Centennial Hill Day Update

AOTA Centennial Hill Day – Update

picture3AOTA Centennial Hill Day was a great success both nationally and at the Alabama state level.   I (Rachel) had the honor of representing ALOTA at AOTA’s Hill Day as your ALOTA government affairs representative.  If you aren’t familiar with Hill Day, it is an organized effort by AOTA to have a day on Capitol Hill where as many House Representatives and Senators offices as possible meet with OTs as we explain the distinct value of OT in our states as well as bring up key issues that are pertinent in the coming congressional sessions.   AOTA really pulled out all the stops to make this centennial year amazing.   We had over 600 OTs, OTAs, and students present from 45 states.  Even Alaska had 2 representatives there!   There was also the option of participating in Virtual Hill day where OTs, OTAs, and students were encouraged to call and email their representatives.





Alabama had 3 people present this year: myself as your ALOTA representative, Deek Cunningham our AOTA RA representative, and Veronica Juan a current masters level OT student at UAB.  We met with legislative assistants with the following offices:

  • Representative Gary Palmer’s (House Representative for the 6th district)
  • Representative Terri Sewell (House Representative for the 7th district)
  • Senator Richard Shelby (State Senator)




We asked our representatives to support:

  • The Home Health Flexibility Act. Currently, OTs cannot open a home health care case.  This is inefficient for home health care teams, increases unnecessary healthcare costs, and delays clients from receiving OT.  This would allow OTs to open a home health case, helping more clients return home safely and get the care they need.
  • Repeal the therapy Medicare part B cap, a piece of legislation that has haunted us in the therapy world for over 20 years, and threatens to leave those with the most debilitating and significant levels of injury without the therapy they need to live their lives with independence and dignity.
  • Funding for Title VII and Title VII which provides grants and programs for Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET).  These programs are designed to address workforce shortages, including in the area of OT, specifically for veterans, seniors, children and families on low incomes, and rural communities.



We had great meetings and feedback with all three legislative assistants and offices that we met with.   I’d like to personally give Senator Shelby’s office a shout out for sharing some bottled water with us on an especially hot day in D.C.  But, in all seriousness, it was an honor to meet with each office and I was incredibly encouraged by their willingness to consider these issues.  I’ve been in contact with all the offices since leaving and am working to build relationships with the people we met with so that OT stays on their mind.

All in all, I think it was a successful trip and I was honored to share the distinct value of OT and how we benefit the people of Alabama with our elected officials.  Advocacy is important, it’s crucial to our profession and to the clients we serve.  It was an honor to represent ALOTA at Hill Day.


Rachel Ashcraft
ALOTA Government Affairs


Senate Healthcare Bill Threatens Medicaid

The following is a statement from the American Occupational Therapy Association. While ALOTA works to support access to essential healthcare and occupational therapy services, it is your voice that is needed to protect healthcare services in the State of Alabama. 

Contact Senators Shelby and Strange today!

Heather Parsons

On Thursday June 22, the United States Senate released a discussion draft of their health care reform bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA). While much of the healthcare reform discussion has been about fixing or repealing the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), the major provisions of the bill released yesterday relate to Medicaid. After careful analysis, AOTA is deeply concerned that BCRA would undermine the Medicaid program and put the millions of children and adults with serious disabilities, students receiving special education support services, people receiving home and community based services, individuals with mental health needs, those in nursing homes, and many others at grave risk of reduced or lost benefits.

BCRA would change Medicaid from a system where the federal government “matches” payments for all medically necessary services a state chooses to provide to beneficiaries, to one that provides states with a capped amount of money to spend for all beneficiaries. This will require hard choices by the states and inevitable cuts to Medicaid programs and services. Over time, the Federal government will pay less and less for Medicaid services and State Medicaid programs will have to make up the difference, or diminish services. As states are faced with difficult financial decisions they will have to reduce benefits such as rehabilitation benefits for adults and home and community based services, reduce reimbursement to providers, or find ways decrease or slow Medicaid enrollment. States may eventually be pressured to reduce services to children from the current broad mandate of Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment services (EPSDT) which protects all children on Medicaid.

From early intervention and schools, to skilled nursing facilities, to community mental health programs these proposed changes will negatively affect occupational therapy practitioners and the people who are in need of our services. We urge you to call your Senate offices today (yes, even on the weekend!) and ask that they reject these dramatic changes to Medicaid.

AOTA’s legislative action center will walk you through the steps. You can call or write, but you need to take action before next week’s vote.

