The legislative pace in Congress is often slow and unpredictable. However, thanks in large part to ASHA and National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) member advocacy, we saw significant progress in 2019 on issues important to ASHA members and their clients.
And as the second session of the 116th Congress begins, ASHA is ready to seize opportunities to achieve key public policy priorities in 2020 and beyond. Once again, sustained member advocacy is key.
In 2019, we worked on Medicare coverage for audiology services, as well as audiology and speech-language telepractice. ASHA—working with the American Academy of Audiology and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology—secured bipartisan bicameral legislation (Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act; H.R. 4056/S. 2446). The bill would allow audiologists to bill Medicare for treatment and patients to see an audiologist without a physician referral. It would also reclassify audiologists within Medicare.
Key provisions from the bill, including treatment services and reclassification, passed the full House for the first time.
The CONNECT for Health Act (H.R. 4932/S. 2741), also introduced, could potentially allow audiologists and SLPs to bill Medicare for telepractice services. In 2020, we will push to secure more cosponsors and move this legislation forward.
Last year, ASHA strongly advocated for the Allied Health Professions Workforce Diversity Act (H.R. 3637/S. 2747). Again, for the first time, the House passed this legislation, which would provide grants to accredited audiology and speech-language pathology training programs to help diversify the professions. This achievement was a great way to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of ASHA’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. As the Senate looks to advance similar legislation, ASHA will continue advocating for passage by the Senate and being signed into law.
Congress also passed 2019 legislation increasing IDEA funding by $410 million. It also includes language encouraging the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to work together to reduce the administrative burden of school-based clinicians. This year, ASHA will reach out to the Department of Education and CMS to ensure appropriate implementation of this language.
As we move toward the fiscal year 2021 budget season, we will continue advocating for more funding for IDEA and Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) programs. We will also expand our efforts to include advocacy for funding for speech- and hearing-related research at key federal agencies.
ASHA member advocacy was key to the successes achieved in 2019 and will be critical this year as well.
- In 2019, a record number of members voiced support for legislation through ASHA’s Take Action website. Please check out the site and look for Action Alerts to keep making your voices heard in 2020.
- Last year, ASHA and NSSLHA members and students came to D.C. for more than 340 face-to-face meetings with legislators and their staff through Advisory Council Hill Day, Student Advocacy Day, and visits by more than 20 Special Interest Groups, boards, and committees. We will continue these opportunities for members to share their stories and provide examples of why legislative changes and additional funding are needed.
- NSSLHA members and students rallied to send Take Action letters to their members of Congress during Virtual Advocacy Day and Student Advocacy Day.
- In August, Grasstops Envoys hosted key members of Congress at their workplaces, attended Town Hall meetings, and secured in-district meetings. In 2020, we aim to increase the number of at-home engagements ASHA members have with members of Congress and their staff.
- At the halfway point in the 2020 election cycle, ASHA members made sure the ASHA-PAC is ahead of its targeted goal of hosting 12 fundraisers and co-hosting 35 fundraisers for members of Congress, and attending more than 100 events in 2019. As the congressional races heat up, we count on your continued participation to elect congressional candidates who support ASHA’s public policy priorities.
By working together, we will continue to see similar funding and legislative successes in 2020 and beyond.
Brian Altman is ASHA’s director of federal and political affairs. email@example.com