It Is Time: Bachelor’s Degree Licensure Requirement for Respiratory Therapists

As The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expand their control and funnel their resources into new and expanding environments, respiratory care has the potential to be left behind.

This is a difficult pill to swallow for many respiratory therapists (RT), but the fact remains that CMS is driving innovation by way of keeping patients well and out of the hospital, while driving ill patients who are stable into skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). This is causing SNFs to care for much more acutely ill patients than ever before, leaving acute care hospitals mainly responsible for stabilization.

Unfortunately, CMS does not recognize Respiratory Care as a profession because RTs are not required to have a bachelor’s degree at a minimum to be licensed. And as a result, CMS does not require respiratory therapy to be provided solely by an RT.

Case-in-point: When the RUGS payment model was implemented within the skilled environment over 20 years ago, SNFs that previously paid for RTs to provide care for their residents stopped so they could remain competitive. Since all RT procedures were reimbursed the same whether provided by a nurse or an RT, administrators saw no financial advantage of having RTs on the bank role and chose to no longer employ them. This opened to the door for other professions to expand into an area where they should have clinically dominated.

If RT was a bachelor’s minimum profession, it would have more pull in its lobbying efforts to strengthen the roles of individual RTs with CMS-funded services. But this doesn’t even take into account the profession’s relative lack of engagement with the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) whose primary role is to lobby on its behalf.

It’s time RTs help secure the future of their profession by supporting the AARC and the bachelor’s minimum requirement to practice respiratory care.

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