Please check back next week for AOTA’s analysis of the Senate bill.  Until then we recommend this detailed analysis by the experts at the non-partisan Health Affairs Blog.


Public Comment Open: Medicare Changes to SNF Therapy Payments

 From AOTA  The American Occupational Therapy Association

Medicare Proposing Changes to SNF Therapy Payments in Future: What Can You Do to Promote OT?

Occupational therapy practitioners are urged to understand and respond to a public comment notice on the payment program for skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (advance notice) to modify the SNF Part A Prospective Payment System (PPS) payment methodology. The comment period is open until June 26. Note that CMS is asking for feedback before writing an actual proposed rule that would be put forward next year and possibly go into effect in federal fiscal year 2019.

The key issue for occupational therapy is how patient classification for payment will relate to actual therapy need and provision. The SNF PPS has been under scrutiny for many years. A key concern is that the current PPS tilts payments toward providing therapy—and possibly providing unnecessary therapy.

AOTA is urging members to comment on the advance notice. Changes to the SNF PPS could greatly affect occupational therapy practitioners and their clients. AOTA Regulatory Affairs staff will be submitting comments to CMS voicing key concerns about the advance notice related to patient access to occupational therapy services. Below, AOTA provides a template letter with suggestions for comment areas and directions for members to submit comments directly to CMS.


The SNF payment system has been under scrutiny by Congress, the CMS, and others, including the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which reports to Congress, for many years. Changes have been made periodically since the PPS came into use in 1999, but recent efforts to control Medicare spending have pushed reform of payment for SNFs and other post–acute care settings to the forefront. A few years ago, CMS contracted with Acumen, LLC to develop alternative payment models for the existing SNF PPS. Dr. Natalie Leland, PhD, OTR/L, BCG, FAOTA, and Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy at the University of Southern California, represented AOTA on the Technical Expert Panels (TEPs) held by Acumen in 2015 and 2016. In the May 4, 2017, publication of the advance notice, CMS solicits comments on a new Resident Classification System, Version I (RCS-I) that would replace the current Resource Utilization Groups, Version 4 (RUG-IV) for SNF PPS.

Details of Acumen’s work, TEP summaries, technical reports, and recommendations can be found on the CMS SNF PPS project page.

What is RCS-I?

As practitioners are aware, the current RUGs categories emphasize the counting of therapy minutes to determine the payment amount. The proposed RCS-I would change the system to emphasize patient characteristics, not services received. RCS-1 removes therapy minutes as a determinant of payment and creates a payment model based on resident clinical characteristics. In other words, the current system allows providers to receive payment for the therapy they decide to provide. A system based on clinical characteristics would determine the payment not on the amount of services provided, but rather define how many services a resident would receive based on identification of patient characteristics. Payment would flow from how the patient presents rather than from how much service is provided.

RCS-I would consist of 5 components, each with its own payment determinants, including a basic payment, or non-case-mix component, which covers SNF resources that do not vary according to resident characteristics, and 4 case-mix adjusted payment components. The payment would be determined by how a patient’s characteristics match up to groups of patients with similar characteristics; an estimate will be made in the system of how much should be paid for patients who have similar characteristics. The four components as proposed are:

  • Physical therapy/occupational therapy (PT/OT)
  • Speech-language pathology (SLP)
  • Nursing (covers nursing services and social services)
  • Non-therapy ancillary services

Section III.B.b. Physical and Occupational Therapy Case-Mix Classification beginning on page 20989 of the advance notice sets forth how occupational therapy services would be allotted for under RCS-I. The combining of PT and OT is of concern to AOTA. However, current MDS data collection shows little difference between the PT patient characteristics and OT patient characteristics. Researchers have focused on this lack of difference to support combining OT and PT need for payment purposes.

As noted above, the PT/OT component is only one determining factor, but it is significant.

To determine how the client’s characteristics relate to payment, residents would be categorized for PT/OT payment based on three resident characteristics within the MDS admission assessment:

  1. Clinical reason for resident’s SNF stay—uses item I8000 on the MDS 3.0;
  2. Resident’s functional status—based on self-performance of transfers, eating, and toileting; and
  3. Cognitive status—capitalizes on the Cognitive Function Scale (CFS), which is based on responses from the Brief Interview for Mental Status (BIMS) and Cognitive Performance Scale (CPS).

