Neurologists Lobby Lawmakers on Brain-Related Initiatives

Pauline Anderson

March 11, 2016

A record number of neurologists from 41 US states met earlier this month with federal lawmakers for "Neurology on the Hill," an event held annually by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) to advocate on key issues to Congress.

At the event, 184 neurologists joined 35 patients, caregivers, and other stroke advocates met on Capitol Hill February 29 to March 1 to urge lawmakers to support important pieces of relevant legislation.

"The AAN is broadening its advocacy to reach and include members of the public, as this is the first year patients joined in these efforts," commented Terrence Cascino, MD, AAN president.

Specifically, the Academy is asking members of Congress for continued support and funding for the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, announced by President Barack Obama in 2013.

BRAIN Initiative

The 12-year, public-private BRAIN Initiative project is aimed at revolutionizing the understanding of the human brain. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), by accelerating the development of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary dynamic picture of the brain that shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact.

"Long desired by researchers seeking new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, this picture will fill major gaps in our current knowledge and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store, and retrieve vast quantities of information, all at the speed of thought," the NIH says on its website.

"This ambitious and far-reaching initiative is aimed at developing new tools and technologies, giving neuroscientists a better understanding of the brain," commented Dr Cascino.

"Now that Phase 1 research is being completed, the AAN is becoming even more involved, asking Congress to extend funding so that research can translate into treatments, or even cures, for brain diseases like Alzheimer's, migraine, stroke, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis."

FAST Act

Together with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, the AAN is also seeking support for the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act. The FAST Act would require Medicare to reimburse for telestroke services regardless of where a patient lives.

Telestroke uses videoconferencing to connect stroke patients to off-site neurologists who can examine the patient, immediately interpret brain scan results, and make treatment recommendations in consultation with emergency department personnel. It improves patient outcomes and reduces disability nationwide.

Medicare currently covers telestroke services only for patients treated at a rural hospital, but not for patients at urban or suburban hospitals.

"When you have a stroke, timing is everything," said Mark Creager, MD, president of the American Heart Association, in a press release. "Fast treatment can make a huge difference in your recovery and your quality of life thereafter."

However, Dr Creager pointed out that almost 94% of strokes that occur across the United States take place in areas where telestroke services are not paid for by Medicare.

Including stroke participants in the Capitol Hill initiative amounted to "a very beneficial collaboration" said Dr Cascino. "These individuals put a human face on what the neurologists talk about. Their personal stories were compelling and gave a sense of urgency to passing the FAST Act as soon as possible."

The AAN is also supporting relief from the regulatory burdens of Meaningful Use requirements that have driven the switch from paper charts to electronic records and now penalize those who don't meet all of the requirements.

To date, 703 members of the AAN have participated in "Neurology on the Hill."

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