Health Policy And You

Posted on May 28, 2024   |   

This article was written by Michael W. Hess, MPH, RRT, RPFT.

"Health policy" is a phrase that can end conversations as soon as they start. Most of us do not even like to think about things like policies or lobbying or regulations, let alone chat about them. All we really need to know about how a bill becomes law we learned from Schoolhouse Rock, right? However, it is very important to be familiar with what is happening in health policy. These rules can have big impacts on your health and financial well-being. Staying informed helps prevent you from surprises down the road. Today's blog is meant to update some of the biggest changes in health policy and to help show how YOU can get involved to support positive policies!

The Inflation Reduction Act

We covered many of the highlights of this law in a blog post last October, but we are now starting to see some more of its effects. For example, drug companies are now allowed only to raise prices in line with inflation. The prices they charge Medicare cannot be raised faster than that or they have to pay a penalty. Since many people with COPD also have other medical concerns, this can really help your pocketbook. Copays for vaccines have been eliminated. The infamous “donut hole” in medication coverage has also finally started to close. That means if you have a Medicare Part D plan, you will not have to pay more than $2,000 a year for your meds starting in 2025!

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is, dollar-for-dollar, one of the best things out there to help with COPD. You can read many success stories on COPD360social from people who learned to exercise safely and manage symptoms better through pulmonary rehab. Unfortunately, many people are not able to take advantage of this wonderful tool. They may live in an area with no programs nearby or they may not be able to get transportation to a program in their area. During the pandemic, "virtual" programs that can be done at home became more readily available. These programs had similar benefits to in-person programs but were much easier for people to use. Unfortunately, the end of the national public health emergency last year also meant the end of Medicare coverage for these programs. Many programs had to shut down. There are two bills in Congress right now that would restore coverage for these programs. That would allow more people to receive the benefits of pulmonary rehab. However, both bills need more sponsors to be successfully passed into law.

Oxygen Therapy

Long-term oxygen therapy is a big part of treatment not just for COPD, but for many other lung conditions. It can also be relatively expensive for Medicare to cover. Over the last 30 years, well-meaning efforts to reduce the cost of oxygen therapy coverage have ended up creating big problems. Certain kinds of oxygen equipment, like liquid oxygen, have almost disappeared in the U.S. Equipment suppliers do not get enough money from Medicare to pay for clinicians to teach people how to get the most from their therapy. Working with two dozen other advocacy organizations, we were able to get legislation called the Supplemental Oxygen Access Reform (SOAR) Act introduced in both chambers of Congress earlier this year. This law would fix many of the payment issues that have hit the oxygen community so hard. But much like the virtual pulmonary rehab bills, SOAR needs more sponsors to have a chance to be passed into law.

How You Can Help

Now that you see what a big influence health policy can have on your life, you may be interested in learning how you can pitch in. I have good news for you: it's REALLY easy to get involved! There are several different ways you can help shape policy. First, you can always speak with your legislators and their staff. Earlier this year, a large group of advocates traveled to Washington, D.C., to do exactly that. We were able to get meetings with aides for senators and representatives all over the country to convince them to support the bills mentioned above. You can actually do the same thing without leaving your house! Each member of Congress has a phone number, an email address, and/or an online contact form that allows you to leave a message and share your thoughts. You can search for contact information right on the official US Congress website.

If you want to contact them specifically about either virtual pulmonary rehab or the SOAR Act, we have made it even easier. You can go to our Advocacy Action Center and find links to pre-made emails covering these issues (and a few others). All you need to do is enter your name and address (so the system can automatically find your congresspeople) and click or tap a few buttons.

It has never been easier to make your voice heard, and we need to hear it now more than ever. Keep an eye on our website and social media for more updates on how health policy changes may affect your health!


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