SAA Board of Directors Makes Itself Heard on Capitol Hill
On the morning of Friday, July 13, the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) Board of Directors took a break from their three-day board meeting to visit Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and advocate for hearing health care and the profession of audiology. Members of the SAA Board of Directors attended meetings with nine House of Representatives offices from seven states and Puerto Rico, speaking with their representatives’ staff about current legislative issues that could have an impact on audiologists and their patients.
Out of the numerous issues facing audiology today, the SAA Board focused on three pieces of legislation during their meetings: the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act (H.R. 2550), the Access to Frontline Care Act (H.R. 2042), and the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508). These are bills that focus on patient access to hearing health care, opportunities for telehealth expansion, and addressing the financial burden of a doctorate-level AuD or PhD education.
Board members were particularly excited to speak with the congressional staffers about telehealth.
“I don't think many people realize what a great tool telehealth can be for audiologists and extending their reach to individuals in remote areas who may not have access to hearing healthcare,” said SAA Secretary Emily Lundberg. “Not everyone would think that audiology could be translated through telehealth, and it's exciting to tell people more about how that works.”
Several Board members, including Alex Morris and Stasia Grindle, were glad for the opportunity to share their personal experience regarding issues with the accessibility of audiology. Morris, a University of Texas-Dallas fourth year from Alabama, said, “Growing up in a rural area, I was most excited to talk about the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act and its implications for audiology patients and providers alike. We had a great conversation and I felt like [Rep. Pete Olson’s] health care staffer was very receptive to how this could impact our state.”
Grindle, a Wisconsin native currently doing her externship at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, added, “Access to quality audiology services is a real barrier to receiving care in the Midwest. At my externship, we see many patients from neighboring states, with some families driving up to 4-5 hours to receive care. Having Medicare reimbursement for audiology services provided through telehealth would reduce geographical barriers to care and missed appointments due to lack of transportation.”
While the Board members felt their meetings were generally positive, one overarching challenge to audiology advocacy stood out.
“One of the biggest challenges facing audiology advocacy is that a lot of people don't know what audiology is,” said Amanda Mueller. “Just the fact we have to explain what we do gives the staffer the impression our field isn't as 'important.' While the responses we received were quite positive, it was a little upsetting coming into the meeting and not being able to immediately dive into the legislation.”
SAA President Liz Marler felt that lack of awareness was the largest challenge facing audiology advocacy. “Each office we visited, we spent the majority of our time talking about what our profession is, what we do, and educational requirements for the AuD,” she observed.
Morris agreed, noting the value of starting with the basics when it comes to advocacy: “Until we get the word ‘audiology’ inserted more securely into the mainstream health care narrative, all advocacy efforts are going to have to start with the basics: what we do, for whom, and why.”
In addition to being a chance to educate elected officials about audiology and the issues facing it, the day was also a great learning experience for the SAA Board. For some, it was their first major advocacy activity, while others relished the chance to add to previous advocacy experience and continue learning about the most effective ways to advocate.
Lundberg said that the biggest challenge of the day was “bolstering up the courage to actually go and advocate.” She walked away from the meetings with much more confidence in her ability to reach out to her elected officials. “I learned that they are interested in hearing from and learning from constituents, and I hope to continue sharing information with them as time goes on. It was pretty easy!”
Another first-time advocate, Mueller ended the day feeling empowered to get more involved back at Northwestern University. “This experience has really inspired me to get my local SAA chapter to spend a day advocating in Illinois. Now that I know what to expect, I feel much more confident and prepared,” she said.
At UT-Dallas, Morris participated in state-level advocacy and joined a group of classmates visiting Washington, DC earlier this year for his local SAA chapter’s first national Hill Day. He used the SAA Hill Day to further hone his advocacy skills, especially in the context of the limited timeframe congressional staffers often have for meetings. “I learned that the legislative climate is almost as important as the issues being discussed,” he said. “You have to understand what's on the member's radar in order to tailor your message to be as effective as possible. There's only so much you can do in 15 minutes.”
The SAA Board came away from their day on Capitol Hill feeling that they had held productive conversations that stressed the importance of audiology as a profession and how the issues they spoke about would affect it. Board members learned the value of face-to-face conversations with congressional offices, but also formed an understanding of smaller, everyday ways to support audiology advocacy even when there isn’t an event to attend or current pressing action to take.
“What I've learned doing more advocacy in the last two years is that advocacy is simply education,” said Marler. “Educating our family, our elected officials, our patients, and the public. Thinking about advocacy in this capacity has made it much more accessible for me to do every single day.”