WASHINGTON, DC - Physicians and health professionals from the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) along with rheumatology patients gathered on Capitol Hill this week for the annual Advocates for Arthritis event to urge lawmakers to take action on a range of policy issues affecting patient access to rheumatology care.
More than 100 advocates met with members of Congress and encouraged them to support bills that would expand the rheumatology workforce and reform insurer practices that often delay patients' access to medically necessary treatment. Advocates also educated lawmakers on the increasing prevalence of rheumatic diseases, specifically arthritis, that are exacting a toll on Americans of all ages and backgrounds.
"Aligning with Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month, this event is a great opportunity for our members to raise awareness and work with lawmakers to address the myriad challenges rheumatic disease patients currently face," said Paula Marchetta, MD, MBA, president of ACR. "We look forward to working with Congress to make positive and lasting policy changes so that patients can live longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives."
ACR advocates asked lawmakers to support the following legislation to improve patient access to care:
- Safe Step Act of 2019 (H.R. 2279) - Introduced by Representatives Raul Ruiz, MD (D-CA) and Brad Wenstrup, DPM (R-OH), two physicians who have encountered step therapy in their own practices, this bipartisan legislation would place reasonable limits on the use of step therapy in employer-sponsored health plans and create a clear process for patients and doctors to seek exceptions. The legislation builds on reforms passed in 22 states to address this pervasive practice that delays effective care and puts patients at unnecessary risk. While state efforts to limit insurer use of step therapy are an important step forward, Congressional action is needed to address the use of step therapy in employer-provided plans, which are regulated by federal law.
- EMPOWER for Health Act (H.R. 2781) - Introduced by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Michael C. Burgess, MD (R-TX), this bipartisan legislation would facilitate efforts to increase the number of pediatric subspecialists who practice in underserved areas by providing pediatric subspecialty loan repayment for health professionals who agree to work at least two years in pediatric medicine. The bill would also reauthorize critical funding to ensure a more diverse health care workforce is prepared to meet the needs of the entire patient population.
- REDI Act (H.R. 1554) - Introduced by Representative Brian Babin (R-TX), this legislation would amend the Higher Education Act to defer the accumulation of interest on student loans for borrowers while they serve in a medical internship or residency program, thereby making careers in medicine more accessible.
An estimated 1 in 4 Americans have been diagnosed with a rheumatic disease such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Although there is no known cure for these conditions, early intervention and proper diagnosis and treatment by a specialist can help patients manage symptoms and lifestyle limitations to live longer, healthier lives.
Unfortunately, a growing shortage of rheumatology specialists threatens patient access to timely diagnosis and treatment. For example, although nearly 300,000 American children have juvenile arthritis, there are fewer than 400 board-certified pediatric rheumatologists in the United States.
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is the nation's leading medical association for the rheumatology community and represents more than 7,700 U.S. rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals. As an ethically driven, professional membership organization, the ACR is committed to improving healthcare for Americans living with rheumatic diseases and advocates for policies and reforms that will ensure safe, effective, affordable and accessible rheumatology care.