AARC Legislative Agenda Frequently Asked Questions

AARC Virtual Lobby Campaign

Although vaccinations offer hope for control of COVID-19, we recognize that respiratory therapists (RTs) still have an important role to play in combatting the coronavirus. Taking care of patients is their main priority and the AARC is mindful of the burden RTs bear every day in saving lives.

Last year we had plans to run a campaign all year in which we advocated for four bills but abruptly put a halt to the initiative when the pandemic hit and required RTs to focus on patient care fulltime. For 2021, at least during the early part of the year, we plan to focus on two legislative initiatives that impact respiratory therapists directly. Advocating for these initiatives keeps the respiratory care profession in the minds of Congressional leaders and bolsters our image as experts in pulmonary care. Other bills that AARC supports will be included in a document that will be sent to Hill staff as part of our virtual advocacy days on April 26 through 29. These FAQs provide you with additional information that can make our advocacy efforts a success.

Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies

What is the CONNECT for Health Act and why should I support it?

The CONNECT for Health Act provides for the expansion of telehealth in a variety of areas. The bill was supported by over 120 organizations, including the AARC, when it was introduced in the 116th Congress. A key provision allows health care professionals who are not currently eligible to furnish telehealth, such as respiratory therapists, to furnish telehealth services as part of the health care delivery models being tested by CMS’ Innovation Center. This is an excellent opportunity to expand the reach of RTs in settings outside of the hospital. We have been assured by Congressional staff in both the House and Senate that this provision will be retained when the bill is reintroduced in the 117th Congress, although we expect other changes will be made to the previous version of the bill.

Another section of the bill encourages the Secretary to test models that specifically examine the use of telehealth. With the explosion of telehealth during the pandemic and questions raised as to quality of care and cost issues, testing new models that could include RTs could go a long way in demonstrating their value and improving patient outcomes through chronic care disease management services via telehealth. Studies have shown that patient education and improving treatment adherence may yield positive results when furnished through a telecommunications platform.

Why are health care delivery models as part of CMS’ Innovation Center so important?

The Innovation Center at CMS was authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Its purpose is to test new alternative payment and service delivery models outside of the traditional Medicare fee-for-service payment system designed to achieve better care for patients, better health for communities, and lower costs through improvements in the health care system. Its importance relies on payment models that define quality and value over volume of services and the CONNECT for Health Act will add telehealth to those models being tested.

Must an RT have the RRT credential to provide telehealth under the CONNECT for Health Act?

No. In determining those health care professionals who would be eligible to furnish telehealth services with enactment of the CONNECT for Health Act, the legislative language refers to two sections of the Social Security Act (Act). The language that impacts RTs is found in section 1819(b)(5)(G) of the Act that defines “licensed health professionals” to mean “a physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, physical, speech, or occupational therapist, physical or occupational therapy assistant, registered professional nurse, licensed practical nurse, or licensed certified social worker, registered respiratory therapist, or certified respiratory therapy technician.” These professionals would be eligible to furnish telehealth services as part of the CONNECT for Health Act. Some professionals, such as physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, are already eligible to furnish telehealth services.

Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act

How will my support of this bill help the respiratory care profession?

The respiratory care profession is considered part of a group of allied health professions that includes physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and audiologists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth in the middle-aged and elderly population will lead to an increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. These respiratory disorders can permanently damage the lungs or restrict lung function.” Of considerable concern is an increase in the need for respiratory care services among those diagnosed with COVID-19 who have continuing long-term lung problems.

The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act authorizes assistance for increasing workforce diversity in the allied health professions, including respiratory care. It will provide grants and scholarships to eligible entities, including students from racial and ethnic minorities, to increase educational opportunities that could lead to an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree or even assistance to complete prerequisite courses or other preparation necessary to be accepted for enrollment in one of allied health programs. It is important to support this bill to improve the retention of new students coming into respiratory therapist programs to meet future healthcare needs for those with chronic and acute respiratory problems.

Why is it important to advocate for co-sponsors of these two bills?

The number of co-sponsors who show support for a bill strengthens the chances of the bill being adopted either as a standalone bill or accepted into a larger legislative package that has the possibility of moving through the legislative process that ends in enactment. Also important is support from committees of jurisdiction that oversee Medicare, like the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees and the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, if a bill has any chance of being enacted.

At the end of last year, the CONNECT for Health Act had 68 co-sponsors in the House and 46 in the Senate. Thanks to the strong support of respiratory therapists and other advocates in February last year, we were able to increase co-sponsorship in the House by 81 percent. The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act had 48 co-sponsors in the House at the end of the year. This year’s goal will be to increase the number of co-sponsors for these bills beyond what was accomplished in the last Congress. Having our members and other supporters of the respiratory care profession send messages to the Hill asking for co-sponsorship can lead the way to accomplishing this goal.

Back to AARC Advocacy/TAKE ACTION