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President's Message

May 5, 2022


Conning-Sarah_0727.jpgAdvocacy is Ethics in Action

By Sarah Conning, LCSW, OSW-C, APHSW-C
Social workers have an ethical imperative to engage in social and political action and to promote social justice. As our Code of Ethics reminds us, “Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice” (NASW Code of Ethics 6.04).
 
The mission of the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW) to advance excellence in the psychosocial care of persons with cancer, their families, and caregivers is accomplished in part through the central tenet of advocacy. Our activity in policy advocacy has grown in recent years, and this work is an important benefit of membership in our association. Did you know that AOSW issued a Statement of Policy Principles in 2020 that outlines the values behind our advocacy work?
 
You may have noticed some recent posts on AOSW’s Social Work Oncology Network (SWON), highlighting AOSW’s advocacy efforts. AOSW’s Advocacy Committee has identified five policy priorities this year:
  • Extending telehealth flexibilities beyond the public health emergency
  • Student loan forgiveness
  • Paid family and medical leave
  • Licensure reciprocity for social workers
  • Medicare reimbursement rates for clinical social workers
Our involvement with the Cancer Leadership Council (CLC) and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), among other coalitions, has allowed us to work with multiple organizations that represent patients, providers, and caregivers, and advocate as one voice for our priorities.

The extension of telehealth flexibilities has been an important focus for AOSW. With the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), numerous telehealth flexibilities were put into place under Medicare, dramatically improving patient access to care. However, once the PHE ends, without Congressional action, most of these flexibilities will end, creating what’s been termed a “telehealth cliff.” In late January, AOSW signed on to a coalition letter, urging Congressional leaders to establish a pathway for comprehensive telehealth reform, and take up permanent, evidence-based telehealth legislation for implementation in 2024.

In mid-March, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which included several major telehealth provisions that will continue Covid telehealth policies for about five months after the PHE ends. While AOSW had pushed for a two-year extension of the telehealth flexibilities, we were pleased to see this short-term extension, allowing us time to continue to advocate for permanent telehealth reform.

While telehealth is an important focus for us, we consistently advocate for all of our policy priorities, including student loan forgiveness. AOSW participated in the Student Borrower Protection Center’s advocacy campaign to “Tell President Biden to Eliminate Student Debt for Public Service Workers,” and we used social media to ask our members to send comments regarding their experiences to President Biden and the Department of Education. In early October, in response to our advocacy efforts, the Department of Education announced steps to overhaul the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Additionally, late last year, we asked President Biden to extend the pause on student loan repayment, which was set to expire on January 31, 2022.  On December 22, the U.S. Department of Education extended this pause through May 1, 2022, and in April, the Biden Administration further extended the pause through August 31, 2022.

As a member of the Patients and Caregivers for Paid Leave Coalition (through the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network), AOSW heavily advocated for a national paid family and medical leave program to be signed into law as part of the Build Back Better Act. While the Build Back Better package ultimately failed to pass, AOSW has continued to advocate on this issue, encouraging Congressional leadership to include paid leave in a Covid relief package.

On licensure reciprocity, AOSW asked state governors to maintain and expand licensure flexibilities for the duration of the PHE. And to address Medicare reimbursement rates and expand the definition of clinical social work services, we partnered with NASW in asking Congress to support the Improving Access to Mental Health Act.

We continue to focus our advocacy efforts on these and other important issues. Additional information is available on AOSW’s website.  If you are interested in becoming involved and joining AOSW’s Advocacy Committee, please contact Katie Tremel, Advocacy Director, at [email protected] or Justine Coffey, AOSW's Director of Government Relations, at [email protected].  
 

About the Author

Sarah Conning, LCSW

Clinical Social Worker
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center
Sacramento, California
[email protected]

Sarah Conning LCSW, OSW-C, APHSW-C, is an oncology social worker at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in Sacramento, California. Sarah has more than 20 years of experience as an oncology social worker and currently supports an outpatient...
Read Full Author Bio

Sarah Conning, LCSW

Clinical Social Worker
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center
Sacramento, California
[email protected]
Sarah Conning LCSW, OSW-C, APHSW-C, is an oncology social worker at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in Sacramento, California. Sarah has more than 20 years of experience as an oncology social worker and currently supports an outpatient oncology palliative care clinic. She is the 2022 AOSW President.

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