A recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the increased challenges faced by COPD patients in rural areas. One of the barriers faced by those patients is lack of access to respiratory therapists. Currently, Medicare does not provide reimbursement for RT's to function as telehealth practitioners, so once a patient leaves the hospital, they have very limited access to the unique skills and qualifications of the respiratory therapist. The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) seeks to change that. Over 130 respiratory therapists (RT's) from around the country descended on Capitol Hill on May 1st to seek support from members of Congress for a proposed pilot project that would allow COPD patients to have access to RT's via remote telehealth services. Telehealth utilizes technology to allow patients to be “seen” by healthcare providers remotely.
Anne Marie Hummel, Associate Executive Director of Advocacy & Government Affairs for the AARC, is very optimistic about the results of the May 1st Hill Day. “The AARC had a very successful May 1 Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. This year’s 'ask' was to support pilot legislation that allows respiratory therapists as telehealth practitioners to deliver disease management services to Medicare beneficiaries with COPD. Approximately 130 Political Advocacy Contact Team (PACT) representatives from 44 states including the District of Columbia participated, along with several patients and representatives from other organizations, such as the COPD Foundation, Alpha 1, Allergy and Asthma Network and the Children’s National Medical Center attended close to 300 meetings on Capitol Hill. Prior to Advocacy Day, we held a Virtual Lobby Campaign from April 11 through May 2 designed to send messages to the Hill prior to scheduled visits. Over 9,000 advocates sent over 33,000 emails to legislators.”
Legislative counsel is in the process of writing language for a bill that would establish this three-year pilot program. The bill may be introduced as early as June. When it is, the AARC plans to have another grassroots virtual lobby campaign asking people to contact their members of Congress and ask them to sign on to the bill as co-sponsors.