2019 was a busy year in the area of advocacy—and 2020 shows no sign of slowing down. 

In 2019, the Academy came together with the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) to draft text, secure congressional champions, and lobby additional support for the Medicare Audiology Access and Services Act of 2019 (H.R. 4056, S. 2446)—otherwise referred to as the “joint audiology bill.” This legislation would grant audiologists “practitioner” status in Medicare, remove the physician-order requirement, and allow audiologists to provide and be reimbursed for diagnostic and treatment services. Since its introduction, this legislation has attracted support from both sides of the aisle.  

At the end of 2019, the Academy worked with congressional staff to get Medicare “practitioner” status and “treatment services” added to a Medicare hearing aid bill. This bill was ultimately included in H.R. 3—the House drug-pricing package—that passed the full House of Representatives on December 12.

What Do We Expect to Happen in Congress in 2020?

What will happen next to H.R. 3? 

Given the sharp partisan split between the House and the Senate, most commentators do not expect the legislation to pass the Senate in its current form. The Republican-controlled Senate is working on its own version of “drug-pricing reform” legislation, in hopes of passing something comparable on the issue as the 2020 elections loom.   

At this time, none of the Senate proposals include a hearing benefit. There is the possibility that the Senate could pass its own version of drug-pricing reform and the House and Senate could strike a deal. This situation is very fluid and will be dependent on the ever-shifting dynamics among the House, the Senate, and the Administration.

Is the “Joint Audiology Bill” Still Active?

H.R. 4056 and S. 2446 are both still alive and well. The Academy will continue to lobby on these bills and actively seek opportunities to add all or some of the essential components of these measures to other must-pass pieces of legislation.

A number of factors speak positively to the chances of passage. The audiology community is united behind this legislation—with the Academy, ADA, and ASHA continuing to work together to garner additional support. In addition, members of Congress are eager to find relatively non-controversial health-care issues that would enable them to demonstrate their ability to work in a bipartisan manner. Finally, the Administration issued an Executive Order at the end of 2019 that directs the Department of Health and Human Services  to “propose reforms to eliminate Medicare requirements that limit non-physician providers from practicing to the full extent of their education and training”—a sentiment that dovetails with the provisions of the joint audiology bill.

What About OTC Hearing Aids?  

Following the passage of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began work on regulations to implement this new law. Proposed regulations are expected to be released in the first quarter of 2020. These proposed regulations will be open for public comment, with the goal of being finalized by the end of 2020. The Academy will be reviewing them closely, comparing the provisions with the recommendations provided by the stakeholder consensus paper (developed by the Academy, ASHA, ADA, and the International Hearing Society), and drafting comments to the FDA.

Member Engagement in Advocacy

With all of the activity expected in the year ahead, it is important—now more than ever—for Academy members to get involved in advocacy.

Activities at AAA2020 + HearTECH Expo 

This year’s meeting will feature some exciting new sessions designed to arm members with actionable skills to advocate for the profession. The Advocacy in Action session will offer hands-on activities designed to enable members to hone their advocacy “elevator speech,” learn effective messaging techniques, and practice going “head to head” with opposing viewpoints. The State Showcase session (previously known as the State Fair) will feature an exciting new format providing an overall look at state initiatives, an opportunity for networking, state spirit presentations, and awards.   

Volunteer Opportunities

Make sure to look for opportunities in 2020 to get involved in advocacy volunteer positions. The Academy has multiple advocacy-related committees that focus on federal government affairs, state relations, coding and reimbursement, the Academy’s Political Action Committee (PAC), and practice policy. To find out more, watch for the “Call for Volunteers” communication coming in March from the Academy.  

The Academy is committed to growing the Grassroots Advocacy Network this year and encourages all members interested in advocacy to register online to become a member of the network. This year, members of the Grassroots Advocacy Network will have access to regular, more detailed information about “behind the scenes” Academy activity on the advocacy front, as well as breaking news.