Headquarter's Report: AuDvocate for AuDiology:Come to Capitol Hill to Advance the Audiology Patient Choice Act

Author: Stephanie Czuhajewski, Executive Director

With the August Congressional recess behind us, now is the time for AuDvocates to prepare for ADA Lobby Day, which will be held on November 12th. If you believe that audiology should be practiced with the same autonomy as other doctoring professions that require similar education, skills and training, join us. If you believe that Medicare patients should have better access to audiology services, join us. If you believe that audiologists should be reimbursed by Medicare for the Medicare-covered services that they are licensed to provide, then join your colleagues and register for ADA Lobby Day at www.audiologist.org. Please find more information about this important legislation below.

The Issue
Medicare has not kept pace with changes in health care delivery models for diagnosing and treating hearing and balance disorders. Thus, patient access to care and choice of provider is detrimentally limited, and the treatment process inefficient. Medicare’s archaic referral requirements must be modernized to allow seniors direct access to efficient, effective care. Other federal programs, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Employees Health Benefits program and many Medicare Advantage plans, already allow direct access to audiologists, as do many private health insurance plans.

Medicare patients should have the right to choose from among all Medicare-recognized providers for all Medicare-covered services that they are licensed to provide. The Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) is now the standard for professional education and the required degree for new licensees in almost all states. Audiologists diagnose and treat hearing and balance disorders that cannot be managed with surgical or pharmacological intervention. These types of disorders comprise the vast majority of cases of hearing loss.
The Solution
Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) re-introduced the Audiology Patient Choice Act of 2015 (H.R. 2519) on May 21st, to modernize Medicare to improve access to Audiology Care and better deploy limited healthcare resources, without sacrificing quality or efficacy. The proposed legislation will improve the provision of hearing and balance care by:
  • Providing Medicare patients with direct access to audiologists, without requiring an order from a medical doctor. As medical necessity would still be required for treatment, this would not increase cost—it would only avoid duplication and increase efficiency while preserving safe, effective care.
  • Allowing seniors to have Medicare expanded access by provider for the full range of audiology health care services. These services are already covered piece meal under Medicare when delivered by another provider.
  • Defining audiologists as physicians under the Medicare program. This is the same status held by other non-medical doctor providers in the Medicare program, such as optometrists.
Important Note: The enactment of the Audiology Patient Choice Act will not change audiologists’ current scope of practice, add services to Medicare, or provide Medicare coverage of hearing aids.

This legislation will bring Medicare in line with today’s best practices for the delivery of hearing and balance healthcare services and is likely to provide a net cost savings to the Medicare system by reducing unnecessary services.

The Audiology Patient Choice Act will streamline the provision of audiology services, and increase efficiency within the Medicare system without sacrificing quality or efficacy. Finally, it will reimburse audiologists in a consistent fashion with other non-M.D./D.O. doctoring practitioners to achieve desired outcomes across the continuum of care. Visit www.18x18.org for more information.Together we can reach them. If every ADA member will make one speech at a local community event, invest one hour each week telling patients about the importance of the legislation, make one call to recruit a colleague to support the bill, write one letter to her legislators and sacrifice one day (November 12th) to attend ADA Lobby Day, then one day the Audiology Patient Choice Act will be signed into law.

Don’t let one more day go by. ADA has developed a toolkit that you can use to connect with colleagues, patients, consumers and other healthcare providers within their sphere of influence. Please visit www.18x18.org and www.audiologist.org/advocacy today.