Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced a new bill Thursday they say will help ensure accessible and affordable medical care and treatment for long COVID patients, including underserved populations.
Long COVID is related to a combination of lingering symptoms in patients who recovered from acute SARS-CoV-2 infection. Fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, muscle pain and anxiety are just a few debilitating complications attached to the mystery illness.
Over 80 million Americans have battled COVID-19, with just under a million deaths, according to CDC data. While there is still much to learn on long COVID, the World Health Organization says about 20% of COVID patients may become long-haulers.
The bill, titled Targeting Resources for Equitable Access to Treatment for Long COVID (TREAT Long COVID) Act, will instruct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide grant resources to ramp up the development of more long COVID clinics.
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The TREAT Long COVID Act authorizes HHS to give grants of up to $2 million to health care providers and health centers to fund the creation and expansion of long COVID clinics. It also reinforces the proper medical training for physicians and health care workers treating post-COVID patients.
"It requires grantees, who if you receive taxpayer dollars to do this, then you have to submit an annual report on your activities, but those reports have to include evaluations from your patients because for far too long the voices of underserved communities are not listened to," Sen. Duckworth told NBC New York.
This comes after President Joe Biden issued a presidential memorandum for the HHS to prevent, detect and treat long COVID.
“HHS will lead a government-wide interagency coordinating council, which will involve experts from the Department of Defense, Veterans Administration, the Labor Department, and many entities across government to coordinate both public and private sector work to advance our understanding of long COVID, and to accelerate efforts to prevent, detect and treat it,” said Sec. of HHS Xavier Becerra during a COVID response briefing.
This effort across the federal government is the first interagency national research action plan on long COVID. It aims to boost health insurance coverage options for long COVID patients, including benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act.
The new legislation by Sen. Duckworth and Rep. Pressley intends to ensure that treatment is not denied based on insurance coverage, date or method of diagnosis, or hospitalizations.
"This pandemic has had prolonged health impacts on our most vulnerable individuals and families—particularly in Black, brown, and historically marginalized communities—and it is long past time we provide accessible treatment for our long haulers who have been living with the physical and mental anguish without adequate care," Rep. Pressley told News 4.
Sen. Duckworth is also an original co-sponsor of the previously announced long COVID bill, Comprehensive Access to Resources and Education (CARE) for Long COVID Act, with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), which came out last month hoping to improve research and resources for these patients.
"I’m proud that President Biden is taking this seriously and announced a whole-of-government effort to tackle the long-term impacts of COVID-19, and I’m pleased that this plan echoes many of the provisions that I’m working to advance through the CARE for Long COVID Act I helped introduce and my TREAT Long COVID Act," noted Sen. Duckworth.