The American Association for Respiratory (AARC) will hold its annual Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, April 9th. AARC will be asking House members to co-sponsor the Better Respiration through Expanded Access to Tele-Health Act (BREATHE Act) (H.R. XXXX) and Senators to introduce companion legislation. The BREATHE Act is a 3-year pilot that covers qualified respiratory therapists as telehealth practitioners to furnish disease management services, such as self-management education and training, demonstration/evaluation of proper inhaler techniques, smoking cessation, and remote patient monitoring to Medicare beneficiaries with COPD. The purpose is to give CMS the tools it needs to demonstrate the value respiratory therapists bring to the health care system and to their patients with respect to improved health outcomes and lower costs. “We expect the bill to be introduced prior to our Hill day, at which time we will have a number to assign to the bill”, notes Anne Marie Hummel, AARC’s Associate Executive Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs.
Another key issue for AARC is patient access to appropriate supplemental oxygen for those who need it. This has been a problem for respiratory patients since the inception of Medicare’s competitive bidding program. Access is especially dire for Medicare beneficiaries with pulmonary fibrosis, advanced-stage COPD or awaiting a lung transplant who require liquid oxygen due to the need for continuous or high flow liters; without it they are homebound and cannot work or lead a normal life.
The number of beneficiaries who receive portable liquid oxygen has dropped dramatically since 2010, the first year of competitive bidding, from 40,938 to 8,141 in 2016. A similar decline was seen in stationary liquid oxygen systems with 32,220 in 2010 declining to 5,948 in 2016. Although CMS raised the payment rates for liquid oxygen in a final rule on November 14, 2018, payment is still insufficient to incentivize suppliers to provide it due to high delivery costs that include the need for special Department of Transportation trucks and delivery drivers. The AARC will be encouraging Congressional leaders to require CMS to carefully monitor access during the period in which the competitive bidding program is suspended, especially the first six months, and provide an initial report to Congress no later than November 1, 2019 on their findings and plans to address access and concerns that might arise.
If any US COPD Coalition members are in the local areas of Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia and wish to join AARC members on the Hill on April 9, please contact Anne Marie Hummel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-492-9764.