Recently, the U.S. Senate released all 12 spending bills for fiscal year 2021. The Labor, Health, and Human Services budget report includes at least 13 sections related to pain management!

This represents a huge step forward in the national commitment to improving pain care in the U.S.

In particular, the Senate has renewed its commitment to investment in pain by continuing to fund the HEAL Initiative at the National Institute of Health for $500 million, with half the funds going to pain research and half to substance use disorder research.

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Since 2017, Gwenn Herman, LCSW, DCSW, Clinical Director of Pain Connection, has served as a public member/patient advocate on the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee (IPRCC), the highest-ranking permanent pain policy committee in the United States, which was mandated by Congress under the Affordable Care Act. The goal of the IPRCC is to “enhance pain research efforts and promote collaboration across the government, with the ultimate goals of advancing fundamental understanding of pain and improving pain-related treatment strategies.” The committee, which meets twice a year, convened virtually on Nov. 23 to discuss a number of topics related to pain research and clinical care.

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is planning to announce the finalization of a rule that could change how physicians are reimbursed for Medicare part B drugs (drugs administered in doctors’ offices) that are bought and billed by physicians and given to patients.

The regulation would combine newer, more innovative drugs with lower-cost generics into a single lump group for payment purposes. One type of innovative drugs, called 505(b)(2), are built on the research used to approve past medications, but add new technologies or improvements to the medication, like timed release. Examples of these medications are injected steroids for chronic pain and non-opioid alternative medications used for post-surgical pain.

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U.S. Pain Foundation’s Cindy Steinberg, National Director of Policy and Advocacy, has been leading a small workgroup focused on efforts at the federal level to advance the recommendations in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force Report.

In August, the chairs and ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Health Subcommittee, and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar acknowledging the pandemic public health crisis we face, but reminding the secretary that we cannot lose sight of the other ongoing public health crisis of substance use disorder (SUD) and overdose, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. These legislators asked the secretary for a briefing on the SUD crisis and recommendations on what more the federal government needs to do to address this crisis.

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On Sept. 24, the Alliance to Advance Comprehensive Integrative Pain Management (AACIPM) hosted a virtual symposium, “Equity in Access to Comprehensive Integrative Pain Management in Chronic Pain,” in partnership with the U.S. Pain Foundation. Throughout the day, patients, providers, policymakers, and payors shared information and ideas to help bridge the gap between quality pain care and underserved communities.

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In honor of Pain Awareness Month, the U.S. Pain Foundation and the Alliance to Advance Comprehensive Integrative Pain Management (AACIPM) are co-hosting a virtual symposium on equity in pain care on Sept. 24 from 11 am to 3:30 pm ET. The event, “Equity in Access to Comprehensive Integrative Pain Management for People with Chronic Pain” will bring together stakeholders working to improve pain care. It is free and open to all to attend; advance registration is required.

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Advocacy round-up

What better way to honor Pain Awareness Month than taking action at the federal level? Here are a few opportunities to engage this month, along with some advocacy updates.

Ways to engage

  • The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is accepting public comments on whether oxygen should be covered for patients with cluster headache, a rare and debilitating neurological disease. The deadline to comment is Sept. 16. Get tips and help with commenting from the Alliance for Headache Advocacy here.
  • The Alliance for Aging Research is looking for older adults with chronic pain and/or their caregivers to join their #TalkNerdytoMe training series! You’ll receive a $400 stipend and learn how to help advance patient-centered research. Learn more.
  • The Department of Defense is recruiting individuals with chronic pain to participate on panels as “consumer reviewers” of biomedical research.  Interested individuals must be nominated and sponsored by a chronic pain-related advocacy organization and must be able to represent all types of chronic pain, not just the specific condition they live with. Reviewers will receive an honorarium for participating. For more information, contact Melanie Monts de Oca at Melanie.Montsdeoca@gdit.com.
  • The House of Representatives is set to vote this month on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Currently, cannabis is categorized as a schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse, no medical value and is illegal at the federal level. The MORE Act would deschedule cannabis and decriminalize its use at the federal level, which, from the patient perspective, would be an important step forward in improving access to medical cannabis and enabling more clinical research. Currently, 32 states as well as the District of Columbia offer medical cannabis programs. Help us urge legislators to pass the MORE Act here.
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    U.S. Pain joins CBD coalition

    The U.S. Pain Foundation recently has been participating in the Collaborative for CBD Science & Safety (CCSS), created to provide a forum to exchange information and resources and respond to policies and practices affecting cannabidiol (CBD) research, safety, and quality.

    “It is important to the U.S. Pain Foundation that people have access to purchasing safe and high-quality CBD,” says Ellen Lenox Smith, Medical Cannabis Advocacy Co-Director, who participates in the coalition. “Presently, people truly have few guidelines to go by and are paying exorbitant amounts of money and many times not getting the product or results being claimed on the packaging.”

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    Your advocacy has made an impact.

    Congress has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to disseminate the Pain Management Best Practices Report to providers and create a public awareness campaign about pain via the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Committee Report accompanying the FY 2021 Budget Bill!

    The report includes language we requested in our official appropriations submissions. (The language, with key sections underlined, is below.) Also included is our request to collect and report data on the prevalence of pain and various pain syndromes annually.

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    Virtual Advocacy Day update

    A sign created by pain warrior Sherrie Johnson.

    Last month, the U.S. Pain Foundation rallied a total of 761 pain warriors nationwide to urge Congress to allocate funding for the Pain Management Best Practices Interagency Task Force report, a federal blueprint for improving pain care. Cindy Steinberg, National Director of Advocacy and Policy, served on the task force that developed the report.

    Through U.S. Pain’s action campaign, 738 individuals sent 2,452 emails to Congress, and 71 individuals made 167 calls. Meanwhile, the hashtag #aplanforpain was tweeted out roughly 1,000 times across social media platforms. People from across 49 states and D.C. participated (if you live in South Dakota, or know someone who does, please join the campaign!).

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