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'Arthritis 101' Congressional briefing discusses $128 billion impact to healthcare system

January 31, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC (Jan. 31, 2017) - Experts from the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the Arthritis Foundation today held an "Arthritis 101" Congressional briefing to educate new and returning Congressional leaders about arthritis and its impact on constituents and the U.S. healthcare system. The event was co-sponsored by Congressional Arthritis Caucus co-chairs Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and David McKinley (R-WV) and moderated by former U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR).

More than 52 million Americans (one in five Americans) have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Arthritis is currently the leading cause of disability in the United States and contributes an estimated $128 billion annually in U.S. healthcare costs.

Briefing panelists provided lawmakers and their staff with an overview of arthritis, some of the current health care challenges facing their constituents, and potential policy solutions.

"Millions of Americans living with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases face enormous obstacles when trying to access safe, effective and affordable health care," said Dr. Angus Worthing, MD, FACP, practicing rheumatologist and chair of the ACR's Government Affairs Committee. "Now more than ever, we need practical solutions to expand access to care and improve the quality of life for people living with arthritis. We look forward to working with new and returning members of Congress to address some of these cost and access challenges."

The rheumatology workforce shortage, including a growing shortage of pediatric rheumatologists, was one of the access challenges highlighted by the panel. Shannon O'Hara Levi, a juvenile arthritis patient and Arthritis Foundation advocate, discussed the travel challenges and delays in care she experienced as a result of the lack of available pediatric specialists in her home state of New York.

"I've never known life without juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) but remain hopeful for a cure," said Shannan O'Hara-Levi, juvenile arthritis patient and Arthritis Foundation advocate. "Upon my diagnosis at age three, my family was told that I'd be wheelchair bound by age six, which thankfully didn't happen. While I've never experienced remission from my disease, I am grateful where I am in my life, how I've gotten here and all of those involved with keeping me healthy and on my feet."

In addition to the rheumatology specialist shortage, patients face additional hurdles like access to the drugs that help manage their disease at a cost they can afford.

"People with arthritis live in fear of losing access to their prescription drugs and have to fight tirelessly to keep access to the drugs they need to keep their disease under control," said Cavan Redmond, former CEO of WebMD, pharmaceutical health care executive and Arthritis Foundation board member. "To begin chipping away at this problem and better understand the 'great health care disconnect' between patients, policy-makers and health care industry leaders, we sat down with health care leaders across the industry and then met one-on-one with patients, in focus groups to understand their challenges. Based on our findings, we launched an initiative - called Prescription for Access - to actively address the concerns of people with arthritis, including providing policy recommendations and principles for the new Congress to consider."

Panelists also discussed the need for a stand-alone arthritis medical research program within the Department of Defense.

"Arthritis disproportionately affects U.S. service members and veterans, yet unlike other diseases related to military service, there is no dedicated research budget at the Department of Defense to explore arthritis prevention strategies, treatments and cures," said Dr. Colin Edgerton, a member of the ACR's Committee on Rheumatologic Care, former Army physician, and practicing rheumatologist. "We have an opportunity - and, in my view, an obligation - to ensure the healthcare needs of service members living with arthritis are met. Our Congressional leaders can help us achieve this goal by supporting the appropriation of $20 million in existing funding for the creation of a stand-alone arthritis research program within the Department of Defense."
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The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is the nation's leading advocacy organization for the rheumatology care community, representing more than 6,400 U.S. rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals. As an ethically driven, professional membership organization committed to improving healthcare for Americans living with rheumatic diseases, the ACR advocates for high-quality, high-value policies and reforms that will ensure safe, effective, affordable and accessible rheumatology care. For more information, visit http://www.rheumatology.org.

Arthritis Foundation

The Arthritis Foundation is the Champion of Yes. Leading the fight for the arthritis community, the Foundation helps conquer everyday battles through life-changing information and resources, access to optimal care, advancements in science and community connections. The Arthritis Foundation's goal is to chart a winning course, guiding families in developing personalized plans for living a full life - and making each day another stride towards a cure. The Foundation also publishes Arthritis Today, the award-winning magazine that reaches 4 million readers per issue.

American College of Rheumatology

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