A sleep apnea screening bill was introduced today in the US House of Representatives by Rep Michael C. Burgess, MD (R–TX). The bipartisan legislation, HR 4695, which is co-sponsored by Rep Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) and endorsed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), would add screening for obstructive sleep apnea to the initial preventive physical examination covered under the Medicare program.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic disease that is common among older adults and damaging to their health,” says AASM President Dr M. Safwan Badr, in a release. “The American Academy of Sleep Medicine commends Rep Burgess and Rep Rush for sponsoring this important legislation and urges the US Congress to pass the bill, which will enhance the patient-centered health care provided to seniors when they enter the Medicare program.”

HR 4695 proposes that an appropriate screening questionnaire be used during the introductory “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit to identify new Medicare beneficiaries who have a high risk for obstructive sleep apnea. The bill would apply to initial preventive physical examinations performed on or after January 1, 2016.

“A sleep apnea screening questionnaire is a simple, validated, and cost-effective tool that can be used to identify Medicare patients who are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea,” says Burgess, a doctor who founded and currently serves as co-chair of the Congressional Health Caucus. “Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea is essential for effective chronic disease management among seniors.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of every five Americans will be aged 65 or older by 2030. It is anticipated that by 2050 there will be 89 million older adults in the United States, more than double the number in 2010. “The proportion of older adults in the US is increasing rapidly,” Rush says. “Screening for sleep apnea is a practical way to promote the health and well-being of our growing population of seniors.”

The AASM initiated the legislation as part of its Seniors Sleep campaign to increase preventive sleep care for individuals entering the Medicare program. After securing the support of Reps Burgess and Rush, the AASM collaborated with their offices to develop the draft language for the bill. Now the AASM is working to secure additional co-sponsors of the bill and a legislative sponsor in the Senate.

Adopted in 2003, the Welcome to Medicare benefit allows new Medicare beneficiaries to receive an initial preventive physical examination and screening services without a co-payment. Other services included in this benefit are cardiovascular screening blood tests, diabetes screening tests, and an electrocardiogram.

The Medicare program provides health insurance for people 65 years of age and older, certain disabled people, and people with kidney failure. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 51.78 million beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare as of July 1, 2012.