With the 116th Congress already over a quarter under way, the Government Relations Committee (GRC) urges Academy members to get involved. It is an exciting time for audiology, with the Academy actively working and collaborating with other organizations on new policy initiatives. The audiology voice in numbers is critical for the profession in advancing these initiatives.
The GRC developed the Grassroots Network (GRN) for the purpose of having a group of members ready to rally when needed to advance policy initiatives related to audiology. The GRN receives regular updates on current legislative and regulatory priorities for the Academy, with requests for action.
Actionable items may include reaching out to members of Congress about specific legislation, submitting comments on proposed rules, providing input into policy development, and monitoring other activities that require the perspective of the audiologist. Sometimes, the action item may be to simply raise public awareness about audiology at the policy level.
In an ideal world, every single member of the Academy would be a member of the GRN, as communication from many individuals is helpful to complement messaging from the national organization.
The GRC developed, and will soon share, resources to equip members of the GRN to be ambassadors of audiology. New videos offer guidance on how to initiate outreach and develop relationships with congressional representatives and engage in advocacy outreach, among other things. Our legislative action center offers contact information and sample letters for legislative priorities. The GRC also has an advocacy tool kit available to offer tips on how to guide your own grassroots efforts.
Current Priorities: 116th Congress
The GRN has several legislative bills to support. A significant focus is on supporting The Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act, a joint bill developed by the Academy, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
The legislation, H.R. 4056, was introduced July 25, 2019, by Representatives Tom Rice (R-SC), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Mark Meadows (R-NC), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Jan Shakowsky (D-IL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Ann Kuster (D-NH), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE). Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) plan to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.
As introduced in the House, this bill would:
- Give audiologists additional opportunities under Medicare with reclassification as “practitioners,”
- Allow for direct access by Medicare patients to audiologists, and
- Expand covered audiological services beyond diagnosis to include treatment.
This major legislative initiative will help align audiologists with other doctoral-level health professionals under the Medicare program. Being classified as a practitioner under the Medicare program also grants audiologists the ability to opt-out of Medicare should they so choose.
Another bill of interest to the Academy is The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act of 2019, which was amended into H.R. 2781, a measure approved July 17 by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. The next step for the bill is consideration by the full House of Representatives. This measure, originally sponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), would:
- Authorize the HHS Secretary to issue grants to eligible entities (university education programs) to increase educational opportunities in the form of scholarships and stipends for eligible students in the professions of audiology, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and physical therapy;
- Define eligible students as those “underrepresented in the professions of audiology, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy” (including those who are racial or ethnic minorities, or are from disadvantaged backgrounds), have a financial need for a scholarship or stipend, and are enrolled in one of the listed professional programs at an eligible entity;
- Require the HHS Secretary to take into consideration the recommendations of national organizations representing these professions—including the American Academy of Audiology; and
- Recognize the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education (ACAE) in the list of eligible entities for accreditation of education programs.
The GRC also anticipates reintroduction of the Access to Frontline Care Act, which would provide student loan repayment for audiologists that serve in health-care shortage areas, and the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act, which would authorize audiologists as telehealth providers eligible to be reimbursed for these services in Medicare.
The GRC plans to maintain support for both bills and include them in the Academy’s advocacy efforts. Additional information about legislation the Academy supports is available in the Advocacy section of www.audiology.org.
The Academy also serves as a resource in mobilizing members to address state legislation that can impact the profession. The GRC will target members of the GRN to step up as necessary to be advocates.
Updated and expanded resources in the State portion of the Advocacy section of the website can assist the GRN—and all members—in state-level activities.
Additionally, the GRN helps to influence federal regulations related to audiology practice. Examples include the Physician Fee Schedule issued each year that impacts audiologist reimbursement in Medicare and also the forthcoming FDA regulations on over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.
The time is now to expand the GRN and the GRC welcomes you. To join the GRN, simply go to the GRN webpage and sign up. This volunteer opportunity is available year-round to members.
Encourage your colleagues to join as well, and together we can ensure that audiology is prominent in the 116th Congress!