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How AOTA Scored a Major Regulatory Victory and Winning Virtual Fly-In

American Occupational Therapy Association

Leveraging digital advocacy technology, this association was able to mobilize its advocates and effect change during a global pandemic.

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As 2020’s budget and appropriations process unfolded, the members of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) faced a serious threat. The final draft of the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule included a 9 percent cut to reimbursement for occupational therapy services, which if enacted would have had serious financial repercussions for occupational therapists nationwide.

“All of Congress was saying, ‘This is a problem, we need to fix this,’ but no one wanted to do it until recently,” explained Jill Tighe, grassroots and PAC specialist for AOTA. “Members saw this as an area where they needed to take action.” 

To fight this change, AOTA knew they needed to jump into action, by leveraging a dedicated campaign through FiscalNote’s advocacy tool to draw the full attention of congressional stakeholders. 

Mobilizing Advocates to Get the Attention of the Right Legislators

Thanks to the efforts of AOTA advocates activated by FiscalNote’s advocacy tool, the final released fee schedule reduced that 9 percent reimbursement cut to just 3 percent. In 2020, they sent a total of 22,916 letters to Congress on this issue. 

“There’s nothing as good for advocacy as a threat,” said Tighe. “When that rule came out and had that 9 percent cut to reimbursement, it would have been disastrous. That messaging was helpful in motivating the base to move and try to enact change. ” 

To drive those messages home with members, Tighe and the AOTA team used FiscalNote’s advocacy products to create more than 6,000 activities and drive more than 2,000 individual actions. Those actions could then be connected to specific legislators to help drive informed, targeted lobbying activities. 

“We had a couple of targeted areas of outreach, where I could send our lobbyists to offices that had gotten an influx of letters, and they’d be able to use the quantity of letters to push for a meeting,” said Tighe. “We could show, ‘Here’s the number of people who have contacted you specifically,’ and really create accountability and focus. I think that had a hand in making Congress aware of the problems with the 2021 medicare fee schedule rule.” 

This type of tracing and segmenting was crucial for Tighe’s strategy, coupled with the flexibility she finds in FiscalNote’s advocacy solutions to precisely tweak her outreach to members in the right way. “I do really love that there's so much opportunity to be flexible [in FiscalNote Advocacy], because I know a lot of a lot of other platforms are not as flexible,” she said. “I love that there's so much that we can do, that I can fiddle with and finagle to my heart's content.”

Descending onto the Hill (Virtually) to Demand Action

Another critical strategy in AOTA’s 2020 success was its virtual Hill week event, which took place in September. More than 2,000 registrations from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. participated. 

Registrants could take action on an issue a day, learn about that issue from videos and collateral, and then contact legislators on the issue. AOTA held two live webinars, Zoom “office hours” with AOTA staff, shared pre-recorded content, and hosted 12 live virtual meetings with champions in Congress or their staff. Advocates contacted Congress 6,109 times using a variety of vehicles which included tweets, calls, and writing letters. Except for Zoom meetings, the entire event was hosted through FiscalNote’s advocacy products. 

“Because of the lockdown and because of safety precautions I was able to focus entirely on using [FiscalNote Advocacy], to get our advocates in front of their members of Congress, virtually and by sending all these letters, which is amazing,” Tighe said. “Because this was virtual, we saw a huge uptick in practitioners, who were able to take an hour out of every day to be a part of it. We sent them an email every morning, with a list of things to do, and then it was, ‘Go forth and advocate.’ They did that, overwhelmingly more than they had in the past. It makes a difference.”

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