Last week, I attended the Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) virtual Congressional Fly-In, cohosted by NCART and NRRTS.
How was it? It was crowded. Thrillingly, excitingly crowded!
More Participants, More Offices
As one example: At last year’s Fly-In, which I also attended, the California delegation had five participants.
This year, the California delegation numbered 15.
Numbers were up across the board, according to a debriefing the evening of Sept. 14, after meetings for the day were done.
NCART Associate Director Mickae Lee said CRT advocates had 292 meetings with Congressional offices, up from 220 meetings at the 2021 virtual Fly-In. About 300 industry stakeholders participated, an increase of 129 people. In total, 43 states were represented in CRT meetings on Sept. 14.
Registration this year was free, thanks to the support of a whole slate of sponsors. Did that encourage more people to attend or make it easier for them to do so? At the debriefing, a consumer who’d participated did point out that she appreciated being able to register for the Fly-In for free, given the rising costs of living expenses these days.
Meetings with Members of Congress and/or their staffers were conducted via Zoom, with meetings being scheduled by the top-notch professionals at Advocacy Associates. Each participant had a personal schedule, complete with talking points, accompanying documents, and the ability to send post-meeting reports and thank you notes.
With meetings designed to last 20 to 25 minutes, and sometimes scheduled just 30 minutes apart, it was clear that the Fly-In’s virtual structure made it possible to meet with more offices in a day’s time, even if the virtual structure sometimes lacked the social satisfaction of in-person lobbying.
The California delegation did our Senate office visits together, then broke into smaller groups for the House office meetings. In total, I had four meetings on Fly-In day… plus one more meeting the day after with an office that wasn’t available on Wednesday, and another meeting scheduled a full week after the Fly-In.
Our main action items were asking for Congressional support for Medicare funding of power standing and seat elevation on complex power wheelchairs; asking for additional federal funding for CRT suppliers who are receiving pre-pandemic reimbursement while operating under much more expensive circumstances; and asking for the telehealth option to be made permanent for CRT clinicians.
As NCART and NRRTS suggested in the preparatory meetings before the Fly-In, I used the Advocacy Associates platform to read up on each Member prior to our visit: biographies, committee assignments, personal interests. Rep. Ted Lieu, for example, got his computer science undergrad degree at Stanford University; therefore, during our conversation with his Legislative Assistant, Zach Atran, I mentioned the Congressman’s interest in technology, and how innovation is a daily part of CRT.
My Congresswoman, Katie Porter, is on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and is famous for using white boards during hearings. Her Staff Assistant, Ryan Ebrahimy, specifically asked about the lengthy period between the CRT industry’s request for funding reconsideration for power seat elevation and power standing from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and CMS’s response nearly two years later. I said we appreciated the public comment period for seat elevation — a period that closed the day of the Fly-In — but were still awaiting further updates from CMS regarding a public comment period for power standing.
It’s amazing how different the meetings felt in tone, even though the talking points were the same. All the staffers we met with were polite and professional. But of course, they all had different personalities. Some appeared quietly studious. Some were friendly and talkative. Most brightened and looked more attentive when we mentioned something particular to the Member of Congress, such as how Rep. Michelle Steel is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, or that Sen. Alex Padilla has a Mechanical Engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
And always, consumers telling about their experiences in their own words were the most effective and moving. Always, the people we met with engaged in their stories. Once again, consumers were the stars of the Fly-In.
So now, we keep going. We’ve sent follow-up thank yous, and we are planning additional follow-ups, because of course, advocacy is a race with no finish line. It’s wonderful, however, to have such an expansive team of advocates, all running the race together.
Whatever form next year’s Fly-In takes, do yourself a favor and participate if at all possible. The time you invest will encourage and invigorate you, and will remind you once again of the unique and indispensable role that CRT plays in the healthcare continuum.