By David H. Kirkwood
LEXINGTON, KY—Support is growing rapidly for the Audiology Patient Choice Act (HR 5304), ambitious federal legislation initiated by the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) and introduced into the House of Representatives last July. If enacted, the measure would provide Medicare patients direct access to audiologists and would grant audiologists limited license status within Medicare.
The initiative got a big boost this fall when Erin Miller, AuD, president of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), wrote to ADA’s president, Brian Urban, AuD, and its other board members, congratulating them on their legislative efforts.
In her letter, Miller said, “The academy fully supports efforts toward physician status for audiologists, as this has been a long-range goal of the academy since its inception… This letter is to offer our endorsement of H.R. 5304.”
Last year, when ADA first unveiled the proposal as part of its “18×18 Initiative” to persuade Congress to update Title 18 of the Social Security Act by the year 2018, AAA did not support it, believing that it had no realistic chance of passage. AAA preferred to focus instead on two bills, H.R. 4035 and S. 2046 (both also supported by ADA), that would allow Medicare patients to go to an audiologist without need for a physician’s referral.
However, this legislation would do less than the Audiology Patient Choice Act to increase audiologists’ autonomy. And it would not expand Medicare coverage to all services that audiologists are licensed to provide, including vestibular rehabilitation, cerumen removal, and aural rehabilitation.
ADA welcomed its sister organization’s recent change of position. “We were very excited by their letter of support,” said Stephanie Czuhajewski, executive director of ADA. “We look forward to working with them.”
MANY OTHERS SIGN ON
Even before AAA offered its endorsement of H.R. 5304, a number of audiology-related organizations had joined the cause, and since then many more have announced their support.
As of December 8, 10 state academies of audiology, which are affiliated with the national AAA, had signed on: California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
Although there is little chance that the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) will endorse H.R. 5304, its state chapters in New York and Montana have done so.
This week, ADA announced that the Student Academy of Audiology had followed the lead of its parent organization. Laura Chenier, president of the student organization, wrote that in view of AAA’s action, “The Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) Board of Directors would like to formally recognize this endorsement and demonstrate our equal support of the ADA and its efforts.”
She added, “The SAA is committed to supporting students, as they become knowledgeable consumers of legislature and the SAA Board encourages students to advocate for advances in the field because they are the future of audiology.”
The Audiology Patient Choice Act has also won the endorsements of Salus University, the Scott Haug Foundation , the David and Carol Myers Foundation, the Audiological Resource Association, the National Aging in Place Council , AuDNet , the Hearing Care Group of Metropolitan New York, and the Montana Audiology Guild.
STARTING OVER IN A NEW CONGRESS
All the endorsements in the world, of course, do not ensure that Congress will pass any given bill. That’s especially true when it faces strong opposition, which the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) will almost certainly mount to this measure.
Moreover, very little legislation of any sort got through the 113rd Congress, which is now in its final days. Over the past two years, with the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and the Democrats holding a slim majority in the Senate, this Congress enacted less legislation than any Congress since World War II.
Will the 114th Congress, convening next month with Republican majorities in both houses, be more likely to pass the Audiology Patient Choice Act? That’s hard to predict.
ADA’s Stephanie Czuhajewski told this blog, “We are still evaluating the composition of the 114th Congress and can’t anticipate yet what the impact will be on likelihood of its re-introduction, consideration, and passage.”
“However,” she added, “we have a lot of momentum. We are extremely optimistic about its potential, given the incredible support that it has received from the audiology community and beyond.”
One positive factor is that the two sponsors of the bill in 2014, Reps. Lynn Jenkins, a Kansas Republican, and Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, were both re-elected to the House last month, and are likely to introduce it again in the new session.