Three years ago, Mike Kukla walked into his doctor’s office with debilitating stomach pains. At 37, the doctor thought he was too young for cancer and didn’t order a CT scan. One long year later, Mike got the scan, along with a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer.
Unfortunately, this meant the cancer was caught in its latest stage. Had Mike been diagnosed just a year earlier, it’s very likely his prognosis would have been more positive and his chances of survival greater.
Since this diagnosis, in between rounds of chemo, Mike has advocated tirelessly to make sure patients get exactly what he didn’t: the right scan at the right time.
In March, he was one of 17 Right Scan Right Time cancer advocates who convened in Washington, D.C. to meet with policymakers about the need for access to imaging. These advocate meetings came at a critical time, just as Congress ramped up negotiations on Medicare physician payments. In the past nine years, Congress has cut Medicare payment rates for medical imaging 15 times, which limits access to life-saving scans for patients who need them. This year, the personal stories that Mike and his fellow advocates shared played an important role in making sure this didn’t happen again.
Two weeks ago, in a rare moment of overwhelming bipartisan collaboration, Congress passed a bill that fundamentally revamps how Medicare pays physicians. This time around, the bill doesn’t include any payment cuts that would threaten access to medical imaging. For millions of patients around the country – like Mike and his fellow cancer advocates – it was a victory.
The effort reinforced the powerful role of patient stories when delivering this type of messaging to audiences. Industry topics like “medical imaging technology” can be incredibly complex. When professional lobbyists take to Capitol Hill to talk imaging, conversations tend to focus on statistics and hard data. But patients like Mike bring a face and human experience to the issue and help lawmakers understand that it’s not just about the technology, it’s about giving patients better quality of life.
It’s about getting more time with family.
It’s about surviving cancer.
Meeting cancer survivors and patient advocates like Mike is one of the best parts of my job. Helping them turn their stories into meaningful action on Capitol Hill is more than a job—it’s an honor.