2019 APTA Federal Advocacy Forum – “Day on the Hill”

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Colorado members at the Forum representing and advocating for the #ChoosePT campaign.

Last week,  the APTA Federal Forum in Washington D.C. took place to advocate for important topics to physical therapists. The Forum brought together APTA members, speakers from the field, and stakeholders on the discussion of regulatory affairs and federal priorities that impact the physical therapy profession and its patients, as well as on learning about new information that comes with a new Congress. Attendees had the opportunity to speak with their representatives in person about issues facing their state and the profession as a whole. Among those in attendance were our very own Regis DPT students and faculty members. Second-year DPT student Hannah Clark reflects on her experience on the Hill and why it is crucial to not only advocate for our profession, but to be involved as a student, in her following essay:

“Issues Discussed at the Capital”

Hannah Clark, SPT – Regis University

To fundamentally agree with the policy positions held by the APTA is an exceptional feeling. As a DPT student who is hoping to delve headfirst into pain management and advocacy for marginalized communities in healthcare upon graduation, my decision to pursue this profession has been deeply validated by attending the Federal Advocacy Forum (FAF). Witnessing leaders within the APTA address topics related to population health, patient choice and access, value-based care and practice, and research and innovation helped me to fully recognize the crucial role the APTA has in influencing the policies that impact our ability to serve society. For these reasons, it felt important for me to join the GAC team advocating at the capital and I was deeply honored to be selected.

Due to the recent success regarding the removal of the Medicare cap, we were able to spend more time becoming educated and advocating for the field of physical therapy in a broader sense. On Monday, we spent the entire day learning about the current political climate in congress from Nation Gonzalez at CNN, the societal impact of healthcare policy from Sarah Kliff at Vox, and attended breakout sessions that detailed information regarding federal policy, payment, the ACA, Medicaid, and IDEA. One of the most emphasized topics throughout the day involved the #ChoosePT campaign. The APTA reminded those attending the FAF of the real impact physical therapists can have on the opioid epidemic through offering vulnerable populations access to non-pharmacological pain management. Clear objectives were presented that tackled this issue in addition to intra-professional issues such as student loan repayment. Several policy priorities were presented for every state to choose from when planning their congressional meetings.

The following topics were addressed by the Colorado GAC team when meeting with legislative assistants:

  • Our geriatric specialists spoke to the vital role in we play in exercise promotion and fall risk reduction in the community. Conversations were also had in the valuable perspective physical therapists can bring to park and recreational center design.
  • Our pediatric specialists asked congresspeople to consider expanding the budget for IDEA as they have witnessed the impact this program has on the lives of children.
  • Our outpatient clinicians provided examples of how they have successfully treated patients experiencing chronic pain and assisted them in weaning off opioids. These individuals also spoke to the measurable reduction in opioid use they have made in their local hospital system by implementing early access to physical therapy services.
  • Our students asked our congresspeople to cosponsor SB970 (and eventually the same bill when it is brought to the house) that would add physical therapists to the National Health Service Corps. This would allow graduates to serve rural populations, often most impacted by opioid addiction, and would offer student loan repayment as an incentive.
  • Our long-time advocates requested that physical therapists be added as community health center providers, as we are a vital element of the primary care team.

In addition to the invaluable time spent at the FAF learning about how physical therapists can impact healthcare quality and access in the U.S., one of the most important aspects of the weekend for my professional growth was getting to know the GAC members I accompanied. The people I spent time with exemplified everything I love and respect about our profession. They spoke with genuine care for their patients, integrity in leadership opportunities, intelligence in considering the complexity of pain, passion for their interventions, and commitment to social responsibility. Our conversations had a large impact on my personal development.

I returned to class following the Federal Advocacy Forum with a fresh perspective. I felt focused and calm as I approached coursework and simulation labs. Attending FAF granted me the opportunity to further shape who I aspire to be as a professional and world citizen. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and truly believe that if any student were to have the chance to participate in this event, they would foster a deeper appreciation for the APTA and for healthcare advocacy at large.

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Hannah (pictured second from right) was all smiles with fellow members of the Forum at the 2019 APTA Federal Forum in Washington D.C. 

Federal Advocacy Forum: Regis DPT Student Katie Baratta Visits The Hill

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The APTA Federal Advocacy Forum is a national conference for APTA members across the country to convene in DC.   Its purpose? To educate members of Congress on the role of physical therapy in our communities, with the specific goal of gaining their support for the various legislative initiatives* that are currently being debated in Congress.

