Federal Legislative Issues Update - July 2011
AOTA’s Annual Capitol Hill Day
Your opportunity to make the voice of occupational therapy heard on Capitol Hill is just around the corner; AOTA has scheduled it annual Capitol Hill Day on Monday September 19, 2011 and urge you to join your colleagues and AOTA as we storm the Capitol. We need YOU to come to Washington and advocate for OT. The charged political environment is making progress on key issues like the therapy cap an even greater challenge this year so we need all the grassroots support we can muster. Last year roughly 400 AOTA members took the time to come to Hill Day and their voice was loud and clear. This year we want to have AOTA’s largest Capitol Hill Day, bring your colleagues and meet us in Washington on September 19th.
To learn more and to get all the information you need to participate and become the voice of OT please go to AOTA’s Capitol Hill Day page on the Legislative Action Center.
See you in Washington!
AOTA’s Virtual Hill Day
On Tuesday June 14, 2011 AOTA coordinated a very successful virtual hill day with over 2,100 grassroots contacts to stop the Medicare Part b Outpatient Therapy Caps prior to enactment of the cap on January 1, 2011. Help us build on our grassroots efforts to make e voice of occupational therapy heard at AOTA’s Annual Capitol Hill Day on September 19.
Medicare Part B Outpatient Therapy Caps
On April 14th, AOTA achieved a major victory with the introduction of the Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act of 2011 (S.829/H.R.1546) to fully repeal the harmful and arbitrary Medicare Part B outpatient therapy caps which if implemented would place an $1870 dollar annual cap on occupational therapy services and a separate $1870 cap on physical therapy and speech language pathology services combined.
AOTA has been successful in securing 58 and 12 bi-partisan co-sponsors in the House and Senate respectively but, we are a long way from the 190 Representatives and 32 Senators who signed on to the bill during the last Congress, signaling the need for additional grassroots efforts to garner additional support for this critical legislation. Visit AOTA’s Legislative Action Center to contact your members of Congress today to urge their support for this legislation.
If Congress does not take additional action before December 31, 2011, the caps will be implemented and an estimated 640, 000 beneficiaries, roughly the size of a Congressional district, will be adversely affected.
Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act
AOTA has been working closely with Representative Boustany (R-LA) and Representative Lewis (D-GA) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to strengthen the language included in the Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act and has recently finalized legislative language to allow occupational therapists to complete the initial and comprehensive assessment in Medicare home health.
We will be working in the coming weeks to secure introduction of companion legislation in the Senate and to secure additional bi-partisan co-sponsors for the bill.
This legislation will go a long way to curing inefficiencies in Medicare home health while also elevating the status of occupational therapy. We urge you to visit AOTA’s Legislative Action Center for updates on this critical issue and to contact your members of Congress to urge their support for this important legislation.
The Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) will be meeting on July 13, 2011 to consider the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (S.1094) which is likely to serve as the vehicle to address treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
AOTA has and will continue to monitor the progress of this legislation and to meet with members of the HELP committee to protect and advance the role of occupational therapy in ASD treatment.
AOTA’s Mental Health and National Health Service Corps Initiative (NHSC)
In an effort to move forward with AOTA’s mental health agenda and to address workforce issues for the profession of occupational therapy and mental health practice AOTA has begun work on federal legislation to make occupational therapist eligible to participate in the National Health Service Corps as federally qualified mental health professionals. AOTA has had several very productive meetings with members of both parties in the House and Senate and are close to securing bi-partisan introduction.
The National Health Service Corps is a federal program to support the education training and employment of health care practitioners in an effort to increase access to care in rural and medically underserved areas. Once eligible, occupational therapists would be able to compete for employment and loan forgiveness in participating facilities. A five year commitment is necessary within the NHSC and then the occupational therapists would be eligible for federal loan forgiveness.
The initiative has the added important benefit of raising the profile of occupational therapy in mental health practice and successful inclusion of occupational therapy in federal mental health law would increase our effectiveness in advocating for an expanded role in mental health for occupational therapy practitioners under state law and scope of practice acts.
The NHSC initiative is only related to occupational therapists because of NHSC requirements to support graduate education. AOTA’s over-arching mental health initiative, however, is inclusive of expanding mental health roles for occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants alike.
