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Occupational therapy students lobby Congress
Capitol Hill Day is AOTA’s annual event for OTs and students of the profession to come to Washington D.C. and speak with their representatives in the House and Senate about the issues that affect or will affect occupational therapy and consumer access to health care.
It is an opportunity AOTA provides to bring the message of the distinct value of occupational therapy directly to Congressional lawmakers, according to the AOTA website.
Quinnipiac OT professor Catherine Meriano, who has attended Capitol Hill Day several times in the past, accompanied the students to Washington D.C.
She explained that from a teaching standpoint, the event has two goals. One is to educate whoever is sitting at the congressional tables what the practice of OT is and what it consists of. The other is to show students the importance of advocating for their profession.
Meriano teaches mostly policy and ethics type courses, and she explained that right now the OT grad students are taking a health OT law course, so the trip fit in perfectly with the curriculum.
She explained that within the OT curriculum at Quinnipiac, a lot of emphasis is placed on advocating for the profession.
“You can’t just sit by quietly and hope that people will pay for your services,” Meriano said.
Meriano said that all OT services are driven by legislature, so a lot of what they are advocating for is payment.
“We’re advocating for payment, not necessarily because we’re worried about our bottom-line, but because clients are getting hit with huge co-pays,” Meriano said. “If we’re not advocating, they’re going to have to pay more for our services.”
She explained that each year AOTA petitions three bills. This year, the first was the therapy cap, which limits patients to $1,980 of Medicare to pay for OT services. The second one was the Medicare Home Health, a bill that would allow occupational therapists to open cases and conduct the initial assessment for rehabilitation cases in the home health setting. The third bill, Title VII and VIII of the Public Health Service Act, a would allow reimbursement to healthcare providers who work in an underserved area.
OT graduate student Victoria Chapman explained that the Capitol Hill trip is something OT students are informed about before graduate school, and that students entered a raffle the semester prior to the event and were randomly chosen to attend.
“I thought it would be interesting to see how the profession I’m going into is tied into politics,” Chapman said.
OT graduate student Emily Hartnett said the stances the students asked for support on.
“We asked for support on two stances, including asking Representative Payne to co-sponsor the Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act and to support full funding of the health workforce training programs,” Hartnett said.
Professor Meriano said that it’s important to have this next generation of OT’s feel comfortable advocating for their profession in order to continue with process of getting laws passed.
Chapman said she believes this will help her in the future with her profession.
“It’s important because it’s what we’re getting ourselves into, and attending this event helped teach me a lot about being able to advocate for our clients in the future,” Chapman said.