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Public Statements

Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - February 12, 2007)

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By Mr. KENNEDY (for himself, Ms. Snowe, Mr. Reed, and Mr. Brown):

S. 549. A bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics used in the treatment of human and animal diseases; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, it is a privilege to join Senator SNOWE in introducing ``The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007.' I am also pleased that this year we are joined by Senator SHERROD BROWN, who championed this legislation so ably as a member of the House of Representatives.

Our goal in this important initiative is to take needed action to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating diseases. These drugs are truly modern medical miracles. During World War II, the newly developed ``wonder drug' penicillin revolutionized care for our soldiers wounded in battle. Since then, such drugs have become indispensable in modern medicine, protecting all of us from deadly infections. They are even more valuable today, safeguarding the Nation from the threat of bioterrorism.

Unfortunately, in recent years, we have done too little to prevent the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and other germs, and many of our most powerful drugs are no longer effective.

Partly, the resistance is the result of over-prescribing such drugs in routine medical care. Mounting evidence shows that indiscriminate use of such drugs in animal feed is also a major factor in the development of antibiotic resistant germs.

Obviously, if animals are sick, whether as pets or livestock, they should be treated with the best veterinary medications available. That is not the problem. The problem is the widespread use of antibiotics to promote growth and fatten healthy livestock. Such nontherapeutic use clearly undermines the effectiveness of these important drugs, because it leads to greater development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can make infections in humans difficult or impossible to treat.

In 1998--nine years ago--a report prepared at the request of the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration by the National Academy of Sciences, concluded: ``There is a link between the use of antibiotics in food animals, the development of bacterial resistance to these drugs, and human disease.' The World Health Organization has specifically recommended that antibiotics used to treat humans should not be used to promote animal growth, although they could still be used to treat sick animals.

In 2001, a Federal interagency task force on antibiotic resistance concluded that ``drug-resistant pathogens are a growing menace to all people, regardless of age, gender, or socio-economic background. If we do not act to address the problem ..... [d]rug choices for the treatment of common infections will become increasingly limited and expensive--and, in some cases, nonexistent.'

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of all U.S. antibiotics are used nontherapeutically in animal agriculture--8 times more than are used in all of human medicine. This indiscriminate use clearly reduces their potency.

Major medical associations have been increasingly concerned, and have taken strong stands against antibiotic use in animal agriculture. In June 2001, the American Medical Association adopted a resolution opposing nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animals. Other professional medical organizations that have taken similar stands include the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American Public Health Association, and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. The legislation we are offering has been strongly endorsed by the American Public Health Association and numerous other groups and independent experts in the field.

Ending the current detrimental practice is feasible and cost-effective. Last month an economic study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University examined data from the poultry producer Perdue. In this study of 7 million chickens, the slight benefit from the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics was more than offset by the cost of purchasing antibiotics.

In fact, most of the developed countries in the world, except for the United States and Canada, already restrict the use of antibiotics to promote growth in raising livestock. In 1999, the European Union banned such use, and funds saved on drugs have been invested in improving hygiene and animal husbandry practices. Researchers in Denmark found a dramatic decline in the number of drug-resistant organisms in animals--and no significant increase in animal diseases or consumer prices.

These results have encouraged clinicians and researchers to call for a similar ban in the United States. The title of an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine 6 years ago said it all: ``Antimicrobial Use in Animal Feed--Time to Stop.'

In the last Congress, over 350 organizations representing scientific and medical associations, consumer and environmental groups as well as animal rights and religious groups endorsed this legislation and called for an end to the reckless and irresponsible use of these critically important medicines.

The Nation is clearly at risk of an epidemic outbreak of food poisoning caused by drug-resistant bacteria or other germs. In recent years, many nations, including the United States, have been plagued by outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. Imagine the consequences of an outbreak caused by a strain of bacteria immune to any drugs we have. It is time to put public safety first and stop this promiscuous use of drugs essential for protecting human health.

The bill we are introducing will phase out the non-therapeutic use in livestock of medically important antibiotics, unless manufacturers can demonstrate that such use is no danger to public health. The Act applies this same strict standard to applications for approval of new animal antibiotics. Such use is not restricted if the animals are sick, or if they are pets or are animals not used for food. In addition, FDA is also given authority to restrict the use of important drugs to treat such animals, if risk to humans is in question.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, eliminating the use of antibiotics as feed additives in agriculture will cost each American consumer not more than five to ten dollars a year. The legislation recognizes, however, that economic costs to farmers in making the transition to antibiotic-free practices may be substantial. In such cases, the Act provides for Federal payments to defray the cost of shifting to antibiotic-free practices, with special preference for family farms.

