Why Member Advocacy Is Crucial: Reflections From the Federal Advocacy Forum
By Jennica Sims
Policymakers make decisions every day that impact the physical therapy profession—everything from state scope of practice and licensure issues, to payment under Medicare, to the regulations practitioners must adhere to. They need to understand and appreciate what physical therapists do so that they don't make misinformed decisions that could negatively impact patients.
But legislators at both the state and federal levels know little about health care and even less about physical therapy, so it is incumbent upon APTA members to educate them about the profession and the needs of the patients they serve. Last week, more than 270 APTA members did just that as they assembled on Capitol Hill for the annual APTA Federal Advocacy Forum, visiting their legislators' offices, and others.
As a PT, PTA, or student, you are a natural advocate, because you have a story to tell and information to share about the physical therapy profession. You know about the depth and breadth of our education, the scope of what we do, and the challenges that we face on everything from payment to administrative burden. More important, you know the challenges, struggles, and accomplishments of our patients (and legislators' constituents). Talking to a lawmaker can be as easy as telling your story and describing your practice setting, the patient population you treat, and the challenges you face in transforming society.
"If you care about what you do and think we really make a difference in the world, it's important to be the voice to that fact and let legislators know!"
—Theresa Marko, PT, DPT
How Can I Make an Impact?
The best way is to engage in activities that help you build a personal relationship with your member of Congress or state legislators. Here are a few ideas:
- Host a practice visit at your clinic or facility for a legislator—it's a great way for the legislator to see the physical therapy profession up close.
- Get involved and volunteer for a local political campaign.
- Attend town halls hosted by legislators.
- Send a simple email or note thanking them for their work.
- Volunteer for your chapter or section as an APTA key contact or federal affairs liaison, get involved with your chapter's legislative committee, or attend your chapter's lobby day at the state capitol.
- Attend the APTA Federal Advocacy Forum in Washington, DC!
"I was fortunate enough to go to Federal Advocacy Forum last year and was hooked! Coming back this year is my way of continuing the advocacy mission that will be ongoing for the duration of my career. Once I entered the PT family, I understood advocacy was something the professional organization placed incredible value in. I had to be a part of the team fighting on the front lines for our profession and our patients."
—Domenic Fraboni, SPT
Federal Advocacy Forum
The Federal Advocacy Forum is an annual educational and advocacy event that is hosted each spring by APTA in the District of Columbia. This year we had more than 270 attendees representing 48 states and DC. The forum is great opportunity to learn about the current issues that federal policymakers are considering that impact the profession, and to get training on how to be an effective advocate. We cap off the forum with a day on Capitol Hill, where attendees meet with their members of Congress to talk about specific designated issues impacting the profession. The forum is also a great way to engage with fellow colleagues from across the country, meet new friends, network with peers, and have a great time while making a difference for the profession.
"The APTA Federal Advocacy Forum is an excellent opportunity to network with fellow PTs about issues that concern all of our areas of practice. I've been coming for 5 years in a row and I can't get enough! It's my favorite APTA [event]. Being in the House and Senate buildings as more than a tourist, with relevant issues to discuss and education to provide to our policymakers, is so invigorating! It's critical that PTs, PTAs, and students engage in advocacy throughout their careers in our field. With the way that health care is changing, no one else will ensure that our patients continue to get the care [they] need. It's our JOB!"
—Ami Faria, PT, DPT
Advocacy: What Are the Results?
At the federal level, the physical therapy profession has had a couple of good wins just in the past 2 years, thanks to APTA members making their voices heard and through momentum gained by events such as the APTA Federal Advocacy Forum. A few examples:
Locum tenens. In 2016, through the work of member advocates, APTA was able to get a bill through Congress that will provide for locum tenens for physical therapists in private practices. This allows a PT in a rural or underserved area to bring in another licensed PT to treat Medicare patients and bill Medicare through the practice provider number during temporary absences for illness, pregnancy, vacation, or continuing medical education.
21st Century Cures Act. Signed into law in 2016, the Cures Act will improve coordination of rehabilitation research throughout the National Institutes of Health and require the development of a comprehensive rehabilitation research plan, updated every 5 years.
PTAs under TRICARE. In December 2017, APTA was able to get language inserted into the annual defense spending bill that added PTAs as authorized providers under TRICARE. We're now working to get that new law implemented via regulations, and in the near future PTAs will be allowed to treat TRICARE patients.
Elimination of the hard cap! The big win was the permanent fix to the Medicare therapy cap that was enacted in February. The legislation permanently removes the hard cap on outpatient therapy services, thus we'll no longer be required to go to Congress every year asking for renewal of the temporary exceptions process. We should take a moment to celebrate closing the door on a 20-year advocacy effort that has challenged our ability to ensure timely and appropriate services to patients. Reaching this milestone affords APTA the opportunity to expand our advocacy agenda to implement more fully our vision to transform society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.
While the profession has made strides and has much to celebrate, there is still much work to be done. The US health care system is undergoing tremendous change, which presents many challenges as well as new opportunities. Working together we can continue to move the profession forward and meet APTA's vision of transforming society.
Learn more about how to get involved in advocacy at: www.apta.org/Advocacy/.
Jennica Sims is congressional affairs and grassroots specialist for APTA.