American Heart Association thanks Congress for passing stroke telemedicine and cardiac rehab legislation

Budget deal included bills along with other benefits for heart and stroke patients

February 09, 2018 Categories: Advocacy News

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 9, 2018 — The American Heart Association today commended Congress for passing legislation that will greatly benefit the nation’s heart and stroke patients. The two-year budget deal, just approved by the House and the Senate, included provisions that expand access for telestroke and cardiac rehabilitation services, remove restrictions on Medicare therapy caps and help improve the health of patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD).

“Several significant barriers for Americans with heart disease and stroke have finally been removed with passage of this legislation,” said American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown. “Thanks to Congress, more Medicare beneficiaries will now have access to the treatments and follow-up care they need to fight cardiovascular disease.” 

The American Heart Association especially wants to express its gratitude to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, for their strong and consistent commitment to helping patients with chronic disease.

Americans on Medicare who suffer from strokes need fast, high-quality care, regardless of where they live. Stroke patients in urban/suburban areas have faced many of the same obstacles as their rural counterparts – long journeys to get to a hospital and a lack of stroke specialists. Yet, only Medicare patients in rural areas were reimbursed for telestroke services. Now under the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine or FAST Act, which was included in the approved budget bill, this coverage will be available to all beneficiaries, no matter where they reside.

We want to thank the House champions of the FAST Act -- Representatives Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Joyce Beatty (D-OH) along with Senators John Thune (R-SD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Mark Warner (D-VA) for their belief in, and dedication to, telestroke legislation. In addition, we want to recognize our partner, the American Academy of Neurology, whose physician perspective complimented the voices of patients in urging Congress to pass this important bill.

Another win for stroke patients under this legislation is the repeal of arbitrary Medicare payment caps for outpatient therapy services. Caps on therapy would have seriously limited treatment options for millions of Americans. Now, as of Jan.1, patients will have access to medically necessary rehabilitation services.

This budget agreement also includes assistance for Americans with heart disease. Many of these individuals do not participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program once they leave the hospital. These programs improve the health and recovery of patients with cardiovascular disease and substantially reduce hospital readmissions and the associated costs. Despite these clear benefits, only 1 in 3 survivors reported receiving cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack. The reasons included low referral rates, the lack of a strong physician endorsement, limited awareness of the programs, financial burdens and no access to program sites. The cardiac rehabilitation provision passed by Congress will now allow physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists to supervise cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation on a day-to-day basis under Medicare, and hopefully encourage more use of these very effective programs. 

The association thanks Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) for adding the cardiac rehabilitation provision in the Senate, and recognizes Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and John Lewis (D-GA) for leading the charge in the House. We also want to acknowledge the Association for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation for their strong partnership on this issue.

Other language in this legislation will help patients with cardiovascular diseases in managed care plans by providing continued access to special needs plans and by increasing access to telehealth services. We also support efforts to improve medication adherence among our patients by providing prescription drug plans with Medicare claims data and a requirement for a GAO study on medication synchronization. The extension of funding for the independence at Home Demonstration Program and quality measure endorsement, input, and selection will also help improve care for our patients in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. We look forward to working with the administration and the Congress to implement these and other important provisions.

“This game-changing bill could not come at a better time,” said Brown. “In the next two decades, 45 percent of the total U.S. population will have cardiovascular disease with costs expected to reach $1.1 trillion. We hope to find more health care strategies like these to help wipe out the burden of heart disease and stroke.”

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About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About the American Stroke Association

The American Stroke Association is devoted to saving people from stroke — the No. 2 cause of death in the world and a leading cause of serious disability. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat stroke. The Dallas-based association officially launched in 1998 as a division of the American Heart Association. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-888-4STROKE or visit StrokeAssociation.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association receives funding mostly from individuals. Foundations and corporations donate as well, and fund specific programs and events. Strict policies are enforced to prevent these relationships from influencing the Association's science content. Financial information for the American Heart Association, including a list of contributions from pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers, is available at http://www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

For Media Inquiries:

Retha Sherrod: retha.sherrod@heart.org, 202-785-7929

For Public Inquiries: (800) AHA-USA1 (242-8721)

heart.org and strokeassociation.org