Focus on the Wisconsin Association of Hematology & Oncology 

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We formed WAHO so we could provide an educational vehicle for oncologists to keep them up-to-date on new cancer advances and also give them a forum for exchanging ideas.

—Federico A. Sanchez, MD

The Wisconsin Association of Hematology & Oncology (WAHO) is among the youngest of ASCO’s State Affiliates. Formerly known as the Wisconsin Association of Medical Oncologists, WAHO was officially formed just 2 years ago and is already having an impact on oncologists and patients with cancer throughout the state. With 60 members, WAHO is the largest organization in Wisconsin representing oncologists and hematologists and has initiated an aggressive program to preserve private oncology practices to ensure patients have continued access to high-quality cancer care.

WAHO is also on the frontlines of tackling difficult issues confronting oncologists and their patients, including maintaining adequate physician reimbursement by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, supporting introduction of an Oral Chemotherapy Parity Bill, and ensuring patients have access to enrollment in clinical trials.

The ASCO Post talked with WAHO’s President, Federico A. Sanchez, MD, about his association’s challenges and his goals for its future.

Challenges and Opportunities

The original ASCO State Affiliate, the Wisconsin Association of Medical Oncology, became inactive 10 years ago. Why was it important for you to revitalize your state society?

I knew that being an ASCO State Affiliate would give oncologists the collective power to improve care for patients. In Wisconsin, as in many states, physicians are leaving private practice and becoming employees of hospitals. This shift poses a number of challenges to oncologists and their patients. 

We formed WAHO so we could provide an educational vehicle for oncologists to keep them up-to-date on new cancer advances and also give them a forum for exchanging ideas. Oncologists are a collegial group of medical professionals.

In the past, it was possible to consult with colleagues about a difficult case. But now huge health-care companies like Aurora Health Care in Wisconsin manage many oncology practices and hospitals, so the ability to have that kind of one-on-one consultation is nearly gone. The only way to protect that kind of relationship from disappearing altogether was through the formation of WAHO.

You currently have 60 members. Do you expect to increase membership soon?

There are about 400 oncologists in Wisconsin, and through membership drives we hope to increase membership to at least 200 within a year.

What are some of the current challenges you face?

Our challenges are similar to the ones other societies are facing. One of our biggest concerns is how to bring quality oncology care to the uninsured or underinsured population. Some of those issues will be resolved once the state establishes the health-care exchanges required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2014. I am also planning on opening a clinic for our Latino population, which is our largest underserved minority group in Wisconsin.

We are also very involved in supporting the introduction and passage of an Oral Chemotherapy Parity Bill, which our legislators, so far, have refused to even introduce for a vote. To help convince legislators of the importance of this bill, WAHO is collecting data from big health institutions that provide specialty care like Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin and Aurora Health Care pharmacies to figure out what percentage of the population needs help in paying for oral cancer drugs and which patients are being sent to charity institutions for treatment or are declaring medical bankruptcy. Once we have that information, we will be able to use it to counteract the claim by health insurance companies that cancer patients are not having a problem making the copayments on these oral medications.

Making Voices Heard

What else would you like readers of The ASCO Post to know about WAHO?

There are some states that have not yet gone through the experience of having corporate health-care organizations buy out private oncology practices, but readers should be aware that eventually these kinds of buyouts will happen in all states. One way that we will be protected is to make sure that we stay informed and engaged both locally and nationally. Through our activism we can make our voices heard and become co-creators in the development of health-care pathways for the best treatment of our patients. ■