Millions of Americans are experiencing the mysterious post–COVID-19 infection syndrome known as long COVID. President Joe Biden pledged Tuesday (April 5) in a presidential memorandum to increase support for patients, including bolstering insurance coverage and accelerating federal research into the underlying causes in the hopes of providing some relief.
“This is the first effort that truly comports with the needs of people who are suffering,” Diana Berrent, founder of the long COVID support group Survivor Corps, tells the Associated Press.
In the memorandum, Biden called on the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “coordinate a new effort across the federal government to develop and issue the first-ever interagency national research action plan on Long COVID,” according to a White House fact sheet. The plan must include expanding the large NIH study already underway, and “will advance progress in prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and provision of services, supports, and interventions for individuals experiencing Long COVID and associated conditions,” the fact sheet says. The memorandum requires an HHS report in four months’ time that will detail the services and support available to those with long COVID, and directs federal agencies to provide doctors and patients with science-based best practices for treating the condition.
The White House fact sheet also specifically uses disability terminology, stating that the “COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in new members of the disability community,” which the AP notes may mean patients are entitled to the specific federal protections afforded to people with disabilities.
Leana Wen, a physician who previously served as Baltimore health commissioner and later headed Planned Parenthood, tells the AP, “This is a very important move on the part of the Biden administration to acknowledge that long COVID is real, that it is a significant threat, and that much more needs to be done.” She adds, “The emphasis on treatment for long COVID, and recognizing that this could be a source of ongoing disability, are long overdue.”
Other experts say more is needed. Ezekiel Emanuel, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist who spearheaded recent recommendations for addressing the condition, tells The Washington Post that the move is “good step in the right direction . . . but it needs to be bigger and faster.”