Advocacy, Resiliency at AOPA Virtual Policy Forum

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More than 200 people attended the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA) 2020 Virtual Policy Forum on May 6. The annual forum was originally scheduled to take place in Washington DC on May 5-6, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was changed to a two-hour virtual meeting where advocates listened to guest speakers and participated in several informal surveys about how the pandemic has affected their lives and businesses.

AOPA President Jeff Lutz, CPO, began the forum by recognizing the hardship the O&P community has faced during the COVID-19 virus, and also reminded listeners of the profession's resilience. "We know businesses have been severely impacted and lives have been upended," he said. "It is too soon to tell the impact and heartbreak of COVID-19, but given the character of the P&O community, we'll get through this and we will recover."

During the forum, advocates learned how the legislative process works and received key insights on issues affecting O&P. Guest speaker Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) reviewed the work she is doing in Congress on behalf of the O&P profession.

Advocates were also thanked for their efforts in writing their members of Congress and urging them to include language in the next COVID-19-related bill that would distinguish orthotists and prosthetists from suppliers of durable medical equipment (DME).

Justin Beland, director of government affairs for AOPA, encouraged everyone in O&P to write their legislators regarding O&P and DME. "Despite the critical care and professional expertise O&P provides, there remains a widespread perception that O&P is simply a subset of DME," Beland said. The pandemic has made the need to distinguish O&P from DME even clearer given the essential care O&P practitioners provide, said Beland, who added that separation by Congressional statute would open avenues for O&P practition-ers to further utilize telehealth. "Being tied to DME means our practitioners bill for items, not for services; while our practitioners are expanding their use of telehealth exponentially during COVID, they are unable to bill for these services," he said. "Separation is a critical first step in affirming recognition of all O&P services."