Antibiotics are one of the great miracles of modem medicine. Yet today, we are destroying them faster than the pharmaceutical industry can replace them with new discoveries. If doctors lose these vital medications, the most vulnerable Americans will suffer the most--children, the elderly, persons with HIV/AIDS, and others who are most in danger of drug resistant infections. I urge my colleagues to support this clearly needed legislation to protect the health of all Americans from the reckless and unjustified use of antibiotics.

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By Mr. KENNEDY (for himself, Mr. Enzi, Mr. Dodd, and Mr. Alexander):

S. 556. A bill to reauthorize the Head Start Act, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, it is a privilege to join Senators ENZI, DODD, and ALEXANDER in introducing the Head Start for School Readiness Act. Our goal is to reauthorize Head Start and continue our bipartisan support for this very successful program to prepare low-income children for school.

For over forty years, Head Start has given disadvantaged children the assistance they need to arrive at school ready to learn. It's comprehensive services guarantee balanced meals for children, and a well-defined curriculum to see that children develop early skills in reading, writing, and math, and positive social skills as well. It provides visits to doctors and dentists, and outreach to parents to encourage them to participate actively in their child's early development.

It is clear that Head Start works. A federal evaluation found that Head Start children make gains during the program itself, and the gains continue when the children enter kindergarten. Once Head Start children complete their kindergarten year, they are near the national average of 100 in key areas, with scores of 93 in vocabulary, 96 in early writing, and 92 in early math.

We've made tremendous, bipartisan progress this year in our effort to reauthorize Head Start and build upon a program that serves as a lifeline for the neediest families and children across the Nation.

In this legislation, we build on Head Start's proven track record and expand it to include thousands of low-income children who are not yet served by the program. We provide for better coordination of Head Start with state programs for low-income children. We strengthen Head Start's focus on school readiness and early literacy. We enhance the educational goals for Head Start teachers. And we provide greater accountability for the program, including new policies to ensure improved monitoring visits and new policies to address programs with serious deficiencies.

To strengthen Head Start, we have to begin by providing more resources for it. The need for Head Start is greater than ever. Child poverty is on the rise again. Today, less than 50 percent of children eligible for Head Start participate in the program. Hundreds of thousands of three- and four-year-olds are left out because of the inadequate funding level of the program. Early Head Start serves only 3 percent of eligible infants and toddlers. It is shameful that 97 percent of the children eligible for Early Head Start have no access to it. It's long past time for Congress to expand access to Head Start to serve as many infants, toddlers, and preschool children as possible.

The bill that we introduce today will set a goal to expand Head Start over the next several years. We call for increases in funding, from $6.9 billion in the current fiscal year, to $7.3 billion in FY 2008, $7.5 billion in FY 2009, and $7.9 billion in 2010. These funding levels are critical to advance the essential reforms in this legislation, and to serve thousands of additional children in the Head Start program.

Early Head Start is an especially important program for needy infants and toddlers. Research clearly shows its benefit to infants and toddlers and their families. Early Head Start children have larger vocabularies, lower levels of aggressive behavior, and higher levels of sustained attention than children not enrolled in the program. Parents are more likely to play with their children and read to them.

This bill will double the size of Early Head Start over the course of this authorization, and deliver services to over 56,000 additional children over the course of this authorization.

Our bill establishes a Head Start Collaboration Office in every state to maximize services to Head Start children, align Head Start with kindergarten classrooms, and strengthen its local partnerships with other agencies. These offices will work hand in

hand with the Head Start network of training and technical assistance to support Head Start grantees in better meeting the goals of preparing children for school.

States will also have an active role in coordinating their system of early childhood programs, and increasing the quality of those programs. Our bill designates an Early Care and Education Council in each State to conduct an inventory of children's needs, develop plans for data collection and for supporting early childhood educators, review and upgrade early learning standards, and make recommendations on technical assistance and training. For those States ready to move forward and implement their statewide plan, our bill will offer a one-time incentive grant to implement these important efforts.

Over the past four decades, Head Start has built up quality and performance standards to guarantee a full range of services, so that children are educated in the basics about letters and numbers and books, and are also healthy, well-fed, and supported in stable and nurturing relationships. Head Start is a model program, and we can enhance its quality even more.

One way to do that is to strengthen Head Start's current literacy initiative. We know the key to later reading success is to get young children excited about letters and books and numbers. Our bill emphasizes language and literacy, by enhancing the literacy training required of Head Start teachers, by continuing to promote parent literacy, and by working to put more books into Head Start classrooms and into children's homes.

We also make a commitment in this bill to upgrade all of the educational components of Head Start, and ensure that services are aligned with expectations for children's kindergarten year and continue to be driven by the effective Head Start Child Outcomes Framework.

