So I’ve had a couple weeks to digest the whirlwind trip to the Federal Advocacy Forum earlier this month. While the timing is different every year, I can say it is always an exciting time. There’s really nothing like having the opportunity to sit down with our country’s leaders to speak about issues personal to myself and my profession. And seeing so many students there really made me happy that our profession is growing stronger by the day!
For those who have not been involved with federal advocacy in the past, there were some big pieces of legislation we lobbied for specifically this year. Perhaps the biggest in terms of impact on physical therapy is legislation that would repeal the Medicare Therapy Cap. You know, that arbitrary dollar amount placed on rehab services that helped balance the budget in 1997? It’s so helpful these days.
We also spoke to lawmakers about a bill that would establish a locum tenens allowance for physical therapists, whereby PTs could hire a temporary PT to fill in for themselves or an employee in the event of prolonged sickness, maternity leave, etc., instead of completing a whole hiring process. Other legislation included adding physical therapists to the National Health Service Corps, and including PTs in concussion management and return-to-play clearance.
It would be great if we had all this freedom in our scope of practice, wouldn’t it? Well the only to make that happen is if you take part in advocating for yourself and your career. The Federal Advocacy Forum is an excellent avenue to get our names in the heads of Congress. Lawmakers respond to facts, statistics, and repetition. The brightest minds in physical therapy have found the statistics and researched the facts. It’s now on ALL of us to be repetitive and constantly remind our legislators that physical therapy needs a lot of attention from them!
On the day we set off to the Capitol to talk with Senators and House Representatives, you could feel a certain sense of excitement permeate through all 250 participants. Everyone, LITERALLY everyone, was dedicated to the same cause. Despite being in Washington D.C., politics were largely put to the wayside so we could achieve a common goal. That goal being advancing the physical therapy profession!
I like to think we were all successful in our goal. Politics takes a long time, and asking lawmakers to throw their support behind legislation immediately is not likely to happen. However, the Colorado staff I spoke to were all very receptive to our cause. After we got out the first time jitters, legislative aides were very interested in what we had to say. Unfortunately, the House was on recess, so we essentially traded places with our House Reps. However, their legislative aides are a huge part of each legislator’s policymaking and support/opposition of legislation. Getting the ear of the aide is much easier than a sit down with your Congress(wo)man, but they speak to their legislator (boss) on the daily.
There was an excellent speaker this year who really hit the nail on the head regarding advocacy. Brandon Fitch spoke for two hours on tips and tricks to make the most of your lobbying efforts. While certain things seemed pretty common sense (use your name, present facts, give a bill number), his take on developing relationships with legislative aides was great. Since lawmakers are so difficult to reach as an individual (even though we elected them), their aides are usually the first line of communication about specific legislation. If we can develop a good relationship with their aides, that person would also likely talk to your legislator about all these physical therapists that keep telling them to support these bills!
I would highly recommend everyone go to this event at least once. It really is an amazing experience, and it will open your eyes to the extensive process in getting a single piece of legislation passed. You can even start advocating today in your state! It’s really the same process, but there are several more issues that have yet to be dealt with at the state level. Term protection, imaging authority, direct access, and dry needling are just some of the issues physical therapists face in several states.
As someone who loves helping others get involved in politics and advocacy, shoot me a tweet @tylerDPT, or you can find me on Facebook!