By Justin Elliott, APTA vice president of government affairs
With the start of 2020 we begin the second and final year of the 116th U.S. Congress. Last year was filled with challenges and opportunities on Capitol Hill and with federal agencies, and they're sure to continue into this year. APTA's taking the advocacy lead on a number of bills impacting the physical therapy profession and the patients we serve that may be addressed in the 116th Congress, including:
- Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act (H.R. 2802/S. 970): Adds PTs as eligible providers to the National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program, which can provide up to $50,000 in student loan forgiveness in return to for a two-year commitment to work at an approved site located in a rural or underserved area.
- Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act (H.R. 5453): Expands locum tenens — the ability for a physical therapist to bring in another licensed PT to treat Medicare patients and bill Medicare through the practice provider number during temporary absences — under Medicare for outpatient PTs in all geographical areas (currently, PTs may use locus tenens only in designated areas that typically lack adequate health services).
- Primary Health Services Enhancement Act (H.R. 5693): Designates PTs as primary health providers in federal community health centers.
- Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act (H.R. 3637/S. 2747): Creates a scholarship program for individuals from underrepresented populations for the fields of physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiology, and speech-language pathology. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed its version of the bill, so our focus now turns toward the Senate.
While those issues continue to be discussed, we also worked on legislation that was resolved last year. Among our wins: the finalization of the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which included a $3 million increase in funding for the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. APTA was part of a coalition that advocated for this increase in rehabilitation research funding. Congress also passed, and the president signed, the Protecting Access to Wheelchairs Act, another piece of legislation that we backed.
Our successes in 2019 were fueled by tremendous work by our member advocates, who sent over 67,000 emails to members of Congress and hosted 60 in-district practice visits with members. In addition, PT-PAC, our political action committee, raised $812,963 in 2019, a 9% increase over 2018. It's hard to overestimate the role PT-PAC plays raising our profile on Capitol Hill, just as it's hard to overestimate the value of donations to the PAC. Federal law prohibits APTA from using member dues for political contributions, so your support of PT-PAC is much appreciated.
So what's in store in 2020? My colleague Laura Keivel, APTA's grassroots and political affairs specialist, and I recently recorded a webinar that covers many of the issues and bills that are on APTA's advocacy radar. It's free to download and provides lots of detail. In the meantime, here's a quick summary of some of our biggest issues.
Clearly, the biggest issue facing the profession in the near-term is fighting CMS-proposed changes to the 2021 Medicare physician feel schedule that would result in an estimated 8% payment reduction for PTS. This year, we're ramping up efforts to fight that ill- conceived plan. APTA is grateful to Reps. Buddy Carter (R-GA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), who are leading a House letter of inquiry about the proposed cuts that will be sent to CMS. We're also working with the other impacted health care provider groups to aggressively advocate to CMS on this issue, as well as to pursue legislative options to prevent the CMS proposal from being implemented in its current form. If you haven't seen it yet, check out APTA's #FightTheCut resource page and consider adding your voice using some of the advocacy vehicles provided.
But that's not all, by a long shot. We're also working with legislators and their staff on multiple bills related to home health and postacute care; advancing physical activity, prevention, and health promotion; providing better access to care for children, the elderly, our veterans, and persons with disabilities; and advancing rehabilitation research. Like I said, it's going to be a busy year. Some other bills we are working on include:
- Improving Seniors' Timely Access to Care Act (H.R. 3107): Seeks to reduce prior authorization burdens in Medicare Advantage plans. This bill continues to gain momentum and currently has 161 House cosponsors.
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Full Funding Act (H.R. 1878/S. 866): Increases spending over the next decade to bring the federal share of funding for special education up to 40%, the amount committed when the law was first enacted in 1975.
- CONNECT for Health Act (H.R. 4932/S. 2741): Expands the use of telehealth under Medicare.
- Medicare Patient Empowerment Act of 2019 (S. 2812): Allows PTs to privately contract under Medicare (also known as an "opt out").
- Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act (H.R. 5611/S. 2600): Establishes specified minimum requirements for the prevention and treatment of concussions in school sport.
- Lymphedema Treatment Act (H.R. 1948/S. 518): Expands Medicare coverage for compression garments for beneficiaries with lymphedema. The legislation has passed the House, and the APTA-supported bill will now be considered by the Senate, where it already has 70 cosponsors.
With 2020 being an election year, our work to let our voice be heard is now more important than ever. While the elections will undoubtedly strain partisan divisions and increase political noise, we will continue our bipartisan focus on advocating for the physical therapy profession and getting results for the patients we serve. And there's still time for you to engage: Join us at the 2020 APTA Federal Advocacy Forum this March 29-31 in the District of Columbia, where we will bring our message to Capitol Hill.
As APTA member Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MS, wrote in a recent APTA blog post, "Advocacy for our profession isn't a spectator sport." We need you on the team now more than ever. Check out our federal advocacy page for more information.
Want to know more about APTA's efforts on Capitol Hill? Check out this webinar that provides an in-depth update on APTA's Public Policy Priorities as they relate to the 116th Congress. The webinar covers many of the issues and bills that APTA is leading or supporting up on Capitol Hill. It's free to download and provides lots of detail. Note: The webinar was recorded via AdobeConnect.