At the heart of Head Start's success are its teachers and staff. They are caring, committed persons who know the children they serve and are dedicated to improving their lives. They help children learn to identify letters of the alphabet and arrange the pieces of puzzles. They teach them to brush their teeth, wash their hands, make friends and follow rules. Yet their salary is still half the salary of kindergarten teachers, and turnover is high--11 percent a year.

Because a teacher's quality is directly related to a child's outcome, our bill establishes a goal to ensue that every Head Start teacher have their A.A. degree and 50 percent earn their B.A. degree over the course of this authorization. Head Start teachers and staff are the greatest resource to children and families in the program, and we must match these ambitious reforms and improvements with the funding needed to see that Head Start programs can meet these goals.

We have also granted additional flexibility in this bill for Head Start programs to serve families and children that need services at the local level. We've lifted the eligibility requirements so that families living below 130 percent of the federal poverty rate can qualify and participate in Head Start. Often, these are the neighbors of Head Start children with similar needs, but currently remain barred from participating in the program.

Under this bill, Head Start programs will be empowered with greater authority to determine the needs of families in their local communities and define services to meet those needs. If programs determine that there is a greater share infants and toddlers in need of services, our bill allows them to apply to the Secretary to convert and expand Head Start to serve those youngest children, consistent with Early Head Start standards. If programs identify a need to provide full-day or full-year care for children and families, they can take steps to do so.

Accountability is a cornerstone of excellence in education and should start early. Head Start should be accountable for its promise to provide safe and healthy learning environments, to support each child's individual pattern of development and learning, to cement community partnerships in services for children, and to involve parents in their child's growth.

Head Start reviews are already among the most extensive in the field. Every 3 years, a federal and local team spends a week thoroughly examining every aspect of every Head Start program. They check everything from batteries in flashlights to how parents feel about the program. Our bill takes a further step to improve the monitoring of Head Start programs, ensures that programs receive useful and timely feedback and information, and strengthens annual reviews and plans for improvement.

Our bill also takes an important step to suspend the Head Start National Reporting System. Four years ago, I insisted that instead of rushing forward with a national assessment for every four- and five-year-old in Head Start, this Administration should instead move more deliberately to develop and implement an assessment tool that would help guide and improve Head Start programs. Unfortunately, they rejected that call and proceeded with an assessment--absent sufficient authorization or oversight from Congress--that was later proven by a GAO study to be flawed and inconsistent with professional standards for testing and measurement.

Any assessment used in Head Start must be held to the highest standard. It must be valid and reliable, fair to children from all backgrounds, balanced in what it measures, and address the development of the whole child. Our bill calls on the National Academy of Sciences to continue their work in surveying assessments and outcomes appropriate for early childhood programs, and to make recommendations to the Secretary and to Congress on the use of assessments and outcomes in Head Start programs. I hope the National Academy's work will be helpful as we consider future improvements in the Head Start program.

Finally, this bill appropriately rejects earlier calls to block grant Head Start services, preserving the community-based structure of the program. It makes no sense to turn Head Start into a block grant to the states. To do so would have dismantled the program and undermined Head Start's guarantees that children can see doctors and dentists, eat nutritious meals, and learn early academic and social skills. The current Federal-to-local structure of Head Start enables it to tailor its services to meet local community needs. Performance standards guarantee a high level of quality across all programs. Yet each program is unique and specifically adapted to the local community. Head Start is successful in serving Inuit children in Alaska, migrant-workers' children in Tennessee, and inner-city children in Boston. It is essential to maintain the ability of local Head Start programs to tailor their services to meet the needs of local neighborhoods and their children.

The Head Start for School Readiness Act we are introducing today will keep Head Start on its successful path, and enable this vital program to continue to thrive and improve. I urge our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in advancing and strengthening this program, and give children the head start they need and deserve to prepare for school and for life.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Access to mental health services is one of the most important and most neglected civil rights issues facing the Nation. For too long, persons living with mental disorders have suffered discriminatory treatment at all levels of society. They have been forced to pay more for the services they need and to worry about their job security if their employer finds out about their condition. Sadly, in America today, patients with biochemical problems in their liver are treated with better care and greater compassion than patients with biochemical problems in their brain.

That kind of discrimination must end. No one questions the need for affordable treatment of physical illnesses. But those who suffer from mental illnesses face serious barriers in obtaining the care they need at a cost they can afford. Like those suffering from physical illnesses, persons with mental disorders deserve the opportunity for quality care. The failure to obtain treatment can mean years of shattered dreams and unfulfilled potential.

