Washington, DC - More than 330 American Heart Association volunteers and staff from 46 states were in Washington, D.C. today to advocate for federal research support and key legislation that will benefit Americans with cardiovascular disease (CVD). Personal trainer, survivor and host of NBC's hit show, The Biggest Loser, Bob Harper, participated in the event. The advocates urged their members of Congress to prioritize National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for heart and stroke research and to support bills that would expand access to stroke telemedicine (telestroke) and cardiac rehabilitation. They also encouraged their lawmakers to oppose the health care bill.

Heart disease and stroke researchers and survivors met with legislators to stress the urgent need for more NIH-funded heart and stroke research, evident by the association's recent report showing CVD will continue to be America's most burdensome disease now and in the future. It is projected that nearly half of the U.S. population will face CVD, with costs exceeding $1 trillion by 2035. The NIH invests just four percent of its budget on heart research and a mere one percent on stroke research, despite this dismal forecast. In addition to that, these levels are not commensurate with research opportunities, and the agency has lost nearly 20 percent of its purchasing power over the past 10 years. Association volunteers will ask their representatives to increase the NIH's budget by $2 billion for 2018 to account for this. Without sufficient NIH funding, cures and treatments for CVD will be seriously delayed – or worse, never discovered.

"While we have made tremendous progress in fighting cardiovascular disease, these projections reinforce that now is not the time to relax," said American Heart Association President Steven Houser, Ph.D., FAHA. "We must continue to be vigilant, because if these projections become reality, a serious health and economic crisis is on the horizon. We must invest more funding from the National Institutes of Health in heart and stroke research so we can give Americans the treatments and cures they will desperately need in the coming years."

Volunteer-advocates thanked those members of Congress who already support two bills important to the association's mission, and ask others to co-sponsor the legislation. These include: a cardiac rehabilitation supervision bill (H.R. 1155/S. 1361) and the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act (H.R. 1148/S. 431).

Cardiac rehabilitation reduces the burden of heart disease for patients, their families and our country. However, only about 30 percent of eligible patients take advantage of these programs. To receive reimbursement under Medicare, cardiac rehab services must be provided under the direct supervision of a physician. Unfortunately, this outdated requirement creates an unintended barrier to such services, particularly in rural areas where physicians are scarce. That's why association volunteers advocated for the cardiac rehab supervision bill that would allow physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists to supervise cardiac rehabilitation on a day-to-day basis. 

Similarly, expanding the use of telemedicine will reduce the burden stroke imposes on individuals and their families. It would also increase the number of patients receiving thrombolytic therapies and improve patient outcomes. Unfortunately, Medicare only reimburses telehealth services in rural areas. Eliminating this rural restriction would help encourage widespread use of telestroke services throughout our country. Association volunteers talked with Congress about this provision that would allow Medicare to reimburse for these services regardless of where they live. 

Volunteer-advocates also ask their lawmakers to vote no on the health care bill. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's score of the Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 revealed that 22 million Americans will lose coverage by 2026.

"Our analysis of the proposed GOP health care reform plan indicates that, relative to current law, it significantly diminishes the existing Medicaid program, reduces access to quality coverage, raises premiums for older and low-income individuals and limits benefits. Despite its name, this isn't better care," said American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown.

The American Heart Association has adopted a set of health care reform principles that requires any changes to current health law to preserve and expand access to affordable and adequate health care coverage.

"From our perspective, the draft Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 could have dire life-changing consequences for many heart and stroke patients. The association will not support it or any other repeal bill without changes that will improve quality health care access for all Americans," said Brown.