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Weekly Column: Backing Research And Improved Treatment For Alzheimer's Disease

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and, absent a medical breakthrough, that number could rise to nearly 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  This disease is tragic and life-altering—wherever, whenever and whomever it strikes.  Medical researchers pursue improved treatment for this progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells and is the most common cause of dementia, or loss of intellectual function, as efforts continue to ensure public policy best supports quality care for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

In October, I joined Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) in sending a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma requesting the agency use its existing authority to implement an education and outreach campaign to inform providers about the new Medicare planning code for patients with cognitive impairment.  In the letter, we expressed support for CMS’s decision in 2017 to implement our bipartisan HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act by creating the new Medicare benefit code that provides for assessment and care planning for people living with cognitive impairment, including those living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.  We also shared concern with reports of low rates of eligible seniors receiving the benefit in its first year of implementation.  Greater outreach about the benefit can further increase usage of comprehensive care planning services. 

This was one recent action in the ongoing work toward improved research and resources to combat this condition.  On March 26, 2019, Senator Stabenow introduced S. 880, the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer's Act, with my support.  Similar to the request in the October letter to the CMS Administrator, the bill would direct CMS to conduct outreach to health care practitioners about comprehensive Alzheimer’s disease care planning services and materials on appropriate diagnostic evaluations and the requirements for eligibility.  S. 880 would require CMS to report to Congress on its outreach efforts, as well as on the number of beneficiaries receiving such services and any barriers to access.  The legislation has broad bipartisan support with 47 Senate co-sponsors.     

In 2014, I also sponsored the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act, which was signed into law on December 16, 2014.  The law requires researchers at the National Institutes of Health to submit an annual budget proposal directly to the President and Congress.  This “professional judgement budget” specifies the resources and funding necessary to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s by 2025.  The information gathered assists lawmakers when determining funding levels while also providing scientists with a coordinated, defined research plan. 

In a recent Presidential Message on National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness, President Donald J. Trump conveyed, “As we solemnly remember the family and friends we have lost to this deadly disease, we vow never to relent in our determination to find a cure. . . . As a Nation, we must—and we will—do more to give patients and their families hope when it comes to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. . . . Together, we will continue to pursue new research in search of a breakthrough that will alleviate the suffering of the millions of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.” 

We must continue to strive to improve research and resources to combat this destructive condition that reaches into millions of American families.  Thank you to all those working to eliminate Alzheimer’s and the caregivers supporting those living with the disease.  I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress, the Administration, the medical community and advocacy groups in pursuit of advancements in dementia-specific care and suppression. 

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