By Gary Fitzgerald
Allergy & Asthma Network has for years supported federal legislation that enhances school-based asthma and stock albuterol programs.
The effort received backing in the 116th Congress on May 2 when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Phil Roe, MD (R-TN) introduced the School-Based Allergy and Asthma Management Program Act (HR-2468). The bill encourages schools to implement asthma programs and provide asthma education and training to staff.
Hoyer participated in the Network’s 22nd annual Allergy & Asthma Day Capitol Hill (AADCH) in Washington, D.C., on May 8, stopping in to provide remarks at a mid-day Congressional Lunch Briefing. Hoyer said he has had asthma his whole life and his granddaughter also has asthma and a peanut allergy.
“Asthma is a growing challenge for a lot of young people,” Hoyer said. “We need to make sure we have medications that will intervene [in an asthma flare] … and save lives. We need people trained to know what’s happening and how to help. That’s what this legislation does.”
Hoyer praised the patient advocates on hand at AADCH. “We need to hear those personal stories, of your wife or your child, or somebody you know,” Hoyer said. “What you’re doing here is critical to passing this legislation.”
HR-2468 was just one of several key issues Allergy & Asthma Network advocated for in visits with members of Congress during AADCH.
The Safe Step Act (HR-2279), introduced in the 116th Congress by Reps. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), would require health insurance companies to provide an exceptions process for any medication step therapy protocol.
Step therapy, also called “fail first,” is a process used by health insurers to control costs. It occurs when insurers require patients to fail the first step of treatment, typically a low-cost medication, before moving on to a second step – even when doctor and patient have agreed step two is the best treatment. Step two is often a more expensive medication for the insurer to cover.
Charnette Zaskoda Darrington, a severe asthma patient from Houston, participated in the Congressional Lunch Briefing, saying it took her two years to convince her health insurer to cover bronchial thermoplasty, a severe asthma medical procedure. In the meantime, she was prescribed oral corticosteroids, which include significant side effects.
“I don’t want anyone to struggle like I have had to,” she said.
“Her story is one that we hear all too often,” says Tonya Winders, President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network. “We have all this innovation and advancement in this space, which does offer hope for so many families, and yet that hope turns into frustration because they cannot access the treatments they need.”
Disparities in Asthma Care
LeRoy Graham, MD, founder of the nonprofit Not One More Life and a member of the Board of Regents for the American Thoracic Society, addressed ongoing efforts to address asthma disparities.
More than 25 million Americans have asthma, but not all have equal access to high-quality healthcare. The disease is more common among African-American, Hispanic/Latino and Native American populations, particularly those in poor, urban areas. Allergy & Asthma Network and Not One More Life are joining forces to expand access and availability of safe, effective and affordable medications and treatments.
Dr. Graham says that partnering with local churches is a great way to reach at-risk populations and build trust with patients in need of better quality care.
“Places of worship were the social safety net before there was a social safety net,” he said. “We went into community churches and we had people fill out asthma questionnaires and undergo spirometry. Some people had never even seen a spirometer before. We talked to them and, most importantly, we got them referrals.”
Another key #AADCH2019 issue is the modernization of food labels to include sesame allergy and allergen cross contact information. Sesame is not recognized as a major food allergen in the United States, unlike many other countries.
In Congress, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act, or HR 2117, which requires that sesame be added to the list of eight allergens for which labeling is currently authorized.
The bill would also provide the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with funding to conduct data on allergy prevalence. Allergy & Asthma Network supports this legislation.
In addition, the Network continues to support federal funding for asthma and allergy health and research programs conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection Agency and CDC.
In all, patients, families, healthcare providers and patient advocates tallied 125 visits with members of Congress at AADCH. They met one-on-one with legislators and/or their staff to raise awareness and discuss legislation to end needless death and suffering due to asthma, allergies and related conditions.
During the reception, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the annual EPA National Environmental Leadership Awards in Asthma Management to three programs.
- Mobile Care Chicago –A group of physicians converted a Winnebago RV into a mobile clinic that travels into Chicago neighborhoods with high asthma rates and offers no-cost medical care. It serves 45 Chicago public schools, parochial schools and Head Start programs.
- Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance –The OHKA launched the Asthma In-Home Response Program that provides specialists trained in asthma education and environmental management for healthy homes.
- Rhode Island Department of Health –The Rhode Island Asthma Control Program established the evidence-based Home Asthma Response Program, using asthma educated educators and community health workers to conduct in-home evaluations for potential allergens and asthma triggers.