Even though the pandemic is still ongoing, the Academy has been active on the advocacy front on the federal and state levels. COVID-19 restrictions have certainly affected many of the typical advocacy activities, including in-person meetings with legislators and staff and physical attendance at fundraisers and large coalition discussions. However, similar to other businesses and industries, adjustments have been made and now these activities have simply shifted to a virtual format.
Thus far in 2021, the Academy has worked with other stakeholders on the national level to reintroduce the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act and is working to do the same with the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act.
On the state level, the Academy has weighed in on multiple state legislative proposals on a wide variety of topics such as the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Licensure Compact (ASLP-IC), licensure for audiology assistants, and legislation that would remove the requirement for an audiological assessment prior to the receipt of a hearing aid.
The Academy also continues to facilitate communication with state audiology advocates during quarterly state leaders’ calls on legislative and other concerns.
The Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act
The Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act (H.R. 1587) was reintroduced in the House of Representatives on March 3 by Representatives Tom Rice (R-SC) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA), with more than 20 bipartisan original cosponsors. This legislation would allow direct access to audiological services and would streamline Medicare coverage policies so that audiologists could provide the full range of Medicare-covered diagnostic and treatment services that correspond to their scope of practice.
The legislation would also reclassify audiologists as practitioners, which is consistent with the way Medicare recognizes other non-physician providers including clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, and advanced practice registered nurses. The classification as practitioners under Medicare would enable audiologists to furnish services through telehealth.
At the close of the last Congress, this “joint” audiology legislation had 65 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and eight cosponsors in the Senate. The Academy will continue to work with the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) to build upon the success and support garnered for this legislation in the previous Congress.
The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act
The Academy is working with stakeholders representing other allied health-care providers to secure the reintroduction of the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act. This legislation passed the full House of Representatives in the past Congress, but failed to advance in the Senate.
The measure would provide scholarship funds and stipends to students typically underrepresented in allied health-care professions, including audiology. In this case, underrepresented students are defined as individuals from a racial or ethnic minority, those from an underprivileged background, or those with a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Academy is listed as an organization that will provide input as to the disposition of funds and ABA-certified programs are listed as qualifying programs.
State Government Affairs
Academy staff and the Academy’s State Relations Committee (SRC) have been actively monitoring state legislation relating to audiology in a number of states. Thus far in 2021, the Academy has expressed opposition to pending state legislation in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Tennessee on a variety of topics such as the licensure of audiology assistants, an expansion of hearing-instrument specialists’ scope of practice, and the removal of the requirement for an audiological assessment prior to the receipt of a hearing aid.
In addition, the Academy has been working closely with the state academies of audiology in those states, as well as with other stakeholders.
The Academy continues to support and promote state adoption of the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Licensure Compact, which would allow audiologists to provide services both in-person and through telehealth in other states that also adopt the compact.
To-Do List for Members
The Academy relies upon its members to serve as an early warning system, particularly with regard to state legislation. Members are in the best position to spot potentially problematic state legislation that may affect the practice of audiology.
Interaction with your state audiology organization to address legislation is key, as is alerting the Academy so that a national perspective can also be presented.
On the federal front, it is critical now more than ever for members to reach out to their elected federal representatives to elicit support for H.R. 1587, the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act. Reach out today and encourage your representatives to cosponsor this legislation.