Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Advocating for You in the Halls of Congress

by Thomas J. Kallstrom, MBA, RRT, FAARC


Patients who may have thought that they have nothing to worry about as they attempt to navigate through today’s health care system can often find themselves frustrated with unanswered questions about self-management of a chronic lung condition such as asthma. These questions include:

  • Which medication is covered under my health care plan?
  • Which is the correct aerosol device for me?
  • Am I using these devices correctly to get the best benefit from the drug?

It is almost as if you need your own personal chronic lung disease concierge to lead you though some of the twists and turns in managing your lung condition! Today your busy physician has only limited time to spend with you during your office visit; in fact, the average time allotted for an office visit today is only about 10 to 15 minutes. The first five minutes are spent on the most urgent questions and then any remaining questions each get only about one minute of attention. This limited time prevents your doctor from completing a comprehensive physical exam of you, treating your condition, developing a tailored care plan for you, or giving feedback on any test results. They should also be spending time with you to educate you on your aerosol delivery device and drug or how to self-manage your asthma.

Now, more than ever, there is a need for creative approaches to patient care that provide a more meaningful meeting with your doctor. The answer is finding the right health care practitioner to better educate you on how to self-manage your condition by engaging you in the process. The respiratory therapist (RT) is one such professional who is qualified to step into this important role.

On March 11–13, the American Association for Respiratory Care Political Advocacy Contact Team (AARC PACT) traveled with pulmonary patients to Washington, DC, for another successful AARC Capitol Hill Lobby Day. One hundred seventeen RTs from 46 states accompanied more than a dozen respiratory patients in a walk through the halls of Congress to meet their Congressmen and Senators to advocate for better patient care for respiratory conditions. They visited with more than 300 members of Congress. This team is made up of RTs, respiratory patients, and AARC staff members who have worked together for many years in a concerted effort to assure that national lawmakers know the issues that currently affect respiratory patients and the respiratory care profession. The AARC provided coverage of the event through, the AARC’s website for respiratory patients.

This year, the group is continuing to pursue coverage of Medicare Part B for our “Respiratory Therapy Initiative,” which when passed would increase access for patients to Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRTs) and allow reimbursement for the chronic disease management services and patient education RTs are qualified to provide in the physician’s office.

The Respiratory Therapy Initiative is focused on the expanded disease management role that the respiratory therapist can provide to patients with chronic lung conditions such as asthma, COPD, and pulmonary hypertension. This expanded role is in line with the AARC’s vision for the future of the respiratory care profession.

The Medicare RT Access Act, once passed, would amend Medicare Part B to provide coverage of chronic disease management services provided by a respiratory therapist working in the physician’s office. As part of this arrangement, the physician would bill Medicare at a reduced fee, thus providing a savings to Medicare. Chronic lung disease management would provide Medicare beneficiaries who are suffering from lung diseases greater access to the services of RTs.

As with any patient education designed to improve self-management, it is essential that the health care professional teaching you about using your devices and medications and designing your care plan must be able to tailor the care to you, the individual. When you understand aerosol device usage and the essential self-management techniques, you can take steps to prevent or reverse an asthma flare-up or, at the very least, determine when to seek professional medical help should it become necessary.

It is very important that the U.S. Congress hear from physicians, patients, family, friends, and caregivers about the respiratory therapist’s ability to manage respiratory diseases. Senators and representatives listen intently to voters from home and especially from those of you whose health can be improved when respiratory therapists directly assist you in managing your condition.

We hope someday respiratory therapists will be able to fully realize our destiny—to educate and treat respiratory patients in all care settings, and that includes your physician’s office, where your care can be tailored to you, one-on-one. We’ll keep working on it for you until that day comes.

Thomas J. Kallstrom, MBA, RRT, FAARC, is the executive director and chief executive officer of the American Association for Respiratory Care based in Irving, TX.

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