WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) focused on how to improve access and care for patients with Long COVID during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing yesterday. Patients with Long COVID are those who continue to experience COVID symptoms in the months or even years after infection.
To watch Senator Hassan’s hearing questions, click here.
Senator Hassan highlighted the work of the Post-Acute COVID Syndrome Clinic at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in New Hampshire, which is helping Long COVID patients manage symptoms and receive treatments. Dartmouth’s clinic is also working with the National Institutes of Health, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, to conduct more research about Long COVID symptoms and treatments. The lack of a long-term government funding agreement is delaying additional research funding, another example of the need for Republicans and Democrats to work together to pass a long-term government funding plan, Senator Hassan pointed out.
Senator Hassan addressed distance as a barrier to accessing health care for Long COVID patients: “In New Hampshire, our clinic at Dartmouth Health is the only Long COVID clinic in the state. The clinic is in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire, and as a result, some patients may have to drive hours to get there.” She asked Rachel Beale, a Long COVID patient, “What has it been like for you, with the symptoms you have, to have to make long trips for your care?”
Ms. Beale said, “There have been many times where I’ve wanted to cancel appointments because I’m sick… I have zero energy and my husband’s at work. He can’t take off work to drive me.” She mentioned that once she gets to the appointment, when speaking to the doctor she often struggles to remember all her concerns because of how ill she feels. Senator Hassan added that challenges like this underscore the barriers that patients, especially those in rural areas, can experience given how far away a doctor’s office might be.
Next, Senator Hassan discussed the high cost of health care for Long COVID patients with Angela Meriquez Vázquez, a Long COVID patient. Ms. Vázquez spoke in favor of government funding for Long COVID research and noted that Congress could use its oversight function to hold insurance companies accountable for reimbursing patients for a variety of health care services.
Lastly, Senator Hassan discussed the work that Dartmouth’s clinic is doing in the Granite State: “The small team at New Hampshire’s Long COVID clinic serves around 60 new patients per month and hundreds of existing patients, and the rate of referrals to the clinic isn’t slowing. About six percent of New Hampshire has Long COVID. It is clear that patients need access to more medical providers who can recognize and treat Long COVID.” She asked Nicole Heim, the parent of a Long COVID patient: “What would you like to see change in how providers understand and treat children with symptoms of Long COVID?” Ms. Heim advocated for easily accessible Long COVID screenings comparable to those that screen patients for depression.