The clinical reason for the SNF stay in relation to OT and PT needs is used to categorize the patient into 1 of 5 clinical categories that Acumen identified as being generally predictive of PT/OT costs in SNFs:

  • Major Joint Replacement or Spinal Surgery
  • Other Orthopedic: orthopedic surgery (except major joint) and non-surgical orthopedic/musculoskeletal
  • Non-Orthopedic Surgery
  • Acute Neurologic
  • Medical Management: acute infections, cancer, pulmonary, cardiovascular and coagulations, medical management

AOTA is concerned that these categories are much too broad to be able to determine appropriate therapy needs. Co-morbidities are not fully included as factors influencing OT/PT need. AOTA is working to identify patients who might fall through the cracks and not get access to occupational therapy services. AOTA is also concerned about the timing and role of the occupational therapy evaluation in determining patient therapy needs.

The next step to identifying payment levels is determining patients’ functional and cognitive status characteristics. This information gathered as part of the data set on each patient would be used to finalize how much the SNF will be paid for the OT/PT services component. While the OT/PT status is only one component of the full payment level determined, this approach could dramatically affect the amount of therapy services provided to residents. Additionally, CMS would remove the existing 14-, 30-, 60-, and 90-day PPS assessments and only require the initial and discharge assessments, with significant change assessments if applicable. Further, CMS has failed to clearly define when a significant change assessment is warranted and its impact on therapy classification for payment purposes. This could be a noteworthy change in the number of assessments used to determine payment and may not capture changes in patient status.

Other concerns relate to how the proposed RCS-I will affect provision of and access to occupational therapy. AOTA is concerned with the limitations of the PT/OT clinical categories named above; the correct assessment of ADL components in determining the functional level; and failure to ensure that mild cognitive impairment is appropriately included in the cognitive determination. The effect of all of these limitations in the proposed system may seriously restrict which patients receive therapy and whether they receive the appropriate amount of therapy. Improving the PPS system could have beneficial effects on patients and on practitioners (e.g., fewer productivity pressures) but AOTA does not believe this proposed system has enough safeguards in place for implementation. In particular, RCS-I does not include protections that ensure the OT/PT allotment is used solely to provide therapy services, nor does it ensure that patients receive medically necessary services of the proper type. Rationing may occur, and domination of one discipline in a facility may affect how the OT/PT allotment is apportioned. AOTA is concerned that patient needs will not drive the system after a payment amount or category has been determined.

Call to Action—What Can You Do?

Comments are due online by 11:59 pm eastern standard time on June 26, 2017. You can submit comments to CMS, too! There is power in numbers and you can voice your concerns directly to CMS if you believe these changes negatively impact your patients and your ability to provide medically necessary services in a SNF setting. AOTA has developed a template letter to assist practitioners in submitting comments online to CMS by June 26. We encourage you to customize the letter with your own concerns. Specific examples of the types of patients who fall outside of the 5 clinical categories that may fall through the cracks in RCS-I would be particularly powerful. We encourage you to draft your letter in Word prior to going to the submission website.

Once your comment letter is ready for submission, you may submit electronic comments on this regulation to https://www.regulations.gov.

  • Within the search bar, enter the Regulation Identifier Number associated with this regulation, 0938–AT17
  • Then click on the ‘‘Comment Now’’ box
  • Enter your comments into the comment box by copying and pasting from the document you have drafted in Word or personalized from the AOTA template.

View a web version

2016 RA Meeting Chicago

Representative Assembly (RA) Meeting in Chicago, IL April 6-7, 2016

An AOTA Update from YOUR Alabama Representative!

Dear Colleagues,

Representative Assembly (RA) Meeting in Chicago, IL – April 6-7, 2016

The RA Spring Meeting is rapidly approaching. Be sure to check out the AOTA Web site to read the reports and motions/action items.

Go to . . . About AOTA – Volunteer Leadership – Representative Assembly – RA Spring Meeting 2016


I encourage you to read the reports by your AOTA leaders to learn about the excellent work they are doing to support and advance our profession. Also, I want your feedback – let me know what you think about the motions and issues by contacting me (see below for my contact information).

AOTA members can provide feedback on the RA motions at this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/S83Z8KB

THANK YOU for being a member of AOTA and for your continued support of our profession.

Hope to see you in Chicago!
Best regards,

Angela Thomas-Davis
Dr. Angela Thomas-Davis, MPA, OTR/L
Professor of Occupational Therapy
Department of Occupational Therapy
Alabama State University
P. O. Box 271
Montgomery, AL 36101-0271
334.229-5883 (office)
334.229-5882 (FAX)