To learn more about the NHSC go to: http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/
Army Medical Specialist Corps (AMSC)
Occupational therapy practitioners, physical therapy practitioners, dieticians and physician assistants comprise the Army’s Medical Specialist Corps. The Specialist Corps is lead by the Chief Officer of the Corp that is chosen from one of the represented professions. The Chief of the Specialist Corps is Colonel while every other Medical Corp in the Army including the Army Veterinary Corps is lead by a General as their Chief Officer. Beyond the issue of fairness and equity for such important professions within the Specialist Corps there4 is the very real problem of rank given the hierarchical nature of the military.
AOTA is working in coalition with the American Physical Therapy Association, the American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Physician Assistants to legislatively elevate the Chief of the Specialist Corps to the rank of Brigadier (1 Star) General. In this effort AOTA is working to support legislation S. 786 introduced by Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) that would achieve this goal.
As the legislative session progresses AOTA will have Action Alerts on AOTA’s Legislative Action Center so that you can help move this legislation forward during the current 112th Congress. To learn more about the Specialist Corps go to: https://amsc.amedd.army.mil/
Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (SGR)
At the end of 2011 the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, on which outpatient occupational therapy is paid under the Medicare program is scheduled to receive a 29.5% cut for 2012. Absent Congressional action, this cut will be in effect on January 1, 2012 and impact all Medicare providers paid on the fee schedule. (This cut is in addition to and unrelated to the therapy can and the multiple procedure payment reduction policy.)
AOTA is working in strong coalition with other health care provider and consumer advocacy organizations including the American Medical Association and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) to oppose these cuts. In addition AOTA is actively working to identify alternative payment options for therapy services that might help address payment and utilization concerns specifically related to therapy services.
While there is broad-based bi-partisan support for Congressional action to forestall these severe cuts the challenge is the cost of finding off-sets for the increased spending that would be caused by avoiding the payment cut on January 1. The cost of delaying the cuts for just 2012 alone is expected to exceed $30 billion.
Frontline Health Care Providers
AOTA continues to work to address workforce shortages of qualified occupational therapy providers and is working with Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA) who has introduced the Access to Frontline Health Act (H.R.531) to establish and carry out a Frontline Providers Loan Repayment Program to provide loan repayments in exchange for a health professional, including occupational therapy practitioners, providing frontline care services for two years in a designated scarcity area.
This legislation will help address shortages of qualified occupational therapy practitioners and provide clients with access to necessary and critical services. Federal Affairs staff continues to work to build strong bi-partisan support for H.R, 531 specifically and the need to address health care workforce shortages in general. We urge you to visit AOTA’s Legislative Action Center to advocate with your members of Congress on this important issue.
AOTA continues its work with the national Falls Free Coalition to advance falls prevention specifically focusing on funding levels and strong recognition of falls prevention in the Prevention and Public Health Fund which was authorize as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Working in concert with the coalition AOTA was able to secure strong official support for our efforts as Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), two leading advocates for falls prevention, both signaling strong support for falls prevention activities in the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee (AOTPAC)
The AOTPAC Board of Directors is seeking AOTA members to serve on the board for the Region III area. Full details can be found on the AOTA web site under www.aota.org/aotpac. The deadline for application is July 29, 2011. Region III includes: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee. Questions can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All AOTA members are encouraged to contribute and all levels of contributions are appreciated. Achieving the fundraising goal for 2011 is important as the 2012 elections approach. The political climate remains volatile and members of Congress must hear the voice of occupational therapy. AOTPAC supports the AOTA legislative agenda by helping to elect candidates who understand and support the occupational therapy profession and the clients served.
Candidates have begun their campaigns and are approaching AOTPAC for contributions. The AOTPAC Board carefully considers all candidates brought forward, using established criteria. Amy Lamb, AOTPAC Chair and Region IV Director says, “I maintain it is important to have friends on both sides of the aisle as the balance of power can shift at anytime.” AOTPAC is bipartisan and supports candidates that understand and support occupational therapy concerns. Recommendations of candidates for federal office are welcomed from AOTA members. Send an e-mail to email@example.com with any recommendation and include the reason this candidate would be good for occupational therapy.