Medical Assistance program covers lifesaving asthma procedure

LOCK HAVEN – The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services recently added a lifesaving asthma procedure to its covered procedures under the Medical Assistance program, according to State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre.

Hanna contacted the agency in September to request MA coverage for the AlairBronchial Thermoplasty System for asthma sufferers. The Alair System is the first non-drug treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010 for adult patients with severe uncontrolled asthma. The therapy delivers controlled thermal energy to the airway wall to reduce the amount of excess smooth muscle tissue in the airways. With less smooth muscle, the airways constrict less, reducing severe asthma attacks and making breathing easier.

“This decision is great news for those suffering from severe asthma,” Hanna said. “Our health is one of the most important things we have in this life. It is my hope that this decision by DHS encourages private insurance providers to re-evaluate this proven treatment and add it to their coverage.”

House lawmakers earlier this year adopted a resolution sponsored by Hanna designating May 8 as “Bronchial Thermoplasty Awareness Day” in Pennsylvania and encouraging insurance coverage of the procedure.

Asthma is a chronic disorder of the airways that is complex and characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, airflow obstruction, bronchial hyper-responsiveness and an underlying inflammation. Approximately 24 million Americans suffer from asthma and nearly 3,400 people die every year.

“Nearly 79 percent of patients who were treated with Bronchial Thermoplasty reported a significant improvement in their asthma-related quality of life,” Hanna said. “Those treated experienced a 32 percent decrease in severe asthma attacks, an 84 percent reduction in asthma-related emergency room visits and 66 percent fewer days lost from work, school and daily activities.”

DHS Deputy Secretary Leesa M. Allen confirmed with Hanna that the scientific literature on Bronchial Thermoplasty led the MA program’s Technology Assessment Group, consisting of MA’s medical director and medical directors from enrolled managed care organizations, to endorse the procedure as appropriate for carefully selected patients with severe and persistent asthma.

Hanna said there are 15 Bronchial Thermoplasty clinics in Pennsylvania with BT-certified pulmonologists who undergo a rigorous training and qualification process.

“Five of the top 50 most challenging places to live with asthma are located right here in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Allentown, Pittsburgh, Scranton and Harrisburg,” Hanna said. “It’s only fitting that we offer the most proven relief for it, especially to those whose condition is considered so severe that even the highest dose of standard medications may not alleviate their frequent and life-threatening attacks. This decision is a good thing.”