COVID-19 Federal Affairs Live Blog

By Abraham Saffer posted 03-24-2020 14:49

  

AOTA Federal Affairs has decided to try an experiment in blogging – we will be doing quick updates on what we are seeing, hearing and working on with Congress, on your behalf, so you can see the latest news as we get it.
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Posted 3-27-20 3:45pm
AOTA's write up of the latest COVID-19 Congressional package is live. Check it out

- The Federal Affairs Team

Posted 3-27-20 2:00pm
The House just passed the third COVID-19 package, and the president is expected to sign it soon. All three packages passed incredibly quickly. So fast, Congressional staff were not involved to the extent they usually are. This shows why educating members and building Congressional champions is so important.

Any of the three packages would normally take months, yet all three were done in just 3 weeks. To accomplish this speed, the crafting of the bill was left to House, Senate, and White House leaders, and a few senior Members of Congress. Between the speed of passage, Members of Congress, their staff, and stakeholders working remotely, the federal affairs team had to rely on existing Congressional champions. While this situation is unprecedented, it showed clearly why the foundation grassroots advocates and the Policy team built was so important. Some of those champions were in “room where it happens”, and reached out to stakeholders such as AOTA to see if some proposals would provide real help.

By sending letters to your legislators through AOTA’s Legislative Action Center (www.aota.org/takeaction) and meeting with legislators, you can help build and strengthen Congressional relationships. We hope this crisis is over soon, but there will always be a reason to have champions in Congress. We can’t do that without you, and we thank you for all your past and future citizen lobbying.

Happy Advocating!

- Jill Tighe

Posted 3-26-20 6:40pm
As noted in earlier blogs, the COVID-19 legislation that is likely to be approved by the House of Representatives on Friday does NOT specifically enable OTs or other therapy providers to bill Medicare for services provided via telehealth.  However, based on provisions in this new legislation, considered along with provisions included in COVID-19 legislation enacted last week, we believe CMS will have the authority to permit OTs and other therapy providers to offer services via telehealth to Medicare patients on an emergency basis.  The bill also contains multiple other provisions that streamline and simplify telehealth services for those who are already Medicare telehealth providers.      

Once CMS has this authority, we will urge them to act rapidly to eliminate the restrictions that prevent you as an OT from providing therapy to your Medicare patients!  Congressional champions are supporting our effort.  We will keep you posted!

- Andy Bopp

Posted 3-26-20 1:30pm
Late Wednesday night, the Senate passed the third COVID-19 response package. Estimated to cost roughly $2.2 billion, it is the largest Congressional response to the pandemic yet. We’re still analyzing the bill to see if anything was added or taken out that we have been tracking, and we’ll post something official on that as soon as it becomes law. Right now, I want to give a brief update on what we’re hearing in terms of next steps.

The Senate passed the bill 96-0. There are several Senators who are in self quarantine and didn’t vote. Now the bill goes to the House, which hasn’t been in session this week. Almost all its Members are back home, so in order to pass the bill in the House it would have to be by a voice vote. This is a process where a Member asks if there is any objection to passing the bill as is, and if no one objects, it’s passed by unanimous consent. From everything we’re hearing, this will happen on Friday. As soon as we can, we will write up an article on it, and make sure to link it to this blog.

Beyond the third package, we’re already hearing there are rumors of a fourth package. We aren’t sure about timelines or specifics, but from what we’re hearing, it’s looking like it’ll be a package related to infrastructure. This might include more action and funding around telehealth, broadband internet, and other policies to provide continued assistance if closures go on through the summer. As always, we’re monitoring the situation, and hope to know more soon!

- Abe Saffer

Posted 3-25-20 7:15pm
Late Breaking News .. our Congressional telehealth champions have told us one of the telehealth provisions in the COVID-19 legislative package should give CMS flexibility to expand Medicare telehealth options to OT and other therapy providers.  We will continue to engage further with Congress and CMS to urgently address this issue!  Stay tuned!

- Andy Bopp

Posted 3-25-20 5:26pm
AOTA is advocating for you, but you can also join the effort! AOTA’s Legislative Action Center contains some additional information on each issue and some prewritten letters that you are encouraged to update with your own stories. A few of the items related to the actions being considered by Congress with regard to COVID-19 are listed below:

You also have the option to write your own letter to your legislators. You can use this link to access the Write Your Own Letter feature.

