executives and pathologists are likely to know of Public Opinion Strategies through one of its most famous public campaigns—the series of “Harry and Louise” television commercials which are credited with coalescing public opinion against the “Hillarycare” health reform proposals in the early 1990s. Advertising Age describe the Harry and Louise campaign as “among the best conceived and executed public affairs advertising programs in history.”

The accomplishments of Public Opinion Strategies are important to understand. They demonstrate how ACLA is aligning itself with some of the nation’s best talent at identifying key issues and creating public and legislative awareness for action. In fact, at both the “Results for Life” kick-off press conference and ACLA’s annual meeting, Partner and Co-Founder of Public Opinion Strategies, Bill McInturff, presented the results of its research on public attitudes toward laboratory testing. This research was commissioned by ACLA.

Survey Of Registered Voters

During March 25-27, 2007, Public Opinion Strategies contacted 800 registered voters across the United States. The study determined that, over the past 12 months, seven in 10 voters reported having a laboratory test conducted.

Based on registered voters’ responses to the survey questions, McInturff noted several key findings. For example, “more than two-thirds of voters believe that, overall, lab tests are saving money in the healthcare system.” A total of 68% say it saves money and 20% say it costs money.

McInturff also determined that, once voters have some information and context about clinical laboratories, they generally hold a favorable opinion of clinical laboratory services. In fact, after hearing a short message about the value of laboratory testing, 77% of registered voters held a high opinion about laboratory testing.

McInturff called attention to this significant finding and commented that there are few issues in our society that generate such a high level of favorable public opinion. He observed that this was an auspicious starting point for the “Results for Life” campaign.

During the survey of registered voters, McInturff also noted that an unexpected finding had emerged. Surveyed voters had high rates of agreement with the statement that laboratory testing provides “precision and peace of mind.”

He explained that, in world of polling and public opinion, it is extraordinarily uncommon to find this pairing. It blends an objective fact—precision (that laboratory tests provide precise information and answers) and an emotion (peace of mind). McInturff believes that the combination of these concepts creates mental images that will be powerful in building awareness of the value and contribution of lab testing.

Further, since public opinion influences legislators, the laboratory testing profession has many positive attributes that can be utilized in the effort to get elected officials, policymakers, and payers to respond favorably on funding and issues of vital importance to clinical laboratories.

Establishing Priorities

During the annual meeting, ACLA officials discussed other priorities for 2007 and beyond. There is the usual list of legislative and regulatory issues, ranging from competitive bidding of laboratory services and grandfathering technical laboratories to action on pending bills in Congress.

What sets these efforts apart from earlier years is that ACLA is actively building and participating in coalitions with other lab industry associations, organizations, and companies. In the same vein, it is more willing to develop strategic alliances that will further the overall goals of raising the lab industry’s visibility among consumers, politicians, and healthcare stakeholders.

Champion of change at ACLA is its President, Alan Mertz. Since his arrival at the association in 2003, Mertz has been busy recruiting new members. ACLA now has 30 member laboratories and the number is increasing with regularity.

Mertz is also knowledgeable about the ways of Washington. He served in senior staff positions in the House and Senate during the years 1980 to 1998. During the 1998-2003 period, Mertz was Executive Vice President of the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC).

Develop Common Purpose

THE DARK REPORT observes that ACLA is bringing something new to the laboratory industry. Its leadership has a determination to draw together the disparate factions across the laboratory industry and help them unite on key issues to speak with one voice—and be effective in communicating the laboratory issues that legislators and policymakers must hear and understand.

By engaging experts such as Bill McInturff and Public Opinion Strategies, ACLA members are demonstrating a willingness to fund a more sophisticated effort to raise public awareness and gain new respect for the capabilities of laboratories and laboratory medicine to do more in meeting the nation’s healthcare challenges. That is certainly a change from the past two decades, when the divided nature of the laboratory industry made it possible for Congress and Medicare to continually carve away at the financial integrity of laboratory testing in this country.

Because of the importance of this effort, THE DARK REPORT encourages clients and readers to learn more about these activities and support them as appropriate, starting with a visit to www.labresultsforlife.com.

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