Saturday, September 14, 2019

Headache on the Hill 2019: The Asks

In my previous post, Headache on the Hill 2019: My Experience, I shared about my personal experience at the annual advocacy event. Below is what I wrote at the end of my time in DC. The majority of this post, however, will speak to our 'asks' for 2019.
"The last few days have been an amazing, exhausting, powerful experience. I joined a wonderful group of patients, advocates, headache specialists, and other supporters in Washington, DC for the 12th annual Headache on the Hill. We met with lawmakers to raise awareness, request increased research funding commensurate to the burden of headache disorders, and demand equal protection and just coverage under Social Security Disability Insurance. I was honored to participate - it was especially rewarding to be working alongside my headache specialist. I will continue advocating for all those affected by headache disorders, and look forward to future visits to the Hill."
This year, we asked our members of Congress to support increased research funding for headache disorders from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and to support requests directing the Social Security Administration (SSA) to revise disease listings for determination of disability benefits for those disabled by migraine and other headache disorders.

Our 'ask' for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was to prioritize research funding commensurate to the burden of headache disorders. Congress has already appropriated funds for the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative to address the need for non-opioid therapies for chronic pain. Some of those funds have been set aside for research in specific areas (back pain and hemodialysis pain). Our request was that some of the appropriated funds be allocated specifically for headache disorders, in proportion to the disease burden.
  • Migraine is the 2nd leading cause of all global disability (1).
  • Headache disorders are the least funded NIH research area among the most burdensome US diseases (2).
  • Migraine research comprises just 0.6% of all NINDS extramural funding (3).

Our 'ask' for the Security Administration (SSA) was to seek equal protection and just coverage under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). When a person applies for SSDI benefits, they are faced with an unfairly arduous process. When that person is filing a claim for benefits due to a headache disorder, they are often initially denied. What I didn't know until Headache on the Hill is why...

The SSA uses a "Blue Book" listing of impairments, when making decisions for disability benefits. If one's impairments meet or exceed the listing, benefits are granted. However, there are NO listings for any headache disorder!

When a person applies for disability due to a headache disorder, the claim is compared to impairment listings for epilepsy. There is no guidance on how to apply an epilepsy listing to headache disorder impairments, and the two aren't sufficiently comparable.

This is unacceptable, given the prevalence and impact of headache disorders:
  • 1 in 7 Americans will experience a migraine attack this year (4).
  • Active migraine attacks disable with impacts comparable to severe dementia or amputation of both legs (5).
  • Only 37% of Americans with chronic migraine are employed full time (6).
  • Socioeconomic status decreases as migraine prevalence increases (7).
Our 'ask' was to reform the Social Security Administration (SSA) Blue Book for fair adjudication of headache disorder claims. We requested that the SSA offer clarification for how SSDI claimants with headache disorders should apply current Blue Book listings, ensure that all listings are updated at least every five years (it was last updated in 2016, but before that was 1985), and add a listing for headache disorders at the earliest opportunity.

UPDATE: On August 26th, the SSA released a new Ruling or SSR with guidance specific for "Evaluating Cases Involving Primary Headache Disorders."

More information about Headache on the Hill 2019:

(1) GBD 2016. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 328 diseases and injuries for 195 countries, 1990-2016: a systemic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet 2019;390:1211-59,
(4) Global Burden of Disease study, 2016,
(5) Salomon JA, et al. Disability weights for the Global Burden of Disease 2013 study. Lancet Glob Health 2015;3:e712-23,
(6) Stewart WF, et al. Employment and work impact of chronic migraine and episodic migraine. JOEM. 2010;52:8-14,
(7) Stewart WF, et al. Migraine prevalence, socioeconomic status, and social causation. Neurology. 2013;81:948-55,

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