University Health doctor tells lawmakers more resources are needed for long COVID-19 patients
UPDATE: The long COVID-19 recovery clinic at University Health has closed as of 2/27/23. Patients are encouraged to see their primary care provider to manage and treat symptoms of long COVID.
The doctor who founded the Post-COVID Recovery Clinic at University Health and UT Health San Antonio told a congressional committee Thursday that more resources are needed to support patients who develop long COVID-19, a name that’s been given to the debilitating illnesses many develop after battling the initial virus.
“Patients are simply unable to afford the costs of long COVID treatment out of pocket, especially given the wide range of services required for appropriate treatment,” said Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, medical director of Rehabilitation Medicine Services at University Health and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.
During testimony before the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, Dr. Gutierrez said she’s aware of more than 50 symptoms that can affect patients with long COVID-19, including memory loss, fatigue, insomnia, breathing difficulty and stroke-like paralysis. She said assessing these patients takes time doctors may not have and effective treatment can mean seeing multiple specialists for services insurance won’t cover.
“I see insurers denying coverage of services and treatments for individuals with long COVID-19, citing a lack of evidence-based practice guidelines, which take years to develop,” said Dr. Gutierrez.
She said many of her patients suffer lingering COVID-19 symptoms indefinitely and are so disabled they are unable to return to work and cannot complete normal daily tasks. She has treated patients who qualify for disability support, and watched as they grow sicker while waiting two years for their Medicare coverage to take effect.
Pending legislation known as the “Stop the Wait Act” seeks to help disabled people, including those with long COVID-19, receive medical coverage for disabilities more quickly. The primary sponsor of that legislation, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee that held the hearing entitled, “Bridging Health Equity Gaps for People with Disabilities and Chronic Conditions.”
Other medical providers and a long COVID-19 patient also testified, calling for the extension of telemedicine services that have been available during the pandemic. They said doctor visits conducted by phone or through web services have provided valuable health care access for patients who have limited transportation or difficulty scheduling in-person appointments.