Pain Care Act goes to the House one more time

February 1, 2009

Versions of the Pain Care Act have been introduced in Congress every year since 2003. Passed in the House of Representatives in 2008, it must pass there again before moving to the Senate.

Key Points

Pain care and pharmacy groups will work together this year to reintroduce a bill aimed at educating healthcare professionals and consumers about pain and its treatments.

"There is interest in raising people's awareness that often, people are undertreated for pain," said Kristina Lunner, vice president of government affairs for the American Pharmacists Association in Washington, D.C. Lunner said pharmacists, physicians, and patients need education on appropriate levels of pain treatment.

The National Pain Care Act (HR 2994) was introduced in the U.S. House last session by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), with the support of about 40 medical groups and organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the American Pain Foundation (APF). Although the bill passed in the House in the fall, it must be reintroduced in the current legislative session. If the bill passes in the House, then APF and other groups will work to get the it passed in the Senate.

"Despite the fact that pain affects more than 76 million Americans - more than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined - it remains woefully undertreated and misunderstood," said Will Rowe, executive director of the American Pain Foundation. The bill emphasizes the need to reach underserved populations and to provide resources that will "reduce disparities in access to appropriate pain treatment."

There is also confusion among physicians and pharmacists concerning appropriate doses of pain medication, according to Lunner. "It has been reported that, for fear of the DEA cracking down on them, some practitioners might not prescribe pain medications at all, or not at the levels that patients need," Lunner said. As a result, it is important for patients and practitioners to understand appropriate and allowed levels of pain medication. "We think the bill can help us in moving appropriate pain care forward. It is important for all stakeholders to understand what appropriate pain care is and what the regulations are around it, so they can balance the needs of serving the patients with respecting the needs of the DEA," Lunner said.

Physicians often do not focus on pain conditions as much as they do on other health problems, according to Lunner and Rowe. If the Pain Care Act is passed, Rowe wants the development of a grant program "to provide professional education to better assess and treat people living with pain."

The Pain Care Act also calls for the creation of a pain consortium within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to develop a pain-research agenda and provide funding for studies. "Less than two percent of the research dollars at NIH are used to research pain," Rowe said. The federal government provides support and funding for heart conditions, diabetes, and other conditions. "We want them to do something similar for pain. Typically, it takes people who are in pain 10 different visits to get the proper treatment," Rowe said.

This year, Rep. Capps and Rep. Mike Rogers (D-MI), will reintroduce the bill in the House. If it passes, the APF and other groups will meet with senators and legislative aides. "Between April and June, we are hoping to get it out of the House. Then, it will go to the Senate right after that," Rowe said.

Christine Blank is a writer based in Orlando, Fla.