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.

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, includes respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, bronchiectasis, or all three combined. It involves the swelling and inflammation of the airways, which narrows them and produces thick, sticky mucus. These conditions hinder the air in the lungs from being exhaled completely and effectively.

This narrowing of the airways is many times the result of breathing in irritating fumes and allergens, such as perfumes, household cleaning fumes, smoke, and pollens in the air. Because these irritants are always in the air, people with COPD never get complete relief of their symptoms—even when taking medications for their breathing condition. What is more, symptoms can be worsened by other health conditions like congestive heart failure and pneumonia.

It is estimated that around 24 Million Americans have some form of COPD, but unfortunately, half are not even aware that they have it.  This is because most people neglect to mention their breathing problems to their doctor—mistakenly believing that their symptoms are only the result of being out of shape or just getting older. And for those who have been given medications to treat their symptoms, they often fail to take their medications as prescribed—stopping once they begin to feel better, or incorrectly thinking that their breathing condition is not all that serious.

Although COPD symptoms never completely go away, the disease can be effectively treated and kept from getting progressively worse. Taking the correct medications, learning to breathe and relax when short of breath, eating properly, and by staying active, a person with COPD can greatly lessen their symptoms and live a fuller, healthier life.