Due to the cancellation of AAA 2020 + HearTECH Expo, April 1-4, in New Orleans, the annual membership meeting was cancelled.
In this series of three videos, Academy President Catherine Palmer, PhD, reviews the discussion items that would have taken place during the membership meeting. These include the Academy finances, advocacy work accomplished in the past year, and other initiatives completed (and started) in the past year.
Video 1: Academy Finances
Video 2: 2019 Advocacy Year in Review
The Academy worked with other audiology stakeholders to draft, secure congressional champions and lobby to secure additional support for the Medicare Audiology Access and Services Act of 2019—legislation to grant audiologists “practitioner” status in Medicare, remove the physician referral requirement and allow audiologists to provide and be reimbursed for diagnostic and treatment services.
Following the introduction of the Medicare Audiology Access and Services Act of 2019 (H.R. 4056/S. 2446)—the “Joint Audiology Bill”—The Academy embarked on a coordinated lobbying campaign with ASHA and ADA to meet with all members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee—as well as professional staffers for these committees.
The Academy worked to ensure certain portions of the joint audiology bill were amended into H.R. 4618, the Medicare Hearing Act of 2019—legislation to add a hearing aid benefit to Medicare. Academy staff worked with other stakeholders, congressional members and staff to secure amendment language to include audiologist “practitioner” status, treatment services and a study on providing beneficiaries with direct access to audiologists. H.R. 4618 (including these amendments) was “rolled into” H.R. 3 and passed the full House of Representatives.
The Academy officially supported the Connect for Health Act—legislation introduced to expand telehealth services in Medicare. The Academy staff is also actively seeking opportunities now to have audiologists included for reimbursement of telehealth services, an important matter for our members during the current COVID-19 crisis.
The Academy has continued its important work in representing the profession in the RUC and CPT processes to promote adequate codes for the audiology practice.
The Academy also supported the licensure work focused on advancing the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact. Three states – UT, WV, and WY – have passed legislation for the compact, and an additional seven are needed to enact the compact. The compact will be important to audiologists, particularly for telehealth and to allow them to practice more easily across lines, of neighboring states.
Video 3: Looking Ahead: Future Advocacy Initiatives
Although H.R. 3 is unlikely to be enacted in its current form, the Senate Finance Committee has a drug pricing reform bill of its own that they are advocating for. It is possible that the Senate and House will try to work out a compromise bill and pass a piece of legislation. H.R. 3 currently includes a limited hearing aid benefit and would grant audiologists “practitioner status” in Medicare and allow the provision of diagnostic and treatment services.
Currently, the Senate version does not include these provisions. However, Senator Grassley is the chair of the Senate Finance Committee and is a long-time proponent of expanded access to hearing health-care services.
In the event that we see no further traction on our joint bill (or the provisions included in H.R. 3), the fact that practitioner status and audiologist treatment services language passed the full House of Representatives establishes a powerful precedent for future efforts.
H.R. 4056 and S. 2446 (the joint audiology bills) are still alive and viable. H.R. 4056 currently has significantly more sponsors than the Senate version. The Academy will need to focus attention on the Senate to garner more sponsors for S. 2446 as well as to gauge the level of interest (if any) on pursuing Medicare coverage of hearing aids and any dialogue that is taking place between the two houses.
We also expect to see later this year the release of proposed over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid regulations. We know that certain members of Congress are concerned about the arrival of OTC devices on the market coupled with the current lack of Medicare coverage of audiologist services. This gives the Academy powerful talking points about the critical need for Medicare coverage of audiologist services, practitioner status, and the removal of the physician referral.
In the midst of the current health-care crisis, the Academy is advocating for the expansion of telehealth services to allow those providers currently not able to provide and bill for these services in Medicare, including audiology.
The Academy has been examining the role of third-party administrators (TPAs) in hearing health care and is currently collaborating with the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) on the development of a resource document for audiologists. The Academy will work on reference material to help members to better understand the role of TPAs.
The Academy continues to support and advocate for state adoption of the interstate licensure compact for audiology. To date, three states have passed the requisite legislation—West Virginia, Utah, and Wyoming.
The compact will become operational when 10 states have passed enabling legislation. The Academy’s State Relations Committee has been engaged in outreach to state audiology organizations to support efforts in introducing and advancing state compact legislation.
Of significant note is the work the Academy is doing on behalf of members relative to addressing the projected cuts in Medicare reimbursement to audiologists for CY2021. These adjustments are to offset implementation of higher relative value units (RVUs) for E/M services to maintain budget neutrality for the physician fee schedule. Audiology is facing 8 percent in cuts.
The Academy has submitted comments directly to CMS and is engaged in ongoing discussions with them about the impact of the cuts on audiology and valuation of new audiology codes. Given the current health-care crisis, there is an effort to mitigate these cuts or at least forestall them.
This is a fluid situation and the Academy will be following it very closely. A special educational session for members had been planned for AAA 2020 and will now be replaced with town hall virtual meetings. Stay tuned for more information.
If you have any questions or concerns and would like them addressed by leadership, please send your inquires to us.
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