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Headache Patients Go to Washington

One in six Americans suffers from recurrent headaches. Congress can help.

That was the message from hundreds of patient advocates who gathered at the U.S. Capitol for this year’s Headache on the Hill. People living with migraine and other headache disorders use the annual event to highlight legislative solutions that could improve their health care – and their lives.  

What Congress Can Do About Headache

The day’s policy panel discussion spotlighted the impact of step therapy, also known as “fail first,” on people with headache and migraine. 

Step therapy can “delay necessary treatment” and “actually increase health care costs,” explained U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the event’s featured speaker.

Sen. Murkowski has introduced The Safe Step Act (H.R. 2630), which would require health plans to allow exceptions to step therapy requirements. When health care providers recommend a particular medication for a patient, this law would keep insurers from standing in the way.

The bill has garnered 39 bipartisan co-sponsors.  

Why Legislative Reform Matters for Patients & Providers

Step therapy reform could help people like Karla Neville, a patient advocate from San Antonio, Texas, who spoke on the panel.

“A lot of decisions in my life are made for me by my disease,” Karla said of her experience with migraine. She recalled how step therapy requirements led her to endure nine months of ineffective treatment before she got the infused medication her clinician prescribed.

Neurologist and fellow panelist Chaouki Khoury, MD, of Atlanta, Georgia, echoed Karla’s concerns. He also described how step therapy can undermine patients’ trusted relationship with their clinician.

Sarah Buchanan of the Safe Step Coalition offered attendees tips on effective advocacy, while Charlotte Pineda, health policy director for Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) encouraged attendees to share their experiences with their legislators. 

The panel discussion was moderated by Amaal Starling, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The event was hosted by The Headache & Migraine Policy Forum and the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy.

A virtual Headache on the Hill will be held this fall to accommodate those who cannot travel, and ensure their stories are also heard by legislators.

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