Guest post by Mickie Hucke, PT, JD, of Washington
As I stood on the lawn in front of the Capitol listening to a beautiful trio sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" I was filled with excitement and a sense of purpose mixed with a little trepidation about the day to come. I am a middle-aged member who attended the national legislative rally for my first time Thursday, and the whole experience exceeded my expectations. What made me do it? The encouragement of my association and a sense that health care is at a pivotal point. APTA President Scott Ward put it well when he said that we do not have a government run by representation, we have a government run by those who participate in the representative process. That rang true for me because I have always felt that what we learn in PT school and in continuing education is not enough; if we don't take care to have a voice and exert a presence then we will be legislated out of the ability to be effective and use the knowledge and skills that we have.
My saga started back in my local chapter (Washington) where I was recruited for our Legislative Committee and then became legislative chair several years ago. I had planned and attended many local legislative days at my state capitol but never flew across the country to attend the national rally. I changed jobs and then re-established my commitment to chapter governance by getting elected as the Practice Panel director, but there was still this thing called House of Delegates and the national scene that would take a bigger commitment of time and resources. Last fall I took the step and ran for a delegate position to bring my personal education and involvement to a different level. That brought me to the right place at the right time for my first national rally.
Issues around Medicare, health care reform, and reimbursement changes have been moving at a faster pace, and I realized that our profession stood at a crossroads. My nonmember PT friends back home didn't seem to see the same train on the tracks that I was watching. I saw the ACOs coming, the RACs coming, and Medicare's sky falling! I felt that we could either choose to mutely stand by and accept whatever happens or we could take some control and shape our destiny into one with exciting possibilities. After being one of the thousand APTA representatives standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the intense humid heat of Washington, DC, I now feel certain that we have a lot of good people who do see the train and are working hard to keep the train on the best track for our profession and our patients. A PTA friend of mine encouraged me, saying I would find rich debate in the House of Delegates, and the experience at the Capitol would live up to my expectations. She was right (thank you, Cathleen).
Since Washington is so far from the Capitol it really takes a commitment to attend our national legislative day. I did not realize how much support I would get from my colleagues and association. APTA rolled into action, and my national staff turned a daunting task into a few e-mail clicks beyond my ordinary travel plans. The APTA staff had training for us the night before, maps, written instructions, glossy handouts, and pre-scheduled appointments. Although the heat was stifling at times we were able to get out of the sun because there were rest areas and strategies that kept us inside as much as possible. I saw a lot of APTA staff standing outside in the heat organizing the bus drop-off/pick-up process with smiles, clear instructions, and encouragement. More than once I heard staff telling groups of us how important the mission was; one of them told me that the way we connected as individual constituents was more powerful than a whole year's work for our staffers.
When we got into the meeting rooms I noticed that each one of the legislative assistants that I saw was interested in our story. The level of expertise varied and I found myself speaking to one legislative assistant on topics that seemed new to him. He took notes, took my card, and asked if he could e-mail me for more information in the future. He really meant it!
At my senators' offices, larger groups coordinated who could best tell stories that connected with our legislative agenda: repeal the Medicare cap, add physical therapists to the list for loan forgiveness via the National Health Services Corps, and support national legislation on concussion management that recognized physical therapists amongst qualified practitioners in this arena. Each visit we were asked to individually identify ourselves, our hometown, and practice locations. The senators had legislative assistants who knew about past participation as co-sponsors. One expressed that the senator had simply been so busy last year that she did not prioritize it and did not sign on, but our presence indicated that the cap is still a big issue. They took copious notes and seemed to gain a new understanding of the student loan repayment situation as a result of our visit. Yes, we can open doors and we can be heard at the national level. The future will tell us how successful we have been, but at least I know that I lived up to Scott Ward's call to participate. We will not go down silently.
Before I traveled to Washington, DC, I read a lot of posts from colleagues claiming that the only issue before us was reimbursement. After this trip I know that the debate is about far more than reimbursement, AND it is about reimbursement. We are at a pivotal point for physical therapy, and I think about the pioneers who came before us. By participating in our national legislative efforts I feel that I am joining in historical times. The future of our profession is in our hands and I am more positive about all the issues that we face because we face them together and with a united voice. Tonight I will sleep well, knowing that I participated-finally.