The Rising Popularity of Medicare Advantage and Implications for Audiologists
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a study of the 2020 Medicare Advantage plans and reported that 83% of the plans will offer some degree of coverage for hearing aids and related services. In contrast, traditional Medicare (Part B) does not currently offer hearing, dental or vision coverage.
A new Congress offers hope. The American Academy of Audiology (the Academy), the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) opted to seize the moment to move forward together to seek a legislative strategy for the 116th Congress. Rather than individually pursuing legislative initiatives for the profession, the three organizations committed to working together to draft a single Medicare bill to advance the recommendations of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report.
Message from the President: Lisa Christensen, AuD | September 2019
As summer winds down, people return to school, and we all resume our regular duties, what better time than to think about how you can be more involved in the Academy’s activities. I want to fill you in on a few ways that you can be involved.
Submit Nominations for the Board of Directors—Due September 20
I can tell you first-hand how rewarding it is to serve on the Academy board. We are seeking candidates to fill one president-elect position and three board member-at-large positions.
Our volunteers are critical to advancing our initiatives, and we are delighted that many members will assume new volunteer positions on October 1, including leadership roles on the board, councils, and committees. The volunteer portal re-opens next spring, but at any time you can sign up for the volunteer reserve to fill spots as they become available.
Support the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2019
We urge you to send letters to your representatives and senators to encourage their support of the bill. Check out our legislative action center for sample letters, and sign up for the Grassroots Network to be more engaged.
Promote Balance Awareness Week…September 15-21
The Academy is pleased to have worked with VeDA (the Vestibular Disorders Association) to collaborate on a poster, infographics and Ask the Expert articles. Resources are available here on the Academy’s website for your use. Please spread the word!
Share Your Knowledge, Research, and Expertise at AAA 2020 + HearTECH Expo in New Orleans
Get Ready…It Is Coming Up Soon; National Audiology Awareness Month starts October 1
Download resources, fact sheets, posters, and other materials to help promote and celebrate this month.
Join Me for the President’s Year in Review: Looking Back and Looking Forward for Audiology
As I wrap up my term as president at the end of this month, I will offer a retrospective in a eAudiology webinar on September 25 (.1 CEUs).
Are you confused and worried about the state of our profession and our Academy? This presentation will help YOU identify key issues facing the field of audiology and then give YOU some tools to help YOU start to influence OUR profession.
And, lastly, a huge thank you to Jackie Clark as she moves out of the immediate past president position, but also to Tracy Murphy, Chris Zalewski, and Bopanna Ballachanda who move out of their member-at-large positions. I will truly miss working with all of you over the next year, and a big thank you to all Academy members who have made this a very enjoyable year for me. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing all of you on the September webinar.
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.
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) introduced H.R. 4056 on July 25, 2019. This legislation has been endorsed by the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology and the Hearing Loss Association of America. On September 9, 2019, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Roger F. Wicker (R-MS) introduced an identical companion bill in the Senate (S. 2446).
Medicare already covers a range of hearing health services, and audiologists are trained and licensed in all fifty states and the District of Columbia to perform these services. However, Medicare currently does not recognize audiologists as providers of most hearing-related services and will only allow reimbursement for a narrow set of tests to diagnose a hearing or balance disorder—and only if patients first obtain an order from a physician. Medicare’s rules are far more restrictive than many private and federal insurance plans. The Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act ensures that Medicare beneficiaries have access to a full range of hearing and balance health care services provided by licensed audiologists. The bill:
Amends the definition of “audiology services” in the Medicare statute, which specifies the services that audiologists may provide, to include all services already covered by Medicare that are also within an audiologist’s scope of practice.
Amends the Medicare definition of “practitioner” to include audiologists, which improves beneficiary access to audiologic and vestibular care, a change that is consistent with Medicare’s classification of similar health care providers such as clinical social workers and clinical psychologists.
Makes technical changes to the classification of audiology services in the Medicare system as “other diagnostic tests” to remove the pre-treatment order requirement, which does not exist with any other federal or commercial payer; and
Makes no change to the scope of hearing health benefits covered by Medicare or the scope of practice of audiologists.
President's Message: Medicare Audiologist Access & Services Act of 2019
Message from the President: Lisa Christensen, AuD
Our biggest news recently has been the introduction of the bipartisan legislation called the Medicare Audiologist Access & Services Act of 2019 (H.R.4056). This legislation was developed jointly by our Academy, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), and introduced by Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC-7) and nine other representatives, and will enhance the Medicare benefit by providing beneficiaries with critical direct access to both diagnostic and therapeutic services of audiologists. In brief, this bill would remove the unnecessary physician referral to and streamline coverage of the full range of Medicare-covered services provided by audiologists that corresponds with their scope of practice. As well, the bill would reclassify the audiologist under Medicare as a practitioner to be consistent with other providers. The Academy leadership is very pleased to work closely with ADA and ASHA to advance this bill through introduction in the Senate and increased numbers of co-sponsors with the goal of passage in the 116th Congress. How quickly the three groups came together to draft this legislation and get it introduced demonstrates our shared commitment to advancing the profession on your behalf.
