Congress, president take aim at Long COVID

Medical group estimates 23.76 million may have long-term effects.

Those suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19 may find relief through upcoming efforts of federal lawmakers and health experts.

Congress will consider the Targeting Resources for Equitable Access to Treatment for Long COVID Act, known as the TREAT Long COVID Act.

Representatives backing the bill called it the first of its kind to expand Long COVID clinics and empower health care providers, including community health centers and local public health departments, to treat patients in their own communities.

“A just and equitable pandemic recovery must include the millions of people living with Long COVID, a community whose voices and suffering have been ignored for far too long,” cosponsor Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said in a press release. “This pandemic has had prolonged health impacts on our most vulnerable individuals and families — particularly in Black, brown, and historically marginalized communities — and it is long past time we provide accessible treatment for our long haulers who have been living with the physical and mental anguish without adequate care.”

Pressley was joined by fellow Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Edward J. Markey of Massachussetts, introducing the legislation on April 7.

The TREAT Long COVID Act would expand treatment for Long COVID nationwide through a number of measures, including authorizing the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants up to $2 million to health care providers.

A number of health care and advocacy groups endorsed the legislation.

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) has called for a national plan to address long COVID-19, or PASC, for the formal name Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

AAPM&R has estimated there could be more than 23.76 million people with Long COVID among more than 79.22 million total survivors.

“As we continue to build our long-term understanding of Long COVID, it is critical that we make sure the millions of Americans dealing with long-term symptoms of this disease today are not left behind,” AAPM&R President-elect Steven R. Flanagan, MD, said in a news release. “Physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians and our other partners across the medical profession have seen firsthand the importance of multidisciplinary, specialized care to helping patients reach their highest levels of recovery, and this legislation will be essential to supporting access to this treatment.”

AAPM&R thanked the lawmakers and the administration of President Joe Biden, who two days earlier published his memorandum addressing the long-term effects of COVID-19.

The president directed HHS to coordinate national research action plan with the first interagency agenda on dealing with Long COVID.

The administration’s directive included components that AAPM&R advocated, such as support for Long COVID clinics and local health systems. AAPM&R has enlisted 35 university and medical center partners across the country to develop clinical infrastructure to treat the disease.