Two hematology and oncology nurses from Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center traveled to Capitol Hill this summer to advocate for several bills intended to improve health care services for people with cancer. Michelle Santizo, RN, PHN, MSN, and Samara Lucas, BSN, RN, met with staff members at the offices of California senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein on July 22. By the time Santizo and Lucas boarded their plane to return to Los Angeles, Feinstein had already signed on as a co-sponsor for one of the bills.
“I worked for a couple of years at a Washington, D.C., hospital where I became actively involved with the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS),” says Santizo. “I was able to attend meetings with legislators to see firsthand how advocacy efforts shape policies, and I’ve been advocating for patient rights ever since.”
As representatives of ONS, Santizo and Lucas shared stories with legislators and their aides that highlighted the importance of the bills they were backing. “Most people in Congress don’t have strong health care backgrounds,” says Lucas. “By sharing stories from the bedside, we helped personalize the issues facing our patients and their families. It helped drive home the importance of passing these bills.”
At Feinstein’s office, the duo advocated for the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA). “When this bill was introduced a few years ago, most legislators didn’t understand the difference between hospice and palliative care,” says Santizo. “Thanks to educational outreach and advocacy efforts, the bill now has more than 300 bipartisan co-sponsors, including Feinstein, who signed on after our meeting.” PCHETA would help fund palliative care and hospice training for health care professionals, as well as palliative care research.
Santizo and Lucas also spoke on behalf of:
- The Cancer Drug Parity Act: This bill would require Medicare and health insurers to provide the same coverage for orally administered cancer treatments that they currently offer for IV treatments.
- The Lymphedema Treatment Act: This bill would require Medicare and health insurers to cover the costs of doctor-prescribed supplies — such as compression stockings — for people with lymphedema. Painful swelling can occur following surgery to remove lymph nodes.
Back at UCLA Health, Santizo and Lucas continue to advocate for their patients and their profession. “As nurses with direct bedside experience, we are in a key position to educate government leaders about what our patients need and deserve in order to get better,” says Santizo. “It takes a long time for a bill to pass. I encourage more nurses to get involved and make a difference—they can write or call their state legislators, get active in an organization like ONS, or work with their UCLA Health leaders.”