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HHS unveils $45 million grant program to aid in treating long COVID

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Article

Funds will go primarily to clinics treating historically underserved groups

blocks spelling long COVID ©Parradee-stock.adobe.com

©Parradee-stock.adobe.com

In an effort to address the many challenges of long COVID, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), recently announced $9 million in grants to clinics treating patients with the disease.

In a press release the agencies said grants are designed to bridge critical gaps in care delivery by expanding access, creating innovation in care models, promoting best practices, and supporting long COVID education for primary care providers. Each of the nine $1-milllion grants is for up to five years, bringing the total for the program to $45 million.

According to the National Institutes of Health, long COVID cost a cumulative $386 billion in lost wages, savings and medical expenses in the U.S. alone as of January 2023.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's Global Burden of Disease has also reported that the condition has created a higher burden of disability than either heart disease or cancer, which cause about 52 and 50 DALYs for every 1,000 Americans, respectively. A DALY represents one year of healthy life lost to illness.

In the release, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra emphasized the administration's commitment to providing science-based best practices for long COVID treatment, ensuring access to insurance coverage, and safeguarding the rights of returning workers coping with the uncertainties of their illness. This approach aims to address the challenges faced by long COVID patients, including health care access, financial support, and workplace accommodations.

“Emerging research continues to transform the way we think about and treat long COVID,” Adm. Rachel L. Levine, M.D., assistant secretary for health at HHS, said in the release. “Without diagnostic tests and treatments specific for long COVID conditions, drawing on the collective experience of health care providers is critical in ensuring patients receive the care and support they need.”

The grants are designed to serve as a roadmap for developing improved care models, particularly for vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by long COVID. Underserved minority populations, historically disadvantaged in terms of access to affordable, quality health care, have been disproportionately affected by long COVID. In addition, limited awareness and acceptance of long COVID among clinicians and in the health care community have led to delays in diagnosis and referrals for appropriate care.

The long COVID clinics will employ a multifaceted approach to enhance care for adult, pediatric, and priority populations. Key strategies include:

  • Increasing Care Access: This involves expanding both in-person and virtual visit capacity, establishing new satellite clinics, and facilitating provider-based referrals through educational initiatives.
  • Dedicated Care Coordination: Implementing dedicated care coordination services, social support, language interpretive staff, and group programs tailored to Long COVID patients.
  • Behavioral Health Integration: Integrating dedicated behavioral health staff and introducing behavioral health and rehabilitation group support programs.

These strategies aim to create a comprehensive care ecosystem that addresses the physical, mental, and social aspects of long COVID, according to the release.

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