Students and faculty members from the Department of Occupational Therapy joined more than 300 peers who lobbied during AOTA Hill Day to pass bills that can improve healthcare for millions of Americans

Little did Jillian Salis know that lobbying members of Congress would be among the skills learned as an entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy student at the MGH Institute.

Salis, who is in her second year of the three-year program, was part of a contingent of 10 OTD students and two faculty members who recently traveled to Washington, D.C, to participate in the annual American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Hill Day.

She was among the more than 300 OT practitioners, faculty, and students from around the country who were advocating for healthcare legislation that promises to improve patient care and could save upwards of $242 million over a ten-year period.

Some of the IHP cohort met with staffers of Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Stephen Lynch, all of whom represent Massachusetts in Congress.

“Actively participating allowed me to see how much of an impact that I, as an OT student, can have on legislation and policy,” said Salis, an Ohio native who also found time to speak with staffers of legislators from her home state. “Advocacy work is hard work, but it is of the utmost importance for our clients and our profession.”

People posed in an office
A staff member of U.S. Rep. Aryanna Pressley (D-MA), Baley Conners (left), met with (l-r) Assistant Professor Sarah McKinnon, Professor Diane Smith, and students Joanna McDonough, Kristtyan Tran, Tiffany Tsang, and Elizabeth Scharer.

The OTs were focused on two bills in particular this year:

  • The Enabling More of the Physical and Occupational Workforce to Engage Rehabilitation (EMPOWER) Act (H.R.4878/ S. 2459.). The bill would change the Medicare supervision requirement and require the government to study the impact of the 15% payment reduction for therapy services that were implemented over the past two years. A mock Congressional Budget Office score generated by Dobson DeVanzo & Associates predicted that this legislation could save up to $242 million over 10 years as more services are provided by OTAs and PTAs in private practice settings.
  • The Expanded Telehealth Access Act (H.R.3875/S.2880). The interprofessional bill would permanently add occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants as Medicare telehealth providers along with physical therapists, speech-language-pathologists and audiologists.  This bill would allow telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries to be reimbursed permanently after Congressional waivers expire in December 2024.

Professor Dr. Diane Smith has organized the trip for the IHP since the OTD program began in 2015 (except during the pandemic). “I am always so impressed with how professional, articulate, and knowledgeable our students are every year,” she said, noting that their experience dovetails with the Leadership & Policy course students take during the summer semester and discuss the importance of advocacy. “It’s a ‘real life’ experience that cannot be simulated or replicated in the classroom.”

Added Dr. Sarah McKinnon, director of the Institute’s post-professional OTD program: “These are bills that could make a big difference in how patients are treated while creating large cost savings. Our students will be treating patients after they graduate, so it was important for them to see that they could play a role in improving healthcare by being a part of this day.”

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