A part of my experience during my two-week APTA internship through the Regis University DPT program included the opportunity to attend the Forum. We started out listening to several guest speakers in preparation for our visits on Capitol Hill with the senators and representatives. Brad Fitch from the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) presented some of the results of a survey about what types of factors impact their decision-making process.  Constituents are the citizens that a member of Congress represents, and that includes both providers and their patients. So, it is important for them to know what matters to us! Ideas for getting in touch with them are listed below.

Robert Blizzard, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, discussed the current political climate–including different scenarios for the presidential race and the outcomes’ implications. We also had the chance to listen to Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina speak. He has been a friend to PT initiatives for a long time. One of the things that has been most refreshing to me to see is that members of Congress really do care about the same issues we care about. Members on one side of the political spectrum may believe in different ways of solving those issues from their colleagues on the other side, but despite that, there is a lot of bipartisan support for the issues we care about. There were also break-out sessions that went into greater depth on key issues facing the profession from a legislative prospective.

On the third day, we embarked with fellow APTA members from Colorado to meet with staff from the offices of our senators and representatives to discuss current legislation. We thanked the members of Congress for their support on legislation they had already co-signed, and we asked for their support on further issues. The Colorado APTA members met with the offices of Colorado’s two Senators: Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and also the representatives from different districts. Diana DeGette is the representative from my district, but our group also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from many other CO districts, as well.

I’ll admit it–I was nervous, at first, to speak up in those meetings. It turns out, though, that the staff members are friendly and interested in what we have to say–even as students. It was reassuring to go as a group so that we could chime in and support one other. I felt more and more confident the more I did it! My advice to any PT or student interested in meeting with their elected official would be to review the facts of what you are going to say (and write down information you might not remember easily) so that you don’t have to waste time and energy trying to recall or look up information. Each meeting lasted approximately 10-15 minutes, and it’s surprising how quickly that time goes. Relax, be yourself, and know that nobody is going to bite your head off.   🙂

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What can I, as a student or clinician, do to support advocacy at the government level?

As a citizen in this country it is your right–and, arguably, your responsibility–to petition your lawmakers directly to share the personal impact that different legislation would have on you as a current (or future) provider on your patients’ day-to-day life. Start by downloading the APTA advocacy app which will let you know who your elected officials are and which legislative issues are currently relevant to your district/state. In terms of getting in touch with lawmakers, Brad Fitch shared with us some of the ways that we can connect with Congress on issues pertinent to the PT field:

  • write emails
  • make phone calls
  • attend town hall meetings
  • make an appointment to visit their local office in person with other PTs or on your own
  • follow your legislator on social media and respond to what they post

The more people to reach out, the more impact we can have.

If you are interested in getting more involved in the political and legislative process or have additional questions, feel free to reach out to me at kbaratta@regis.edu! 

*Key issues currently include:

  • Therapy Cap: Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act (currently max out at $1940 for speech and PT combined) HR 775 / S 539  more info
  • PT Workforce Bill: Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access (includes PTs in loan forgiveness program for healthcare providers in underserved areas) HR 2342 / S 1426 more info
  • Locum Tenens: Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act (for Medicare providers to get short-term coverage for their patients when they must take a temporary leave of absence) HR 556/S 313  more info
  • Safe Play: Supporting Athletes, Families, and Educators to Protect the Lives of Athletic Youth Act / SAFE PLAY Act (include PTs in the discussion for developing standardized concussion management guidelines) HR 4829 / S 436 more info
  • Rehabilitation Research: Enhancing the Stature and Visibility of Medical Rehabilitation Research at the NICH Act (streamlines rehabilitation research, improves coordination between different organizations) HR1631 / S 800
  • PTs Travelling with Sports Teams: Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act (include PTs along with ATs and physicians in the existing legislation extending the state license of sports medicine providers who travel with a sports team across state lines to treat a traveling team) HR 921 / S 689
  • Self-Referral: Promoting Integrity in Medicare Act (proposes removing PT as an exception to the Stark Law, ie prevents Physicians from referring Medicare patients to entities in which they have a financial interest – eg a physician-owned PT service) HR 2914
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Blogger: Katie Baratta

My name is Katie Baratta and I just graduated from Regis University School of Physical Therapy. I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at the APTA doing a student internship. I was able to talk to many different members of the APTA, attend the Federal Advocacy Forum, and learn more about what the APTA has been doing to move our profession forward. Check in next Tuesday for more!