2018 Policy Forum Draws Nearly 100 to DC

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By Betta Ferrendelli

Live coverage from The O&P EDGE.

The American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA) 2018 Policy Forum was held March 7-8 in Washington DC, drawing about 96 O&P professionals, advocates, students, and consumers to the nation's capital to meet with lawmakers to urge improvement in patient care and advance O&P legislation.

 

From left: Maynard Carkhuff speaks with Lizbeth Alvarez, a legislative fellow
with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, regarding O&P legislation. Photographs by Betta Ferrendelli.

The 2018 Policy Forum began on the heels of a significant legislative O&P victory in February—the enactment of a key provision of the Medicare Orthotics & Prosthetics Improvement Act that made practitioners' notes again an official part of a patient's medical record. "This victory shows that the perseverance and hard work of those who have attended previous Policy Forums does pay off," said AOPA President Jim Weber, MBA, during the opening general session, which kicked off the first day of the forum.

 

Also during the opening general session, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) shared their perspectives on healthcare and offered their advice for advancing O&P legislation through Congress. Both lawmakers reminded the audience that passing legislation was not quick or easy. Policy Forum attendees also received suggestions and helpful tips from other AOPA staff, lobbyists, and board members on how to address and respond to lawmakers when meeting with them to promote O&P issues. Seventeen sponsored students from the 13 O&P master's degree programs attended a student luncheon and meeting, which provided exposure to O&P advocacy efforts.

 

Day two began with a breakfast meeting during which attendees heard from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) who helped them further polish their messages about O&P before the delegates headed to the House and Senate offices to speak with a host of congressional representatives. The O&P advocates participated in more than 500 congressional visits on March 8.

 

Delegates spoke to senators and representatives and their staff in support of O&P-related legislation that addressed veterans' right to choose their own O&P healthcare, and funding and advancing O&P research, among other topics, including the National Limb Loss Resource Center.

 

Andy May waits in the office of U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart.

The 2018 presidential budget included the elimination of the National Limb Loss Resource Center, which the Amputee Coalition has operated since 1997, so delegates explained to lawmakers how this cut would undermine the ability to help people with limb loss through education, support, and advocacy.

 

The O&P envoys also encouraged representatives to support the Injured and Amputee Veteran Bills of Rights (H.R. 2322), which would help educate veterans of their right to quality prosthetic and orthotic care and not deny them their choice when it comes to prosthetic care. During their meetings with the legislators, forum attendees also asked for sponsorship of the Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act (S. 1467 and H.R. 3696), which would help expand the number of and size of the O&P graduate programs, as well as supporting O&P research. Because O&P programs lack the high profile of other educational programs and don't generate enough money for universities to underwrite a sufficient number of programs, the legislation would help sustain O&P education at a time when a significant percentage of trained and qualified O&P clinicians are eligible to retire within the next decade. The bill would authorize $5 million per year for three years to provide limited, one-time competitive grants to qualified universities to create or expand accredited advanced education programs in O&P.

 

Policy Forum attendees also lobbied for implementation of the Benefits Improvement and Protection Act (BIPA) 427, originally passed in 2000. BIPA would require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement the federal statute and reimburse claims only from qualified providers. In response to the delay in the execution of BIPA, some forum delegates wore red, white, and blue pins when visiting lawmakers' offices with the saying, "18 years is too long to wait for CMS to get it right."

 

Despite advocacy efforts, when Congress passed the $1.3 trillion Omnibus Spending Bill March 23, all O&P provisions were omitted from it.