2019 Policy Forum Gives Voice to O&P Advocates

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More than 100 O&P advocates, professionals, students, and consumers gathered in Washington DC May 7-8 as part of the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA) 2019 Policy Forum to meet with lawmakers to urge improvement in patient care and advance O&P legislation.


The response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive, said Joy Burwell, director of communications and marketing for AOPA. "We introduced a Lobbying 101 course, which was well received," she said. "We also implemented mock sessions with people, which people enjoyed."


AOPA focused on two areas of legislation. The Wounded Warriors Workforce Enhancement Act was introduced several days before the forum, which allowed AOPA to continue to gain more cosponsors, Burwell said. In addition, AOPA was working to gain more legislative support for the Medicare O&P Patient-Centered Care Act.


Eve Lee, AOPA executive director, said, "Together, advocates asked for the common-sense solutions that will enable O&P providers to deliver safe, effective, patient-centered orthotic, and prosthetic care," she said. "As a result, many offices agreed to cosponsor the Medicare O&P Patient-Centered Care Act upon its introduction."


The legislation would distinguish O&P patient care encounters from durable medical equipment, reassert the congressional definition of "minimal self-adjustment" for off-the-shelf orthotics, and exempt licensed and certified O&P providers from competitive bid contracts.


The Wounded Warrior Act was introduced with eight cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, Lee said.


On the first day of the forum, attendees began the morning with a refresher course on how to lobby legislators, including advocacy strategies from AOPA government affairs experts. The 2019 forum luncheon keynote was delivered by John Register, a four-time track and field all-American, Gulf War Army veteran, and Paralympic silver medalist. His topic, Lessons From an Overhead Bin, highlighted the challenges of Paralympic athletes traveling by plane.


"John's remarks had us all in stitches, and of course when he spoke of his personal story of amputation you could've heard a pin drop in the room," said George Breece, NAAOP executive director.


On the second day of the forum, advocates headed to Capitol Hill and participated in more than 250 appointments to present their stories to legislators on the impact O&P has had on their lives.


First-time attendees found the forum informative, including Robin Burton, OPAF executive director. "I found it enlightening to learn so much about the inner workings of government, the legislature, and our issues in such a short period of time and then to have the opportunity to present our issues to our representatives and their staff," she said.


Burton's delegation from North Carolina included a practitioner, resident, and patient. "We were able to offer all sides of the issues we were presenting," she said.

There are also advantages to attending the forum annually. Jeff Brandt, CPO, CEO of Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics, has attended at least six times. "I feel strongly about participating simply because we have the pathway in our country to educate and create awareness for our lawmakers," he said. "If we aren't taking the time or putting the energy into these efforts, then how can we be upset or disappointed when policies don't reflect the best interests
of our patients?"


Brandt said it is important to attend as often as possible, "because while there are changes to elected officials, repeating the message seems to mean something as to the importance of the legislative ‘ask,'" he said. "Additionally, we have invited the lawmakers to our patient care offices when they are not in DC and have them meet with our patients and staff. Once they learn more about patient care, it's much easier for them to understand how the provisions in a bill apply to improved outcomes for the patient."