Washington — October 11, 2023 — Cardiac care experts expressed support for a new bill introduced in the Senate that would restore access to virtual cardiac rehabilitation for hundreds of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries.
Co-sponsored by Senators Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the bipartisan legislation (S. 3021) would permanently extend provisions put in place during the public health emergency to allow patients to complete cardiac rehab programs from home rather than having to travel to a hospital, rehab center, or physician's office. With the end of the public health emergency earlier this year, most virtual cardiac rehab options have already been shut down and cannot be reopened unless Congress takes action.
“For patients who live far from a hospital or who have mobility challenges, it often isn’t a choice between virtual or in-person cardiac rehab, it’s a choice between virtual rehab or nothing,” said Ed Wu, M.D., Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of Recora. “Virtual cardiac rehabilitation works, it keeps people alive longer and out of the hospital, but it won’t be an option for most patients unless Congress acts. Because of the leadership of Senators Sinema, Blackburn, and Klobuchar, we are one step closer to preserving access to a proven therapy that saves lives and reduces costs.”
“Pritikin ICR applauds these efforts to make virtual cardiac rehabilitation (CR), intensive cardiac rehabilitation (ICR), and pulmonary rehabilitation services available to patients via telehealth who may not otherwise be able to participate in these life-saving clinical services," said Terry Rogers, President of Pritikin ICR. "Home-based virtual CR and ICR have greatly improved the provider’s reach to rural and underserved populations and improved health outcomes for patients. This bill will preserve that access for Medicare beneficiaries into the future."
“I heartily (in every sense of the word) and strongly endorse the Sustainable Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Services in the Home Act,” said Dean Ornish, M.D., CEO of Ornish Lifestyle Medicine & Clinical Professor of Medicine, UCSF. “Virtual ICR enables us to help people wherever they live, including rural areas, making better care available to more people at lower cost, reducing health disparities and inequities. ICR & CR are equally safe and effective when done virtually at home, and most patients prefer it.”
“During the pandemic, virtual cardiac rehabilitation proved to be an innovative way of expanding access, especially in communities hardest hit by the closure of rehab centers,” said Dr. Dhruv Kazi, Associate Director of the Smith Center for Outcomes Research and Director of Cardiac Critical Care at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “This legislation is a critical step towards ensuring that patients with heart disease – including rural and low-income patients who may face transportation barriers to accessing in-person cardiac rehabilitation – can continue to have access to preventative care that can literally save their lives.”
Unlike many other types of virtual care, such as behavioral health and maternal health treatment, virtual cardiac rehab was not included in a previous extension passed by Congress. The end of the health emergency in May closed hospital-based virtual cardiac rehab programs across the country — which accounted for more than 95% of programs available to patients. Programs operated out of physicians’ offices have been allowed to continue for the time being but these may also be eliminated at the end of 2024 without legislative action.
Similar legislation (H.R. 1406) was introduced in the House by Representatives John Joyce (R-PA) and Scott Peters (D-CA) earlier this year and has already secured 30 bipartisan cosponsors.
Nearly half of Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease, and heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, completing a cardiac rehab program has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of death or heart attack. Cardiac rehab also decreases healthcare spending, lowering costs by $4,950 to $9,200 per person per year of life saved.
However, cardiac rehab is underutilized, with data showing that more than 90 percent of patients do not complete the three-month program. Prior to the advent of virtual cardiac rehab during the public health emergency, patients generally had to commute to a hospital or doctor’s office multiple times per week to participate. Many Americans live in cardiac rehabilitation deserts, which can include both urban and rural areas where access to in-person rehab is limited.
Virtual cardiac rehab has been shown to be an effective alternative that enables patients to complete their programs at home, bridging gaps in access to care and reducing death rates by 36 percent.
Recora is a digital health and technology company. Recora's Cardiac Recovery Program for health systems, medical groups, and health plans makes it easier to recover from a cardiac event through telehealth. With Recora, healthcare providers are able to establish a longitudinal relationship with patients and help them live longer, fuller lives. To learn more, visit recora.com.
About Ornish Lifestyle Medicine
Ornish Lifestyle Medicine is an ICR program that has been shown in trials to reverse coronary heart disease without medication or surgery. The 9-week online program is reimbursed by Medicare and others. For more information, visit www.ornish.com.
About Pritikin ICR
Pritikin ICR empowers care teams with innovative educational resources and programming while fostering long-term lifestyle change in patients. With twice the number of Medicare-reimbursed sessions as traditional cardiac rehab, Pritikin ICR enables healthcare providers to offer a robust cardiac rehab program that is transformative for their patients and sustainable for their practices. For more information, visit www.pritikinicr.com.