MINNEAPOLIS – The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is pushing to have a simple sleep apnea questionnaire included in the initial Welcome to Medicare preventive care visit.
Including such a screening tool would help identify obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) when patients first join the Medicare program and thus improve the odds of diagnosing and treating the condition, said Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, president of the AASM. Getting a handle on OSA could also reduce the potential that the beneficiary will develop related chronic conditions, and that will help Medicare curb expenditures, he said.
An estimated 20% of current Medicare beneficiaries have OSA. That number is expected to grow with the rising obesity rates, he said. Untreated OSA can increase the risk of hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke, said Dr. Morgenthaler, who is professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The AASM has been lobbying Congress to include a validated OSA screen in the initial Medicare visit and found sponsors in Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). In May, the two congressmen introduced a bill (H.R. 4695) that would do just that.
"This important legislation addresses the barriers that prevent new Medicare beneficiaries from receiving what we know to be required sleep apnea services," Dr. Morgenthaler said at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), who recently signed on to the bill as a cosponsor, told AASM attendees that adding an OSA screen to the initial Medicare visit would help increase detection of disease, raise patient awareness, and "improve health care quality and reduce costs to the Medicare program," over the long term.
The AASM is asking its members to back the legislation and educate local lawmakers and patients through the group’s Seniors Sleep Campaign. The association also wants to make it easier for board-certified sleep medicine specialists to care for Medicare patients from start to finish, including durable medical equipment such as continuous positive airway pressure devices.
Currently, antikickback laws prevent sleep specialists and sleep centers from directly providing therapeutic durable medical equipment to Medicare patients, said Dr. Morgenthaler.
The AASM has developed model language for an exception to that statute, which it hopes legislators or regulators will approve, he said.
Eliminating the current fragmented system of care would eliminate waste, simplify the work flow, and improve the quality of care and reduce costs, said Dr. Morgenthaler.