Hey readers! On Monday, September 23rd I participated in OT Hill Day in Washington, DC. It was such an amazing experience, and I left feeling empowered and inspired. It was so cool to walk into the senate and house offices on Capitol Hill, meet with my representatives’ staff members, and advocate for the profession of occupational therapy. It really made me feel like my voice mattered, and so does yours. If you didn’t make it to this year’s OT Hill Day, you can still get involved by participating in Virtual Hill Day or donating to AOTPAC. I wrote a blog post about How Policy Impacts Healthcare that you should check out, as well! In this post, I will talk about the three bills that I advocated for as well as what my experience was like. If you have the opportunity to participate in OT Hill Day next year, I can’t recommend it enough. Happy advocating!
What We Advocated For
During Hill Day, you will be advocating for up to 3 bills that are chosen by AOTPAC. They will choose bills that need our advocacy to push them along the legislative process. These bills will either need to be sponsored/cosponsored, introduced, or supported by our senators and representatives. We received information about the bills prior to Hill Day, and they briefed us with information on the day of. AOTPAC also made all of our appointments with staffers for us, so all we had to do was show up and be prepared to advocate for OT. It is most likely that you will meet with a staff person for your senators and representative, not your actual congressperson. (Bummer, I know!)
Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act (H.R. 2431)
The Problem: There is currently a severe shortage of mental health professionals, including OTs. This especially affects rural areas. Nearly 1 in 5 adults experience mental or behavioral health problems, and untreated these may lead to homelessness, academic failure, unemployment, and contact with the criminal justice system.
The Solution: This bill would provide loan forgiveness to mental health professionals, including OTs, who work in underserved areas. This would increase the amount of health professionals who work in the mental health field, improve access to mental health care, and improve health outcomes.
Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act (S. 1725/H.R. 3127)
The Problem: OTs cannot conduct initial and comprehensive evaluations for home health services, even when OT is ordered by the physician in the plan of care. Only PTs and SLPs can do these initial evaluations, which causes scheduling difficulties and delays in care for clients. This especially impacts clients and practitioners in rural areas, where home health practitioners may travel up to 200 miles per day to see clients.
The Solution: This bill would allow home health OTs to perform initial and comprehensive evaluations when skilled nursing care is not ordered and when OT is the most clinically appropriate service to open the case. This solution is budget neutral (it would not cost taxpayers anything) and has bipartisan support. It is also backed by our colleagues from NAHC, APTA, and ASHA.
Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act (H.R. 3637)
The Problem: The makeup of the healthcare workforce does not mirror the U.S. population. Racial and ethnic minorities largely receive lower quality healthcare than non-minorities. The burden of racial and ethnic health disparities is projected to cost the U.S. over $300 billion in lost productivity and healthcare spending by 2050.
The Solution: This bill would increase opportunities for individuals from racial and ethnic minorities to enter the professions of OT, PT, SLP, and audiology by providing grant funding to college and university programs. This funding would be used to strengthen and expand recruitment, enrollment, retention and graduation of students from underrepresented backgrounds in the allied health professions. They would do this through community outreach, mentorship and tutoring, and scholarships and stipends. It is important for the allied health workforce to mirror the population of the U.S. because patients who receive care from members of their own background tend to have better outcomes, health professionals from underrepresented and minority backgrounds are more likely to practice in medically underserved areas, and minorities disproportionately live in areas that have healthcare provider shortages. This bill would reduce shortages, lower costs, increase access to care, and increase the quality of U.S. healthcare.
My Experience at OT Hill Day
I had an amazing time at Hill Day. I was so inspired as I walked though the huge, marble buildings. I think it would be really cool to do this again, and maybe even be a member of AOTPAC one day.
Being from Massachusetts, the senators who represent me are Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Edward Markey. The house representative who represents me is Representative Joseph Kennedy. I attended meetings with staffers from Senator Warren’s office and Representative Kennedy’s office. There was a large group of people from MA at the meeting with Senator Warren’s staffer, so I just observed. (No, I didn’t see her…bummer.) When I arrived at Representative Kennedy’s office, I expected to meet another OT or OT student from my district, but the person did not show up. So, I conducted the meeting all by myself. I am so proud of how it went! I spoke concisely and I believe that I appeared professional and knowledgeable. I didn’t even feel nervous during the meeting, I just went for it! Moral of the story: you CAN have a voice in OT, policy, and politics! I never would have thought that I would be advocating to my state representative’s office by myself a year ago, but I did and I feel so inspired and empowered as a result of it. Go OT!
If you have any desire to advocate for OT (or other things you care about) I can’t recommend it enough! Check out AOTA’s and AOTPAC’s resources online for how you can get involved in OT advocacy.
Thanks for reading!