By Stephanie Livingston, Arthritis Foundation Advocacy Manager
They say first impressions last a lifetime. The same applies to a child’s first interactions with a pediatric rheumatologist. After finding a diagnosis, it’s vital to work quickly as a team to find a treatment plan that slows disease activity as much as possible during developing years.
I was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA) when I was 12 years old, but there were hints of arthritis activity far earlier that were misunderstood as sports injuries. Misdiagnosis is common with JA, since pain and swelling can be misattributed to growing pains, injuries and other kid-related activities. Now as a young adult, I’m thankful for the impact my pediatric rheumatologist had on my early years with arthritis. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are a handful of board-certified pediatric rheumatologists. But even still, it can be difficult to get an appointment, and those appointments can take time away from school or work.
There are nearly 300,000 kids living with juvenile arthritis in the United States, but fewer than 450 board-certified pediatric rheumatologists available to treat them. That means many kids do not have access to a doctor who specializes in treating children with rheumatic diseases, and many patients travel for hours just to see their doctor. Some states that don’t have any pediatric rheumatologists, like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, require driving more than 250 miles one-way for a doctor’s appointment. This means significant time away from school for the child, and time away from work for a family.
The Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program (PSLRP) seeks to address this substantial workforce shortage. The PSLRP would provide tuition loan repayment to new doctors in subspecialties who choose to practice in underserved areas. Advocates have raised their voices in support of the PSLRP for years, and their hard work just paid off!
The House Labor, Health & Human Services Committee (LHHS) recently released a spending bill and accompanying report that includes funding proposals for a variety of programs and agencies, including the CDC Arthritis Program and PSLRP. The PSLRP has never been officially funded before, so this is a monumental step forward.
This funding is a critical step toward increasing vital arthritis program funding, but the work isn’t over. The Senate Appropriations Committee still needs to negotiate and compromise on their own spending bill to arrive at a final version before funding is finalized. We need you to call on your senators to fund the Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program at $50 million to ensure kids with JA can access the care they need. Take action in five minutes or less by visiting bit.ly/AF-PSLRP. Together, we can ensure a better future for kids with JA.