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Annual Lobby Day a Huge Success

March 10, 2010

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AARC PACT takes the RT message to members of Congress

More than 100 members of the AARC’s Political Advocacy Contact Team (PACT) converged on Washington, DC, March 8, 9, and 10 for the Association’s 11th annual Capitol Hill lobbying event. Representing 44 states and the District of Columbia, they worked tirelessly over the three-day session to bring a cohesive message to their members of Congress during nearly 300 scheduled appointments on The Hill.

AARC President-elect Karen Stewart, MSc, RRT, FAARC, was there as well and was impressed by the commitment these volunteers demonstrated for legislative initiatives with the potential to dramatically improve the care and treatment of people with respiratory conditions. “Our representatives came from all over the country to meet with their members of Congress and congressional staff members to discuss legislative initiatives vital to lung health,” says Stewart. “This annual event once again provided the profession with a great way to get the word out about key issues important to the safe and effective delivery of respiratory care.”

A moving tribute

This year’s event kicked off with a moving ceremony held on Monday, March 8, at Arlington National Cemetery, where Karen Stewart joined AARC President Tim Myers, BS, RRT-NPS; former AARC President and Vietnam veteran John Hiser, MEd, RRT, FAARC; and PACT member Bob DeLorme, EdS, RRT, in placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. See the video of this ceremony

From there, PACT members gathered at an issue briefing to ensure everyone was on the same page about the lobbying objectives prior to the Tuesday visits on The Hill.

Two specific issues

AARC Director of Government Affairs Cheryl West says the group targeted two specific issues this year:

  • Support for the AARC’s Medicare Respiratory Therapy Initiative (S. 343 and H.R. 1077); and
  • Support for legislation soon to be released that would authorize the Chronic Disease Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a permanent COPD program.

The respiratory therapy legislation seeks to revise the Medicare law to permit qualified respiratory therapists to provide certain respiratory care services—such as smoking cessation, disease management, and metered-dose inhaler device and medication education—under the general supervision of a physician in the physician’s office. This year, PACT members took a new approach to the bill, tying it into the high rate of readmissions for Medicare patients with COPD and pneumonia.

PACT members took these statistics and others and used them to help explain to legislators and health staff why more respiratory therapists are needed in the physician office and outpatient setting. Specifically, RTs in these settings can serve as physician extenders, spending the time necessary with these patients to help them better understand and use their medications and make the lifestyle changes necessary to improve their conditions and keep them out of the revolving door of readmissions.

Thank-you, Alpha Ones!

Both of these major initiatives were bolstered this year by the partnership of patient advocacy organizations representing individuals with the leading identified genetic form of COPD—Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Alphas accompanied PACT members on their legislative visits to share the patient perspective on the critical need to see qualified medical professionals like respiratory therapists.

“Patients with pulmonary disease are often the biggest supporters and boosters of the respiratory therapy profession,” says Cheryl West, “And they can make a strong impression on members of Congress and their staff, which helps move our agenda forward.” All of the Alpha-1 patients who took part in the legislative visits, she explains, were experienced in the ways of Washington, DC, and thus played a big part in carrying the AARC’s message to Congress. “We were very fortunate to be able to establish a patient-provider partnership to tell the whole health care story.”