 

Happy Advocating!

- Jill Tighe

Posted 3-25-20 4:00pm
The Senate is about 99% agreed to the final language for the third COVID-19 response package. I have personally read five versions of the bill, all with small differences. Here’s some proposals that seem to be destined to be in the final package.

Education Funding
The bill will include $30.75 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund. This fund will provide $13.5 billion to local school districts to use for coronavirus-response activities, such as planning for and coordinating during long-term school closures; purchasing educational technology to support online learning for students, among other uses. 

Student Loans
The Secretary of Education will be required to lower all federal student loan interest rates to 0% for 6 months, allowing students to suspend student loan payments for that time. Additionally, those 6 months will count as eligible payments towards any student loan forgiveness programs, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Income Assistance
Anyone making under $75,000 per year will receive direct funds (likely around the first of April) in the amount of $1,200, and $500 per child.

There will be additional items surrounding unemployment, paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, and a host of financial proposals to help small business. Once those are finalized, another update will be posted. So as we say, more to come….

- Abe Saffer

Posted 3-25-20 3:40pm
The Senate seemed set to vote on a final bill this afternoon, but has run into some last minute snags. We know the House is requiring 24 hours after the final bill is released before it will vote on it, so we know do not expect a final vote until Thursday.

- Heather Parsons

Posted 3-25-20 2:00pm
The COVID-19 legislation that was just finalized does NOT enable OTs or other therapy providers to bill Medicare for services provided via telehealth, although the bill does include multiple provisions that streamline and simplify telehealth services for physicians and providers who were already Medicare telehealth providers.  AOTA and our therapy partners had urged Congress to waive the restrictions which threaten to eliminate OT services to many Medicare patients who will be urged to minimize personal contact to reduce the risk of contagion.  We’ve noted that many private payers and state Medicaid agencies are quickly expanding access to telehealth rehab therapy services, and that the VA continues to be a leading innovator in providing therapy via telehealth.

Since Congress did not address the issue in this bill, we are going to meet with CMS to urge them to act immediately while the pandemic is still emerging.  We will emphasize that delay is not an option, and we believe that CMS has some flexibility to act on its own during this emergency.  This includes the urgent need to waive restrictions related to the ability of Medicare Advantage plans to offer OT and other therapy via telehealth to their beneficiaries. 

Congress will consider further legislation in the coming weeks regarding our national COVID-19 response, and AOTA members should urge their Senators and Representative to address this urgent need in the next COVID-19 legislative package.   Visit http://cqrcengage.com/aota/home?0 to send your letter now!

 

Stay tuned for more updates!

- Andy Bopp

Posted 3-25-20 8:00am
They’ve reached an agreement!  It looks like the fifth version of the Senate bill is going to be the one they vote on.  We have been going through and analyzing all the provisions and will continue posting details.  One thing we know is that the bill will not extend Medicare telehealth to OT, PT and Speech.  We will have to keep up that fight with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  There are some great provisions in here to help the healthcare industry, practices and independent contractors through these times. More to come…

-Heather Parsons

Posted 3-24-20 2:30PM
Over the last two weeks AOTA Federal Affairs has been working with Congress and our allies to advocate for occupational therapy practitioners, educators, students and the clients we serve. With the fast pace of Congressional action, and hourly changes to legislation, it has been difficult to keep you updated on these efforts.  We also have not wanted to confuse what Congress is considering, with what Congress has completed – as we know so many of these decisions will be affecting you directly.

We have decided to try an experiment in blogging – we will be doing quick updates on what we are seeing, hearing and working on with Congress, on your behalf.  So you can see what we are working on. 

A few of the issues we have been focused on for COVID-19 legislation include:

  • Expanding telehealth services under Medicare
  • Increasing access to personal protective equipment
  • Support for independent contractors
  • Support for our small private practices
  • Support for institutions of higher education
  • Freezing student loan payments
  • Maintaining the rights of students with disabilities
  • Supporting schools and school-based practitioners

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start.  We will continue to advocate on your behalf.

-AOTA Federal Affairs Team


#PublicAffairs #FederalAffairs #advocacy #OTadvocacy #Medicare #Medicaid #Publicaffairsbreakingnews
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