Aug 07 2020
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced legislation to encourage Americans to seek preventive care in order to avoid an increase in more serious health conditions down the line. The Getting Early Treatment and Comprehensive Assessments Reduces Emergencies (GET CARE) Act would authorize a public awareness campaign to educate the public on the importance of resuming routine procedures and screenings – something Americans were discouraged from doing for a period of time during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Preventive health care and screenings can significantly reduce serious medical emergencies and improve long-term health outcomes,” said Sen. Warner. “In the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic, health providers rightly encouraged patients to avoid non-essential care, but now we have to make sure the American public is aware of the importance of getting their regular health check-ups.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a troubling decline in vital screenings and immunizations, undermining efforts to ensure prevention, early diagnosis, and effective treatment for dangerous diseases,” said Sen. Scott. “Drops in immunization and screening rates are particularly problematic for some of our most vulnerable populations, including our seniors. This bipartisan legislation would encourage Americans to safely and responsibly seek out the preventive care they need.”
During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans were discouraged from seeking non-emergency care in order to prevent the spread of the virus and free up needed capacity at overwhelmed hospitals that were struggling to administer life-saving care to individuals with COVID-19. During this time, many states put executive orders in place to suspend elective procedures, and health care providers all across the country worked to limit face-to-face interactions, restricting office appointments to emergency needs. As a result of these necessary measures, there has been a significant decrease in routine health visits that normally play a crucial role in detecting a number of conditions and diseases that can be effectively treated when caught early.
Reuters has reported that diagnostic panels and cancer screenings fell by 68 percent nationally, with even more dramatic drops in COVID-19 hot spots. Additionally, the Epic Health Research Network estimates that over the span of three months, between March 15 and June 16, Americans missed about 65 percent of breast, colon, and cervical exams, which are essential in detecting cancer. There has also been an alarming decrease in childhood vaccination rates, which experts worry could trigger an epidemic of other infectious but vaccine-preventable diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the health care system could save over 100,000 additional lives per year if every person received recommended preventative care.
According to the CDC, preventative care is also essential in reducing health care costs. In fact, estimates show that avoidable chronic diseases account for more than 75 percent of the nation’s health care spending.
With many Americans still reluctant to seek non-emergency care, the GET CARE Act would authorize a public awareness campaign in order to bring attention to the importance of resuming preventive. Specifically, this legislation would direct the CDC to make competitive grants available to public or private entities in order to carry out a national, evidence-based campaign.
This campaign would:
- Increase awareness of the importance of recommended preventive care services for the prevention of and control of diseases, illness and other medical conditions during and after the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Combat misinformation about seeking preventive care during the pandemic;
- Disseminate scientific, evidence-based preventive care-related information to increase the utilization of preventive care services; and
- Ensure the public awareness campaign is appropriately tailored to medically underserved communities, racial and ethnic minorities, and communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic;
This legislation has the support of a number of organizations, including American College of Preventive Medicine, American Public Health Association, American Hospital Association, Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association and Ballad Health System.
“We thank Senators Warner and Scott for introducing the GET CARE Act, which will help to educate the public about the importance of prevention and preventive care. This is especially important for individuals living with, or at risk of getting, preventable chronic diseases, which may place them at increased risk for serious health complications due to COVID-19,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association.
“The American College of Preventive Medicine strongly advocates for this initiative to support prevention as the cornerstone of our health care system. Increased adoption of preventive services will reduce the burden of disease, especially in communities facing racial, demographic, and economic disparities in care and worsening health outcomes, and make our health system more sustainable and equitable. The power of prevention is to better prepare individuals, communities, and the nation for health crises of all types by building resilience through better health,” said Stephanie Zaza, MD, MPH, President, the American College of Preventive Medicine.
“Prevention has the power to save lives, create healthier communities, and transform our healthcare system. Increased use of preventive services makes health care systems and communities more resilient and better prepared to fight disease. It is of critical importance that we balance efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic with innovative and safe approaches to continuing essential preventive services, such as childhood vaccination and flu vaccination,” said Donna Grande, MGA, CEO, the American College of Preventive Medicine.
“During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care facilities across the Commonwealth voluntarily postponed non-emergency scheduled procedures to free up additional treatment capacity to accommodate incoming patients and to preserve personal protective equipment as part of the strategy to fight this deadly virus,” said Sean T. Connaughton, President and CEO, Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. “Taking these necessary, proactive steps meant that many Virginians had to forgo care for conditions including cancer and cardiac care and preventive screenings and treatment services such as vaccinations, mammograms, and colonoscopies. While many hospitals and health care facilities resumed scheduled procedures in early May, data indicates that many patients are avoiding or delaying care, perhaps due to fears associated with COVID-19. The GET CARE Act of 2020 is important legislation that will help spread the word that health care facilities are open and ready to safely care for patients. It’s important that all Virginians who need care, whether for a routine check-up, a vaccination, or care for a serious medical condition, get the care they need without delay.”
“Our entire team applauds Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Scott for proposing bipartisan support for America’s health systems and hospitals as we strive to save lives and serve our communities,” said Alan Levine, Chairman and CEO, Ballad Health. “The Get Care Act would create a public awareness campaign underscoring the importance of preventative health screenings and seeking routine medical care. Among other things, this bill provides important resources and templates to help hospitals and health systems initiate and sustain public service communications efforts. This effort follows a similar initiative provided by Ballad Health, in which resources were provided by Ballad Health for free to any rural, not-for-profit health system for use in their communities. This effort by the Senators brings scale to something desperately needed. Right now, many Americans are forgoing not only preventative health screenings but even treatment of acute health conditions because of concern about the COVID-19 pandemic. Ballad Health has witnessed this trend firsthand, as our hospital and outpatient volumes have decreased by as much as 70% during the past several months. Like other healthcare providers, we are concerned about the long-term impacts for patients who are not seeking the routine care they need. Healthcare providers everywhere have established detailed and deliberate safeguards to protect their patients during the pandemic, and this bill would help reassure patients that it is safe to seek both routine and emergency care. I congratulate the Senators for this important bipartisan effort.”
“Inova has made significant investments in technology and procedures to ensure patients feel and are safe managing their health, whether they seek care in person or through telehealth,” said J. Stephen Jones, MD, FACS, President & CEO of Inova Health System. “I thank Senator Warner for championing this timely and proactive initiative encouraging all Americans to make their preventative health a priority.”