How One Association Drummed Up a Moment of Advocacy

Seeing the potential for negative effects on amputees from an obscure Medicare policy change, the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association got into gear last week and put the issue in front of officials and into the press.

Despite being released during a congressional recess, a proposed Medicare policy change that could negatively affect those who rely on prosthetics hasn’t gone unnoticed by disability advocates.

And last week those advocates were out in full force, protesting outside of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) headquarters in Washington, DC.

Their target? A policy intended to trim the costs that Medicare pays for artificial legs and feet. As The Associated Press notes, the money spent has increased significantly over the past decade even with a decreasing number of amputees. The plan would tighten supervision of independent companies that provide the limbs, which often cost thousands of dollars each. It would also impose stricter qualifications to be eligible for a high-tech prosthesis—something that advocates say could lead to fewer people getting access to cutting-edge devices.

As a result, with the backing of the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA), approximately 150 protesters were out in full force last Wednesday, speaking out against the policy change. Among the crowd were a couple of prominent supporters, including Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a survivor of 2013’s Boston Marathon bombings who lost part of her left leg, and former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who lost his right leg below the knee while serving in Vietnam.

“They are attacking a problem that is nonexistent,” Kerrey told the AP. “If you have a problem provider, shut him down; kick him out of the program. Why make it difficult for everybody else?”

Policy, Then Protest

Before the protest, AOPA leaders met with Medicare officials to make their case on the technology. In a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, sent before the meeting, AOPA Executive Director Thomas Fise pointed out that the cost to Medicare for prosthetics has dropped 13.8 percent over the past three years, while amputees’ access to technologically advanced prosthetics fell by more than 30 percent. Adding more restrictions could leave amputees with technology that dates back to the 1970s.

“Amputees believe that arms and legs are not a luxury, and that Medicare should not try to balance its budget by cutting services to this population,” Fise wrote [PDF]. “We concur with both of these views.”

On Friday, AOPA submitted additional comments [PDF] that raised a variety of concerns, including proposed changes that it deemed “discriminatory against amputees.” It also took issue with the limited period provided for stakeholders to comment on the draft policy.

The association was able to build wide support for this issue, even drawing in prominent advocates like Haslet-Davis, a ballroom dancer who won’t be eligible for Medicare support for decades but who showed up at both the hearing and the protest to support the cause.

“I understand they want to cut costs, but how they want to do it will devastate,” she told The Washington Post.

(via American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association's Facebook page)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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