For the better part of two years, the 2016 presidential election has captured the nation’s attention and dominated the local, state, and national news. Now that the dust has settled from this election, it’s time for the Academy to identify and pursue our legislative and regulatory priorities for the upcoming year. In addition to a new Presidential Administration, the 115th Congress will begin on January 3, 2017. As policymakers move into new roles, now is the time for the audiology community to jump into action. No matter what personal feelings we may have about the outcomes of this election cycle, we can coalesce around the potential for opportunity that comes with any new Congress and administration. The leadership of the Academy and the Government Relations Committee (GRC) will be poised to set forth an agenda to represent the interests of its members. The membership, too, can be ready to get involved at many levels.

Setting Priorities 

Setting the agenda for working with the 115th Congress and the new administration necessitates consideration of various questions. What items, within our current list of priorities, do we want to continue to address? What new priorities are feasible to address in the current political climate? What other topics in health care are on the horizon? What is the timeline for action? Who can be our partners and champions? 

To guide us in answering some of those questions, we need to align our legislative and regulatory priorities with the strategic priorities of the Academy enterprise. The enterprise consists of the Academy, the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education (ACAE), the American Board of Audiology (ABA), and the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA). The Academy leadership recently engaged all of these groups in a visioning session that will inform the development of a common agenda and support the Academy’s advocacy-related committees in setting and advancing our policy agenda. 

Guided by the visioning session, the GRC has been focused on making recommendations regarding the legislative agenda for the new Congress. This includes assessing bills that did not pass in the 114th Congress that must be reconsidered and reintroduced in the 115th Congress. This also includes identifying other priority issues important to our audiologist members and our partners in the Academy enterprise, such as over-the-counter hearing aid legislation, student-loan forgiveness and telehealth. As the GRC finalizes the legislative agenda for the upcoming two-year congressional session, this information will be communicated to Academy members via the Academy’s website, including our Legislative Action Center and Government Relations News page, through updates in the Audiology Weekly E-Newsletter, and through additional articles in Audiology Today

Although the GRC focuses significantly on federal legislation and regulation, we are also interested in how the Academy can support state-level advocacy efforts. The State Network Subcommittee (SNS), a subcommittee of the GRC, has set up the infrastructure to facilitate communication among and within states, and to track key issues and activate state-level grassroots. We anticipate the need for greater engagement of the network, the state leaders, and the SAA chapters, as we seek to implement state-level strategies to advance a national agenda. 

Engaging to Support Audiology and Hearing Health

Across the Academy enterprise, we are fortunate to have a large cadre of volunteers eager to support the advocacy efforts of the organization and the profession. From the students to the seasoned professionals, audiologists are ready to engage! The Academy offers members an array of options for getting involved, each offering varying levels of commitment. No matter how much time a member has to offer, activities for advocacy exist.

To support the Academy’s legislative agenda, the GRC has developed a framework for a new federal-level grassroots network. This network is comprised of Academy volunteers who are willing to engage with the members of Congress on federal legislative and regulatory issues. These individuals have or agree to develop a relationship with their member of Congress to raise the visibility of the profession on the legislative front. A critical first step for members to support the Academy’s advocacy efforts is to join the Academy’s grassroots network. Signing up is the base level of engagement. We ask that you provide the GRC with your areas of expertise and other key information, and indicate the range of activities you could support. Once in the network, you will receive an orientation to advocacy and a toolkit with support materials. To sign-up, e-mail Kate Thomas, senior director of advocacy and reimbursement, at kthomas@audiology.org. Join today to help be the messenger on behalf of the profession. The GRC and the PAC will be using the network to identify members to tap for advocacy activities. 

Members who do not want to join the network for whatever reason can still contribute. The GRC and staff send out action alerts on identified needs for advocacy on a particular issue, and we need each member to consider what he or she can do to help. Our Legislative Action Center offers sample letters and quick access to legislators, making outreach by members as simple as possible. The GRC tries to be selective in issuing an action alert, so consider that when you receive an alert, we have identified a critical need for member action. Truly, your voice is important to carry forth messages on behalf of the patients with hearing-health challenges and the audiology community.

Another avenue for supporting the Academy’s advocacy efforts is by contributing to the Academy’s Political Action Committee (PAC). PAC contributions go directly to support candidates for Congress who champion or influence audiology issues. The PAC Advisory Board has already started laying the groundwork to extend the outreach of the Academy’s PAC in the new Congress. The PAC Board has been closely following the election and composition of Congress, and is developing a list of targets for the session ahead. The PAC Advisory Board also identifies opportunities for highlighting the Academy’s priorities at events for Congressional targets and will look to members of the GRC’s grassroots networks to represent the Academy’s interests at these events. 

Of course, AudiologyNOW! offers more outstanding ways to get involved and to hear important advocacy updates. The program includes sessions that provide valuable policy and business information to support practice management. Look in the program guide for different offerings provided by members of the GRC, SNS, Coding and Reimbursement Committee, and Practice Compliance Committee (PCC). The SNS will also be sponsoring a State Fair on Friday, April 7. Each state is invited to participate in this interactive event. Members can also join in some fun activities at the conference to support the PAC. Don’t miss the “Perk the PAC” coffee networking and fundraising event on Thursday and Friday, April 6–7, and for the early birds, join us on Thursday, April 6, for the first 5K run/walk that will benefit the PAC and the American Academy of Audiology Foundation. 

Do not stand on the sidelines and miss the excitement of being part of the Academy’s advocacy efforts. Each letter, phone call, PAC event, and local outreach effort makes a difference. Our collective voice can be powerful, and together we can influence policy. Prepare now to engage!