Clayback: Congress Must Take Legislative Action This Year

As Americans experiencing “election fatigue” look forward to taking a temporary break from politics, NCART Executive Director Don Clayback is focusing on the priorities Congress will have when it returns to Capitol Hill later this month.

Specifically, Clayback says the next few days and weeks could have a tremendous impact on complex rehab technology (CRT) funding for 2017 and beyond.

At stake: potentially lasting funding cuts for CRT wheelchair accessories, the crucial components that often provide a custom fit or that enable specialized access for people with the most severe mobility-related disabilities.

Setting Priorities for Lame-Duck Session

In a Nov. 8 interview with Mobility Management, Clayback pointed out that members of Congress will have limited time before the end of the year to tackle outstanding issues, and that stakeholders need to mobilize to help ensure CRT funding is among the issues taking priority.

Two current bills in the House and Senate — H.R. 3229 and S. 2196 — would stop Medicare’s CRT wheelchair accessory funding cuts.

“The primary message is we need Congress to take action before they adjourn with their lame duck session,” Clayback said. “We’ve been spending a lot of time working with our champions, getting a CBO [Congressional Budget Office] score for the bill, and setting the stage for all the questions to have been answered so that some sort of legislation can take place before Congress adjourns. Because otherwise, the cuts will go into effect Jan. 1.”

Last year, a December Medicare bill was signed into law to delay CRT accessory funding cuts for power wheelchairs for one year. That delay is set to expire in weeks. Because the December 2015 bill did not include manual wheelchairs, cuts to accessories for those systems went into effect in January.

Legislative action before the end of 2016 could offer a more permanent solution for people with disabilities who depend on CRT.

“We’ve done good work this year where we really have added a lot of co-sponsors to the two bills, and we’ve gotten good support within Congress on our issue,” Clayback said. “But now what we’re faced with is Congress is going to be coming back for a short period of time. They’re going to have a lot of issues to deal with, and the question is what legislation are they going to take action on before they adjourn? We want to be sure that whatever they do includes legislation to stop these cuts from occurring on Jan. 1.”

More Support for CRT Accessories Bills

While the current situation is reminiscent of what the industry faced last year, Clayback noted that the House and Senate bills now have significantly more support, with more than 60 additional co-sponsors being added in 2016.

And Congress’s willingness last year to implement a one-year delay in funding cuts to CRT power wheelchair accessories signaled legislators’ interest in the matter.

“At the end of last year, we had garnered good awareness, but Congress was not in a position to pass a full bill,” Clayback explained. “They wanted to take a closer look at things, so they said, ‘We will give you a delay,’ and they only put that delay into effect for power wheelchair accessories. Then they asked the GAO [Government Accountability Office] to do a study of the payments being made for this equipment.”

Clayback said the ensuing GAO report that came out in June was “positive,” but believes the industry will need to work hard in the coming weeks.

“The fact that we got a delay last year certainly indicates that we have support within Congress to stop these cuts,” Clayback says. “So that’s the good news. The challenge is there’s no guarantee that Congress will take action unless we continue to have people stressing to their members that they have to take action before the end of the year.”

Clayback encouraged stakeholders to reconnect with their members of Congress who have already signed onto the bills and ask for their help in keeping the CRT wheelchair accessories issue front and center in the coming weeks. A non-partisan Web site — protectmymobility.org — makes it easy to get members of Congress up to speed on the issue if they haven’t given their support so far.

For this CRT topic, the clock is ticking.

“[Members of Congress] are in [Washington, D.C.] for a few days before Thanksgiving, and they’ll be coming back after Thanksgiving,” Clayback said. “Literally over the next couple of days, discussions are going to be started [in Congress] about Now that we’ve gotten the election results, what do we want to do between now and the end of the year? We don’t want people to wait until early December to make calls because by then, decisions will already have been made.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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