By Congressman Dan Newhouse
The New Year should be a time of hope and looking forward to plan for a fresh start. While many may take the ability to plan for the future for granted, for more than 5 million Americans facing the challenge of living with Alzheimer’s disease and their 15 million family members and friends who serve as caregivers, planning for the future can become increasingly difficult. But there is a practical way to relieve some of this burden and empower people facing Alzheimer’s and their caregivers with information to help.
The impact of Alzheimer’s disease is staggering, both in personal and economic terms. In our state alone, 100,000 people currently suffer from Alzheimer’s. In 2012, Alzheimer’s was the third leading cause of death in Washington. In Washington, the 369,000,000 hours of care provided by the family and friends of those impacted by the disease totaled more than $4.4 billion. There are steps that we can take to improve the lives of those dealing with this debilitating disease, including making improvements to make planning for the future a little bit easier.
Evaluating options for care can seem daunting to patients who have just received a diagnosis. For individuals initially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or any disease, it is critical to take the timely opportunity to plan for the next stages of support and long-term care. To encourage families to take that step, I co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in Congress, H.R.1559, the Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act of 2015. The HOPE Act would provide Medicare coverage for a care planning session to offer information about medical and non-medical options for Alzheimer’s treatments and support for newly-diagnosed individuals and their caregivers. A planning session would help provide better care and outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries living with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as related dementias, by building upon existing Medicare coverage of diagnostic evaluations.
In addition to expanding educational options for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, funding for the National Institutes of Health’s research is vital to continue working toward a cure and to improve treatment. The cost imposed by Alzheimer’s will exceed $226 billion in 2015 for health care, long-term care and hospice care, so a long-term focus on a cure is not simply the right thing to do: it also makes economic sense. I support robust funding for the National Institutes of Health to advance research to continue important work toward finding a cure.
To empower individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, Congress should take these two important steps of providing additional support to researching a cure and covering comprehensive care planning services.