AMT steps up advocacy efforts

Nov. 1, 2003

For most of its 64-year existence, American Medical Technologists (AMT) had focused on its core mission of providing professional certification and continuing education to clinical laboratory personnel. AMT occasionally was involved in legislative advocacy, but generally only on issues relating to personnel qualification standards, such as various state licensure bills, not Federal legislation. 

Following Congress enactment of CLIA 88, AMT awakened to the need for a greater presence in Washington to represent the interests of its nearly 27,000 members. AMT began to participate more actively in lab industry coalitions, most notably the Coalition to Preserve Safe Patient Testing, which opposed Congressional efforts to exempt POLs from CLIA, and the Clinical Laboratory Coalition (CLC), which advocates the lab industrys interests on Medicare policy. AMT also moved to develop a grassroots contact network.

In recent years, AMT has devoted an unprecedented level of attention and resources to legislative activities. With the new millennium, and the U.S. Treasurys brief period of budget surpluses, AMT and its allies in the CLC switched gears from their defensive posture of fighting Medicare payment cuts, and instead went on the offensive. 

For example, AMT helped line up Congressional co-sponsors for a bill that would provide a long-overdue update to the Medicare specimen collection fee, which has remained at $3 since its implementation in 1984, despite the intervening imposition of costly phlebotomy safety standards. As a direct result of its participation in CLC legislative fly-ins, AMT also helped secure co-sponsors for a House bill that would combat the lab workforce shortage by providing funding for laboratory education programs. AMT also supported legislation to reform the process Medicare uses to establish payment levels for new test systems. 

Now that the budget surpluses have disappeared, and Congress struggles to create a new Medicare prescription drug benefit, lawmakers again are targeting labs in the quest for cost offsets. Last year, the chief threat was a crusade led by Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) to mandate competitive bidding for Medicare lab services. This year, an even more serious threat is a provision in the Senate-passed Medicare bill that reimposes a 20% beneficiary copayment for all Part B lab services. The Senate copay mandate, absent from the Houses Medicare legislation, has been championed by Finance Committee chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) as an offset to his rural healthcare provider package. It is estimated that the copay, if enacted, would result in a net 19% revenue reduction to Medicare lab providers.

Because the copay requirement would likely amount to the biggest payment reduction to labs in the history of Medicare, AMT joined the rest of the industry in rallying forcefully against the proposal. AMT and other CLC members sponsored a series of full-page ads in a widely circulated Capitol Hill daily attacking copays from a senior citizens perspective. After the House passed its version of the Medicare drug bill without a copay provision, the CLC purchased ads in local papers in key House members districts, thanking them for voting against copays. 

Perhaps the most effective lobbying has been at the grassroots level. AMT has a newly designed website ( that allows the instantaneous posting of urgent legislative alerts. Similar alerts are additionally broadcast via an e-mail network. One tactic that has produced particularly remarkable results on the copay issue is the distribution of flyers to Medicare beneficiaries at lab draw stations. The one-page flyer warns seniors that, If Congress gets its way, all Medicare patients will have a new out-of-pocket 20% copayment every time you get a lab test performed! It then tells the seniors what numbers to call to tell their Senators and Representatives, No 20% copayment for lab tests. 

CompuNet Clinical Laboratories in Dayton, OH, has given such a flyer to every Medicare patient visiting its patient service centers since mid-June. Word quickly got back that Rep. David Hobsons (R-OH) phones were ringing off the hook in response to the handout. Similar reactions were reported in other states where labs distributed the flyers. 

While AMT has stepped up its advocacy efforts in recent years, it is likely that the organizations presence in Washington will continue to grow. In a poll taken at AMTs annual convention in Chicago, 81.3% of the delegates said
AMT should form a political action committee, and 76.7% indicated they would support a PAC with annual contributions. The AMT Board of Directors will
urther explore the feasibility of a PAC over the next year. l

John W. Sherer, MT(AMT), compliance officer for CompuNet Clinical Laboratories, currently serves as AMTs judiciary councilor and chairs its Federal Government Affairs Committee. 

Michael N. McCarty, Esq.,Brickfield, Burchette, Ritts & Stone, PC, has represented AMT since 1980 and has served as its general legal counsel since 1991.

As has been the history of MLOs Washington Report, this space will be
devoted in 2003 to keeping readers abreast of ongoing issues and new legislation affecting the clinical laboratory and its professional managers and technicians. If there is a particular legislative question or a legislative topic of special interest to your organization, please e-mail:
[email protected].

2003: Vol. 35, No. 11

© 2003 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.