Over six months into the coronavirus pandemic, policymakers in Congress are struggling to follow up on their initial swift action in March to address the public health and economic crises brought on by COVID-19. During this time, WomenHeart has worked to raise up the voices of women living with and at risk of heart disease so legislators understand their needs and promote policies that advance their health and security.
In addition to ensuring that all people have access to COVID-19 testing and treatment without cost barriers, as well as access to health care and medications they need to manage other health conditions and illnesses, the following are some of WomenHeart’s policy priorities for the next COVID relief package and opportunities to take action:
- Protect patients from surprise medical bills. Affecting more than half of Americans, surprise medical bills occur when a patient inadvertently receives care from an out-of-network provider. These tend to occur in emergency situations – like when a woman having a heart attack is unable to select her emergency room – or when receiving care at an in-network hospital by a provider who happens to be out-of-network. Take action now and urge Congress to pass a bipartisan fix that holds patients harmless.
- Expand access to team-based care for testing and vaccines. As we head into flu season, it is especially important that all health care providers – including pharmacists – are able to offer the services they are trained to provide. Over 90% of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, making pharmacists the most widely accessible health care providers. Yet policy barriers related to reimbursement for services exist. Take action now and urge Congress to expand Americans’ access to COVID-19 and flu testing and vaccination by designating pharmacists as providers under Medicare Part B.
- Promote access to and education about vaccines. Women living with heart disease need protection from diseases that may cause more serious illness. That’s why it is critical that no one face structural inequities to vaccine access. The Community Immunity During COVID-19 Act (H.R. 8061) would support local initiatives to promote recommended vaccines, including for flu, pneumococcal disease, shingles and hepatitis, as well as help prepare for community initiatives to disseminate an eventual COVID-19 vaccine to all people, particularly reaching underserved populations. In addition, the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act (S. 1872 / H.R. 5076) would eliminate the out-of-pocket costs for vaccines covered under Medicare Part D.
- Increase Access to Cardiac Rehab. During the pandemic, it’s been hard for those recovering from a heart event to attend in-person cardiac rehab. CMS should allow the provision and reimbursement for telehealth delivered home-based cardiac rehab services. In addition, the Increasing Access to Quality Cardiac Rehabilitation Act (H.R. 3911/S. 2842) would expand patient access to cardiac rehab services by allowing advanced practice clinicians to order and supervise cardiac rehab under Medicare.
- Expand eligibility for paid family and medical leave to include people with chronic conditions, including women living with heart disease, who are at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19. They may require time away from work to protect their health, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of their economic security. Take action now and urge Congress to ensure that those with underlying conditions can receive job protection and financial support that enables them to remain at home until it is safe.
It is clear, now more than ever, that public policies are needed to secure and expand access to health care and to promote public health. Congress must act to support women living with and at risk of heart disease and all others who are impacted by the pandemic.