AARC Members Trek Up Capitol Hill, Lobby for Respiratory Care

 Published: April 11, 2019

By: Heather Willden


Scenes from AARC Hill Day 2019
Scenes from AARC Hill Day 2019.
For more photos, check out our Hill Day 2019 Facebook Album.

Members of Congress heard directly from RTs on Tuesday, as the AARC’s Political Advocacy Contact Team (PACT) made its annual journey to the nation’s capital to lobby and educate legislators on issues important to the respiratory care profession and the patients who rely on the services of RTs to regain their health.

This year’s top two issues centered squarely around ensuring patients have access to the care they need.

First, PACT members asked their members of Congress to support a three-year pilot project called the BREATHE Act that would test the value of using RTs to provide health education and other services via telehealth to patients with COPD.

Second, they spoke with their representatives about the need to ensure patient access to liquid oxygen during Medicare’s 18-24 month suspension of the competitive bidding program. PACT members asked them to go on record with their support by signing a letter to the Medicare administrator directing the Medicare program to monitor patient access to liquid oxygen for those whose lives depend on it and report its findings to Congress.

Aside from our two key issues, PACT members also voiced opposition to the inclusion of ventilators under competitive bidding as another issue of importance to respiratory therapists and their patients. A brief summary of AARC’s concerns about this initiative was included in the leave-behind packets.

“We had an amazing day on the Hill,” said Anne Marie Hummel, AARC associate executive director, government affairs. “The energy and excitement from our dedicated PACT representatives was clearly evident, with 326 meetings scheduled.”

Hummel says PACT members reported strong support among their legislators for the BREATHE Act during the debriefing that took place at the end of the day, with several indicating their representatives expressed an interest in being the lead Democratic co-sponsor.

“Now the follow-up work begins to make it happen and get our bill introduced,” she said. ”A big thanks goes out to everyone who made this year’s Hill Day a success.”

aarch lobby infographic

PACT members tell the story

PACT members who traveled to DC on Tuesday agree they made a big impact on their members of Congress and their legislative staff.

Sherleen Bose got the chance to view the National Mall from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s balcony.
Sherleen Bose got the chance to view the National Mall from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s balcony.

Sherleen Bose, BA, RRT, CHT, and her team from California visited with staff in the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, and a number of representatives.

“The legislative staff were receptive to our information regarding the BREATHE Act and expressed their support,” she said. “At the end of our visit at Speaker Pelosi’s office, the staff invited us to the Speaker’s balcony, which provided a stunning view of the National Mall. Overall, this was another very successful AARC Day on the Hill.”

Raymond Pisani, BS, RRT, RRT-ACCS, RRT-NPS, and Dennis Guillot, PhD, RRT, met with all six of their Louisiana congressional district representatives and both of their senators. AARC President Karen Schell, DHSc, RRT, RRT-NPS, RRT-SDS, RPFT, RPSGT, AE-C, CTTS, joined them on the visit to Sen. Bill Cassidy’s office and the team was able to get a photo op with Reps. Mike Johnson and Clay Higgins. They also enjoyed spending some time with former AARC Executive Director Sam Giordano, MBA, RRT, FAARC.

“Many thanks and much love for all who contacted Congress,” said Pisani. “Thank you for supporting us, our patients, and the profession we all love.”

Lindsey Kreisher says her legislators were eager to learn more about telehealth.
Lindsey Kreisher says her legislators were eager to learn more about telehealth.

First time Hill Day participant Lindsey Kreisher, RRT, RRT-ACCS, said the Congressional representatives she and her colleagues from Ohio met with were extremely receptive to the messages they were delivering.

“They were all very interested in telehealth, which would make access to quality health care better for their constituents,” she said. “We made sure to mention that there are over 785,000 patients that are diagnosed with COPD living in the state of Ohio. This was valuable information to convey the need for respiratory therapists to be involved with telehealth.”

Kreisher says their representatives were all looking forward to hearing from the RTs again when a bill is introduced.

Steve Vinton and the team from New Jersey enjoyed a photo op with Rep. Andy Kim, who told them his son has asthma.
Steve Vinton and the team from New Jersey enjoyed a photo op with Rep. Andy Kim, who told them his son has asthma.

For Steven Vinton, RRT, another first-time participant, Hill Day was a real eye-opener.

“This was quite an experience and I have gained a greater understanding and appreciation for our government,” said the New Jersey RT. “The meetings we had with representatives of both our senate and house members were interesting.”

Vinton was impressed that all the legislators and staff they met with took the time to take notes on the information being shared with them. While most were somewhat familiar with respiratory care, others were less informed and those seemed to allow even more time to the meetings.

“The one aide we met in Andy Kim’s office was unfamiliar and particularly engaged in learning from us,” he said. “Toward the end, the congressman walked in and let us know he was appreciative of our visit and asked for a recap of why we were there. He let us know his son has asthma.”

Vinton believes with appropriate follow up, Rep. Kim will be an advocate for the BREATHE Act.

All over the map

These PACT members were supported by AARC members across the country who took part in our annual Virtual Lobby Campaign in the run-up to Lobby Day. Overall, more than 40,000 messages from just over 10,000 advocates were sent via the AARC’s Take Action Page.

“Once again, our grassroots efforts were recognized by legislators and their staff during our visits,” said Frank Salvatore, Jr., MBA, RRT, FAARC, a past AARC president and current chair of the Advocacy and Government Affairs Committee. ”The number of advocates who wrote this year exceeded the numbers achieved in the past five years. Because we had so many advocates and gave them more options on how to contact the offices this year, the number of connections made exceeded 44,000.”

This map tells the story —

aarc lobby results map

Salvatore credits state affiliate leadership for driving this success and says he’s grateful for the more than 122 PACT members who had meetings in 60% or more of the 585 legislative offices on Capitol Hill. “That’s a powerful advocacy program and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he says.

Stay tuned

Advocating for issues vital to the profession and its patients is a key responsibility of the AARC, and thanks to the tireless volunteers who make up the AARC PACT, and the countless members across the country who take part in our virtual lobby events, we’re getting the job done.

Email newsroom@aarc.org with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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