The Academy has also been working with ASHA, as well as the APTA and AOTA, to support the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act of 2019. Introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), this legislation would make scholarships and stipends available to diverse and disadvantaged students underrepresented in the professions of audiology, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Accredited academic programs in these professions could apply for funding to support the scholarships and stipends; programs accredited by ACAE would qualify. The text of this bill was amended into HR 2781—The EMPOWER for Health Act of 2019.
The Academy will also be supporting anticipated carryover legislative priorities from the last Congress, including The Telehealth Parity Act and the Access to Frontline Care Act. As well, we remain involved in several coalitions and collaboratives to promote the interests of audiologists. In late June, the Academy also submitted comments about the role of the audiologist in response to a Senate Special Committee on Aging request for stakeholder recommendations on prevention and management of falls and fall-related injuries.
The Academy shared with members the recent release of the proposed rules for the 2020 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. The rules generally show positive values for audiology costs. CMS also proposes new measures sets for the 2022 Merit-based Incentive Payment System, otherwise known as MIPS. Audiology will officially be included, and CMS has added three more measures in addition to the existing 6 for audiologists. The new measures are Elder Maltreatment Screen and Follow up Plan, Functional Outcome Assessment, and Screening for Future Fall Risk. General information is now available about the rules on the reimbursement section of the Academy web site, and more detailed analysis will soon be available.
The Academy continues to receive press inquiries in follow up to our inclusion on the Good Morning America piece about state insurance mandates for coverage of hearing aids for children. I had the opportunity to talk more directly about this, as well, on Sirius Doctor Radio this past week.
How Can You Get Involved?
Join the Grassroots Network and be on the alert to reach out to your legislators to support bills or to prepare comments on new rules that may impact audiologists.
Share the word about legislation of interest to other audiologists and encourage them to get involved.
If you teach policy in an academic program, connect with Academy staff to organize a DC student advocacy visit.
To complement our advocacy efforts, the Academy also has outreach priorities to enhance public awareness about audiology at both the patient and provider levels. Our Health Care Relations Committee has been focusing on outreach to referring providers and recently launched the Outreach Grant Program. The inaugural grant submission deadline is August 30.
In other work across the Academy, here are a few activities and dates of note:
Call for Abstracts
The AAA 2020 call for abstracts opens on August 20. Think now about your abstract submissions. You also might want to take minute to check out on the website the plans for our new expo experience for attendees and exhibitors called HearTECH Expo. Mark your calendar for April 1-4, 2020, to join us in New Orleans for what promises to be a fantastic conference.
Practice Management Specialty Meeting
Registration has been open for the Practice Management Specialty Meeting to be held on January 9-11, 2020. This is a must-attend event to keep you at the forefront of audiology practice management. What a great gift to yourself (or a colleague) to start the new year off with unparalleled learning experiences while enjoying the luxury of beautiful Hawaii. View the information on the phenomenal hotel discounts and details about the program.
Membership renewals will open soon. It is an exciting time for audiology, so stay involved in this dynamic organization to help shape the future. This is also a good time to obtain your ABA Certification if you have not yet applied under the new annual model.
Academy Board Nominations Due by Mid-September
It is also the time of the year to think about running for the Academy board. Nominations due by mid-September, and full applications will be due later in the fall. I strongly encourage actively engaged members to think about pursuing a leadership role on the board. I can attest to how personally fulfilling it is to serve on the Academy board and how important each board member is to advancing the profession.
In April 2019, the American Academy of Audiology (Academy) and the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA), released the document Suggested Best Practices for Audiologists’ Determination of Need for Captioned Phone Services. The two organizations drafted this document in response to concerns identified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the captioned telephone services (CTS) program is being overused, which could lead to potential funding deficits for this important service.
The American Academy of Audiology (the Academy) had an extremely active 2017 on Capitol Hill and with federal regulatory agencies, seeing multiple victories and building relationships that will allow for continued success as we enter 2018.
When people think of Nashville, they probably think of country music and cowboy boots. However, this April, audiologists from all over the world will meet in Music City for AAA 2018 to reconnect with old colleagues, get caught up with industry updates, attend educational sessions—and, yes, have some fun exploring this fun and historical city.