It was many hands on deck and all voices being heard at the NCART/NRRTS National CRT Leadership & Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C.
The April 29-May 1 event, which combined advocacy with education, brought together 200 attendees, including assistive technology providers, manufacturers, clinicians and consumers, said NCART Executive Director Don Clayback in a post-conference bulletin.
Clayback added that attendance was up nearly 20 percent compared to last year’s.
During the last day of the conference, attendees — including 25 who use wheelchairs — made 245 Congressional office visits, which Clayback noted was another record for the event.
The major talking point in those Congressional offices was the ongoing effort to create a separate Medicare benefit category for complex rehab technology (CRT) via two current bills – H.R. 942 in the House and S. 948 in the Senate.
As a result of the meetings, Clayback said, S. 948 gained co-sponsor Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). H.R. 942 gained co-sponsors Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Rep. Rogers Williams (R-Texas) and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.).
H.R. 942 is now up to 112 co-sponsors, while S. 948 has 13, Clayback said in the bulletin, while six other members of Congress verbally committed to signing on.
In an interview with Mobility Management, Clayback indicated he was awaiting a report from the office of Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), who introduced H.R. 942, and that the final tally of co-sponsors added as a result of the conference could be higher.
The event kicked off on April 29, aka Leadership Day. Session topics included the needs and direction of the industry, using social media, the augmentative communication and home accessibility markets, dealing with audits and appeals, repair and service, and operating a seating clinic.
April 29 was also National CRT Congressional Call-In Day, during which stakeholders called their Senators and Representatives to express support for the separate Medicare benefit category.
Advocacy Day on April 30 featured speakers who presented on topics such as national healthcare policy trends affecting CRT, and Medicaid advocacy. Attendees also prepared for their Capitol Hill visits.
“We had good appointments, the speakers did a great job, and there were times for formal business education and times for just networking at the reception,” Clayback said in describing the conference. “I think the Hill visits went very well. I think the consumers did a great job, and we had more attendees so we got to cover a little more ground than we got to last year. The feedback we got from everybody was very positive.”
Clayback added that conference attendees Capitol Hill meetings included more appointments directly with Senators or Representatives, “so that was a help.”
Still, Clayback underlined the overall importance of any appointment with a member of Congress, even if the meeting took place with a staffer.
“Meeting with the member is great, but very rarely are they going to commit completely without their staff members signing off,” Clayback explained. “We always tell people at the conference: If you’re meeting with the staff person, don’t look at it as if it’s an ‘only [meeting with a staffer]’ type of visit. You need both the staff and the member to be engaged before you can get a final decision.”
And Clayback said he believes years of CRT discussion with legislators has definitely begun to pay off.
“I heard that last year and I heard it again this year — people saying it’s so nice because when we get [to the meetings], whether we visited them last year or someone else visited them, there’s this idea that complex rehab technology is different and that it’s specialized — there’s an increased awareness and acceptance of that or acknowledgement of that.
“ We had a dinner with Congressman [Jim] Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) on Monday night with a small group,” Clayback noted, “and he made that exact point to us. He said, ‘You have a very noble cause, but you’ve got an education job to do before you get to advocacy.’ He thinks we’re doing well and making good progress, but he made the point that our issue is something that people need to get educated on first, and then you can work on the advocacy.”
To track the separate benefit category efforts, visit access2crt.org.