Rheumatology Leaders and Patient Advocates Urge Congress to Address Care Challenges Exacerbated by COVID-19 During the Virtual “Advocates for Arthritis” Event

Atlanta, Georgia, UNITED STATES

ATLANTA, Sept. 14, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- ATLANTA – The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) will hold its first virtual Advocates for Arthritis event on Tuesday, Sept. 15, where more than 120 rheumatologists, rheumatology health professionals, and patient advocates will meet with lawmakers via video to discuss the healthcare challenges they are facing in the midst of COVID-19. During the event, advocates will urge lawmakers to adopt legislation that ensures continued delivery of accessible, safe and affordable care throughout this public health emergency and beyond.


“The pandemic has altered almost every aspect of our rheumatology practices,” said ACR President Ellen Gravallese, MD.  “It has impacted our patients’ lives significantly and required us to create new ways of delivering care through improved telehealth and other adaptations.”


Rheumatology providers face significant resource challenges as a result of the current climate. As providers work to balance patient safety and continued access to care, many have been forced to retool their operations, move a significant portion of visits to telehealth, source their own personal protective equipment (PPE), and help patients navigate drug supply challenges – while in many cases operating with less staff due to social distancing protocols, furloughs and layoffs.


Meanwhile, patients are concerned about their ability to access rheumatic care while avoiding exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A recent national patient survey conducted by the ACR found a 52 percent decline since 2019 among patients who say they are currently being treated by a rheumatology provider. Further, 66 percent of respondents reported using telehealth for rheumatology visits, with  COVID-19 cited as the most common reason. While telehealth has been a welcome option for providers and patients alike, some visits – such as those involving biologic therapy infusions – must be conducted in-person via an office visit.  Additionally, the rheumatology workforce shortage has made it increasingly difficult for patients in rural areas to find a practicing rheumatologist.


According to the latest federal estimates, 54 million Americans have a doctor-diagnosed rheumatic disease. A recent academic study suggests that number that could be as high as 91 million when taking into account symptoms reported by undiagnosed individuals. Even though as many as one-quarter to one-third of U.S. adults may be living with a rheumatic disease, there is an average of only one practicing rheumatologist for every 40,000 people, while it is estimated that the U.S. will need thousands more adult rheumatologists by 2030 to meet the challenges caused by a rapidly aging population and a fast-retiring workforce.


To address these challenges and ensure the continued delivery of high-quality care, rheumatology providers and patients are encouraging Congressional leaders to adopt the following legislative solutions:



Noting the precarious financial state of cognitive care specialists who treat complex conditions, rheumatology leaders are also urging lawmakers to support the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ important updates to the Physician Fee Schedule slated to take effect in January 2021. Established in concert with the American Medical Association, these updated reimbursements for complex office visits – also known as “Evaluation and Management” (E/M) visits – are critical to ensuring specialties on the front lines of treating chronic illness can continue serving patients in need.


“While the rheumatology community has adapted to meet these challenges head-on, there is serious concern about the long-term sustainability of this new practice landscape without additional, targeted federal interventions and funding support from lawmakers,” said Gravallese.


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The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is an international medical society representing over 7,700 rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals with a mission to empower rheumatology professionals to excel in their specialty. In doing so, the ACR offers education, research, advocacy and practice management support to help its members continue their innovative work and provide quality patient care. Rheumatologists are experts in the diagnosis, management and treatment of more than 100 different types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases. For more information, visit www.rheumatology.org.