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Audiology Awarded Independent Seat on RUC HCPAC
Recently, audiology was awarded an independent seat on the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Resource Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) Health Care Professionals Advisory Committee (HCPAC), which consists of limited license practitioners and allied health professionals from 12 specialty societies. This seat is commonly referenced as the “RUC seat.” The attainment of an independent seat for audiology as part of this panel represents a huge milestone in our continued quest for true professional autonomy. With the acquisition of an independent seat for audiology, the Academy completes one of the tenets for our Preferred Future #3—“to achieve recognition by policymakers of the value of our full scope of practice.”
To this point in time, the current seat holder representing the profession of audiology has been the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), who was awarded this seat in 1992. Until now, both audiology and speech-language pathology were represented on the RUC HCPAC by ASHA. However, it has been the Academy’s position that audiology and speech-language pathology are two separate professions, and deserve distinct representation. After years of ongoing efforts, the AMA’s panel accepted our request last month. Read more about this in the November/December issue ofAudiology Today.
So from a practical standpoint, what does this mean to you as a practitioner and to our profession? The historically American adage “no taxation without representation” may provide a comparable concept. The RUC process results in recommendations for consideration by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), regarding reimbursement rates for codes used for services to its beneficiaries. The AMA allows a professional association to represent the interests of their respective constituents for each profession represented at the RUC HCPAC. In addition, a profession must independently and fairly consider the valuation recommendations presented by their allied health and limited-license practitioner colleagues. The Academy has, to date, been a guest of ASHA at these meetings, and although we are invited to make comment to ASHA, under the current design it has been solely the ASHA representative who ultimately presents to the RUC, or the RUC HCPAC, on behalf of the professions of audiology and speech-language pathology. So while other professional organizations enjoy one vote for their respective provider groups, audiology’s vote was shared with speech-language pathology, effectively diluting our influence on reimbursement rates for the services we provide.
This scenario has been compounded by frustrations inherent to significant and progressive reductions in reimbursement, including those for audiology services. While other healthcare professions have fallen victim to similar decreases, regrettably, audiology holds the distinction of having one of the largest reductions in reimbursement of any of the RUC specialties. It’s hard to feel like we, as audiologists, are sufficiently part of the process for valuation of services rendered without appropriate representation at the decision making table. The need for change has also arisen from the continued separation and distinction between the two professions. Each profession deserves their own RUC representation. The recent modification to the RUC HCPAC panel ensures that speech-language pathology and audiology are recognized as two separate and distinct professions in this critically important venue, each with its own representative and vote. This distinction is powerful for both professions when future codes are reviewed and valued. The profession now has greater representation and a larger stake in decisions made that ultimately impact reimbursement to audiologists for covered Medicare services. Creation of an independent audiology seat will positively influence and impact hearing healthcare for all stakeholders.
The quest to obtain both the CPT and RUC HCPAC seats has spanned many years, and involved the formation of the Practice Policy Advisory Council (PPAC), an Academy committee expressly charged with obtaining representation for audiology at the RUC HCPAC and the CPT Editorial Panel HCPAC. PPAC members have done an outstanding job in directing the process of securing effective representation of audiology at the RUC and CPT HCPACs, and countless hours of volunteer and staff efforts were required. Many of the audiologists involved have sacrificed time at their busy practices at great personal and professional expense.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge both volunteers and staff members, who have worked tirelessly for more than a decade to bring this effort to fruition. In conjunction with the Academy leadership, I want to express our gratitude to the following PPAC/staff members: Dr. Deb Abel, Dr. Annette Burton, Dr. Deb Carlson, Dr. Alan Desmond, Dr. Erin Miller, Dr. Paul Pessis, Sharmila Sandhu, Esq., Melissa Sinden, Dr. Brad Stach, Kate Thomas, and Dr. Kadyn Williams.
Finally, for those of you who are on the “front lines,” wondering if your efforts year after year will really make a difference for the future of audiology, the answer is a resounding “YES”—just ask our colleagues listed above! Collectively, I’d like to thank these members and so many others, for your perseverance, dedication, and determination to stay the course. Our collective future just got brighter!