Chiropractors at the Capitol
It has been an exciting few weeks for me and a number of other students here, all centering around a wildly eye-opening and energizing trip to Washington, DC, for the American Chiropractic Association’s National Chiropractic Legislative Conference. What do chiropractors need to lobby our national delegates for? In a time of much legislative change regarding healthcare, it turns out, plenty.
Early in the morning on Wednesday, March 6th, thirty-two students boarded a bus outside the dorms at New York Chiropractic College. Elsewhere around the country, our fellow chiropractic students waited in airport terminals, while down in Washington practicing chiropractors, educators and leaders from our profession were already convening for the opening meetings of the conference. By the time we all got together for a reception in the evening, I still was not sure exactly what to expect. Two hours later, after talking to a handful of students from other schools, hearing welcomes from some supportive congressmen, and being introduced to a cluster of chiropractors and hearing the goals they are working on, I was convinced that I was in very good company.
Thursday was our day of lobbying. I set out in the morning with the three well-dressed individuals in the picture above. Since we would be talking about four different bills, we decided each of us would become an expert and present one. Over the course of the day we visited the offices of four Representatives, Keith Rothfus and Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, and Carolyn McCarthy and Dan Maffei of New York. Allow me to briefly give you an idea of what we talked about:
HR 702: Enact Student Loan Repayment Legislation to Improve Access to Health Care
Our enthusiastic support for this bill should come as a surprise to nobody. Introduced by Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa, this would allow full or partial federal repayment of student loans in exchange for at least two years of medical practice in health profession shortage areas or other state-designated locales.
Moving to serve in areas with sparse medical coverage is financially not feasible for students graduating with an average of $150,000 in debt. This bill gives us the financial ability, even incentive, to provide medical care in areas which otherwise would receive none. The bill is not exclusive to us chiropractic students, but includes a long list of other frontline care providers, and (as of two weeks ago) is endorsed by nineteen different medical professional associations.
HR 171: Allow DCs to Serve in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps provides care to various federal entities including the US Coast Guard, prisons, community health centers, and others. Virtually all types of health care providers, from medical physicians to dentists, psychologists to veterinarians, are included in the Corps.
Despite practicing in VA hospitals, being part of federal health benefits, and other similar duties, chiropractors have been excluded from the USPHS. Rep. Gene Green of Texas introduced HR 171 to allow doctors of chiropractic to serve.
HR 741: Provide TRICARE Beneficiaries with Chiropractic Access
Continuing the theme of opening access to chiropractors, this bill would add DCs to the list of providers available to beneficiaries of military health benefits. Currently, active military personnel are covered for treatment by chiropractors, but their families and retired personnel do not receive this coverage.
Reps. Mike Rogers of Alabama and Dave Loebsack of Iowa introduced HR 741 to expand this coverage, largely as part of an effort to address pain management and neuromusculoskeletal disorder care. Neuromusculoskeletal care is what chiropractors call our specialty.
Incorporating Chiropractors in VA Hospitals
This was my shpiel. I was a little nervous the first time that I gave it, but quickly realized that the health aides that we were speaking to had a relatively good understanding of the healthcare world, and- shirking the stereotypes and stories that predominate our political conversations- were quite open-minded and constructive. My highlights looked a little bit like this…
Chiropractors have been included in the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital system for about a decade following directives instructing their placement. However, at this point only 42 hospitals have initiated such integration, leaving over 100 major hospitals without chiropractic involvement. VA data indicates that musculoskeletal disorders are the top ailment of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, which makes DC expertise invaluable in their effective treatment.
In the past we have only seen hiring following specific directives, and such hiring has now stagnated. This bill, HR 921/S 422, effectively is a repeat of previous directives to give the hospitals another nudge toward chiropractic integration.
In addition to the obvious services to the veterans, this integration provides great benefits for the chiropractic profession, and to us students. We heard at the conference from Dr. Bill Morgan, a chiropractor at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He told us that it was only in such an intensively integrated environment that medical doctors, surgeons, chiropractors, nurses and others could learn- and DO learn- to effectively use each others strengths in treatment, leading to better outcomes and lower costs. Furthermore, NYCC students already have the opportunity to do rotations in VA facilities in New York, and expanding these opportunities in other hospitals can only serve to better inform the country’s youngest doctors in effective treatment.
So! It was quite a large amount of information that we gave these Representatives’ health aides. However, one great aspect of this type of meeting is the face-to-face interaction. We were able to enjoy the genuine enthusiasm of the aide in our first meeting, fueling our confidence. In contrast, when another coolly took our information and said they would look into it, we were able to offer our own candid experiences and background on education to help him understand our motivation- which he said made a big difference.
All of this was just one day of a three-day conference, but I will save more stories for later. For now, suffice it to say, this was a very rewarding trip.
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I am glad to answer any questions about these bills, our trip to Washington, or working with the representatives/aides. You can either post in the comments section or use the ‘Contact’ page.