Eleven years ago, Congress passed the first Mental Health Parity Act. That legislation was an important first step in bringing attention to discriminatory practices against the mentally ill, but it did little to correct the injustices that so many Americans continue to face. The 1996 legislation required that annual and lifetime dollar limits for mental health coverage must be no less than the limits for medical and surgical coverage. But more steps are clearly needed to guarantee that Americans suffering from mental illness are not forced to pay more for the services they need, do not face harsher limitations on treatment, and are not denied access to care.

This bill is a chance to take the actions needed to end the longstanding discrimination against persons with mental illness. The late Senator Paul Wellstone and Senator Pete Domenici deserve great credit for their bipartisan leadership on mental health parity. If it were not for them, we would not be here today.

The bill prohibits group health plans from imposing treatment limitations or financial requirements on the coverage of mental health conditions that do not also apply to physical conditions. That means no limits on days or treatment visits, and no exorbitant co-payments or deductibles. The bill was negotiated by and has the support of the mental health community, the business community, and the insurance industry.

The need is clear. One in five Americans will suffer some form of mental illness this year--but only a third of them will receive treatment. Millions of our fellow citizens are unnecessarily enduring the pain and sadness of seeing a family member, friend, or loved one suffer illnesses that seize the mind and break the spirit.

Battling mental illness is itself a painful process, but discrimination against persons with such illnesses is especially cruel, since the success rates for treatment often equal or surpass those for physical conditions. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, clinical depression treatment can be 70 percent successful, and treatment for schizophrenia can be 60 percent successful.

Over the years we've heard compelling testimony from experts, activists, and patients about the need to equalize coverage of physical and mental illnesses. The Office of Personnel Management talks us that providing full parity to 8.5 million federal employees has led to minimal premium increases. We heard dramatic testimony about the economic and social advantages of parity, including a healthier, more productive workforce.

Some of the most compelling testimony came several years ago from Lisa Cohen, a hardworking American from New Jersey, who suffers from both physical and mental illnesses, and is forced to pay exorbitant costs for treating her mental disorder, while paying little for her physical disorder. She is typical of millions of Americans who not only face the cruel burden of mental illness, but also the cruel burden of discriminatory treatment. No Americans should be denied equal treatment of an illness because it starts in the brain instead of the heart, lungs, or other parts of their body. No patients should be denied access to the treatment that can cure their illness because of where they live or work.

A number of States have already enacted mental health parity laws, but 86 million workers under ERISA have no protection under state mental health statutes.

Mental health parity is a good investment for the Nation. The costs from lost worker productivity and extra physical care outweigh the costs of implementing parity for mental health treatment.

Over the years study after study has shown that parity makes good financial sense. An analysis of more than 46,000 workers at major companies showed that employees who report being depressed or under stress are likely to have substantially higher health costs than co-workers without such conditions. Employees who reported being depressed had health bills 70 percent higher than those who did not suffer from depression. Those reporting high stress had 46 percent higher health costs. McDonnell Douglas found a 4 to 1 return on investment after accounting for lower medical claims, reduced absenteeism, and smaller turnover.

Mental illness also imposes a huge financial burden on the Nation. It costs us $300 billion each year in treatment expenses, lost worker productivity, and crime. This country can afford mental health parity. What we can't afford is to continue denying persons with mental disorders the care they need.

Today is a turning point. We are finally moving toward ending this shameful form of discrimination in our society--discrimination against mental illness. This bill has been seven years in the making, and brings first class medicine to millions of Americans who have been second class patients for too long.

Today, we begin to right that wrong, by guaranteeing equal treatment to the 11 million people receiving mental health services, and promising equal treatment to the remaining 100 million insured workers and their families who never know the day they may need their mental health benefit.

The 1996 Act, was an important step towards ending health insurance discrimination against mental illness. This bill will take another large step forward by closing the loopholes that remain.

It guarantees co-payments, deductibles, coinsurance, out of pocket expenses and annual and lifetime limits that apply to mental health benefits are no different than those applied to medical and surgical benefits.

It guarantees that the frequency of treatment, number of visits, days of coverage and other limits on scope and duration of treatment for mental health services are no different than those applied to medical and surgical benefits.

This equal treatment and financial equity is also applied to substance abuse.

Features of State law that require coverage of mental disorders are protected, to assure those currently protected by state parity laws that their needs will be met.

The medical management strategies needed to prevent denial of medically needed services for patients remain intact.

Finally, the bill is modeled on the parity that is already guaranteed to the 8.5 million persons, including Members of Congress, under the Federal Employee Benefits Program,

Equal treatment of those affected by mental illness is not just an insurance issue. It's a civil rights issue. At its heart, mental health parity is a question of simple justice.

It is long past time to end insurance discrimination and guarantee all people with mental illness the coverage they deserve.

I urge my colleagues to support this important principle, and end the unacceptable double standards that have unfairly plagued our health care systems for so long.

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