New Bill Would Improve Services To Lung Patients

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Lung Disease

U.S. patients suffering from respiratory disease could be greatly helped if a bill introduced by Congressman Mike Ross (D-AR) is passed, according to Toni Rodriguez, president of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), the professional association for respiratory therapists.

The new Medicare Respiratory Therapy Initiative, HR 3968, will help patients receive better access to health care services. The House bill will revise the Medicare law to permit qualified respiratory therapists to provide certain services, such as smoking cessation, asthma management, medication education, and inhaler training. These services will be provided to asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients under the general supervision of a physician, but without the doctor present.

"This bill could literally open the door for many patients who haven't been able to get the care they deserve," said Rodriguez, a respiratory therapist for more than 35 years. "With this bill, they would have access to the services of a respiratory therapist in all of the places they might seek care -- doctor's office, outpatient clinic, even their own home. And the expense will be covered by Medicare. This is a significant bill."

Congressman Ross is a member of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The American Association for Respiratory Care began working with Congressman Ross to develop the initiative with the hope of increasing access to the services of certain respiratory therapists in settings outside of the acute care hospital.

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"I am proud to introduce this important legislation on behalf of patients with respiratory and lung disease to ensure they have greater access to medical treatments for their conditions," said Ross, emphasizing this bill will greatly help those in rural areas of America where access to medical care continues to be a major challenge. "This legislation would help break down barriers that some patients currently experience in receiving these important treatments."

A Serious Problem

According to a new study by the American College of Chest Physicians, one out of three patients with asthma or COPD use their inhalers incorrectly. The study found that 32.1% of patients made at least one essential error while using a dry powder inhaler (DPI) and that the error rate increased with age and severity of airway obstruction. Additionally, the experts on a government asthma guidelines panel recommend training by health professionals to improve the cost-effectiveness and clinical benefit to patients. Stuart Stoloff, M.D., a member of the expert panel that wrote the asthma guidelines, believes this bill can help rectify that very serious problem.

"Respiratory therapists are a vital part of the team for educating patients about the appropriate use of inhaled medications in respiratory disease," said Stoloff, a family physician in Carson, Nevada who works closely with respiratory therapists at four hospitals in his region. "Their knowledge of medications combined with their teaching expertise can facilitate improved care for patients with respiratory problems."

If passed, the law would revise current sections of the Medicare Part B Program, which governs specific services available to the Medicare beneficiary outside of the acute care hospital. This has been a major hurdle for many respiratory patients on fixed incomes.

"As an individual with COPD, I very much value the respiratory therapist as an asset to help me achieve a better quality of life," said John Walsh, a COPD patient with Alpha-1, a genetic form of the lung disease. "Current reimbursement through Medicare does not provide the regular access or consistency in care that this initiative calls for. It would allow a respiratory therapist to be more readily available to COPD patients like myself."

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