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Issue Position: Health Care

Issue Position

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Issue Position: Health Care

Health Care Savings Through Prevention

High costs make it increasingly difficult for Alaska's families to afford comprehensive health insurance. The United States spends approximately twice as much on health care per capita as other developed nations, but studies have shown that the quality of our care often lags. Congress continues to fund an antiquated health care system in which patients often end up paying thousands of dollars for "sick" care that could have been prevented. Our healthcare system should reap the benefits of preventative care, helping Americans avoid disease and illness before they occur. According to a study by The Trust for America's Health, only 5% of the total health care spending in the U.S. is on chronic disease prevention activities. I believe a greater emphasis must be placed on preventive health care measures.

Obesity and diabetes are reaching epidemic proportions in America. The financial cost of treating diabetes is a great example of runaway health care spending and how prevention can help save healthcare dollars. $1 out of every $10 spent on health care in the U.S. is spent on diabetes - this alone costs Americans over $174 billion every year. Diabetes contributed to a total of over 224,000 deaths in America in 2005, but research shows that proper diet and exercise can save health care dollars and significantly reduce diabetes rates. An American Diabetes Association study showed that just 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity coupled with a 5-10% reduction in body weight, yielded a 58% reduction in diabetes rates.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death among men and women and will cost America about $450 billion in 2008. Incidence of heart disease can be reduced through preventive steps such as regular exercise, a diet low in fat and cholesterol and not smoking. In fact, a reduction of cholesterol levels by 10% could cut the incidence of heart disease by as much as 30%.

Medicare Reimbursement Rates and Access to Care

Alaskan seniors are increasingly finding diminished access to physicians, in large part due to inadequate Medicare reimbursement rates. In 2003, Senator Stevens and I were able to implement a temporary increase of Medicare reimbursement rates which expired in 2006. We continue to work with the Senate Finance Committee to extend these measures once again. I believe it is important that Medicare beneficiaries have access to primary healthcare services but this cannot be achieved if Alaska physicians are not adequately reimbursed for the high costs of practicing medicine in Alaska.

Changes need to be made to Medicare so that seniors will not have to face waiting lists or seek care in overcrowded emergency departments or even worse, not receive medical treatment altogether. Last year with my support, Congress enacted legislation that averted reimbursement cuts of over 10 percent to Medicare physicians and provided a 0.5 percent increase in reimbursements through June 30, 2008. I believe that long-term reform of the Medicare payment formula is the best way to ensure that Alaska's physicians receive fair Medicare reimbursements that reflect increases in physicians' costs and in turn, will give Alaska's seniors access to quality and continuous healthcare.

Alaskan seniors are increasingly finding diminished access to physicians, in large part due to inadequate Medicare reimbursement rates. In 2003, Senator Stevens and I were able to implement a temporary increase of Medicare reimbursement rates which expired in 2006. We continue to work with the Senate Finance Committee to extend these measures once again. I believe it is important that Medicare beneficiaries have access to primary healthcare services but this cannot be achieved if Alaska physicians are not adequately reimbursed for the high costs of practicing medicine in Alaska.Changes need to be made to Medicare so that seniors will not have to face waiting lists or seek care in overcrowded emergency departments or even worse, not receive medical treatment altogether. Last year with my support, Congress enacted legislation that averted reimbursement cuts of over 10 percent to Medicare physicians and provided a 0.5 percent increase in reimbursements through June 30, 2008. I believe that long-term reform of the Medicare payment formula is the best way to ensure that Alaska's physicians receive fair Medicare reimbursements that reflect increases in physicians' costs and in turn, will give Alaska's seniors access to quality and continuous healthcare.

Addressing Alaska's Physician Shortage and Increasing Federal Funding for Rural, Frontier and Low Income Healthcare Providers

I will continue to support the work of our community health centers, critical access hospitals, and area health education centers. Our rural, frontier and low-income communities depend on these entities for important health needs. In February 2007, I convened a field hearing in Anchorage of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, to examine the physician shortage crisis facing Alaska and other parts of rural America. During the hearing we heard the dire predictions that a "perfect storm" is forming and the health care crisis will only get much worse before it gets better. The physician shortage facing our state - and the nation as a whole - is intolerable.

Congress cannot idly sit by while potentially millions of patients go without care. In response, I introduced the Rural Physician Relief Act, a bill that provides tax incentives for physicians to practice in our most rural and frontier location in the country. In November 2007, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which I am a member, passed legislation that reauthorizes and increases funding for Community Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps. As a member of this Committee, I am committed to improving both programs so healthcare providers such as nurses, physicians' assistants and primary care doctors have access to loan repayment assistance and so that Alaskans can have better access to primary health care services.

Small Businesses Need Access to Quality and Affordable Health Insurance

Small businesses are quickly getting priced out of the health care system and are unable to offer their employees affordable insurance options. I believe there are three initiatives that can help reduce healthcare premiums and make health insurance more affordable for small businesses: The first is to incentivize the use of Consumer Driven Health Plans coupled with Health Savings Accounts that allow consumers to pay for any and all health, dental and prescription drug needs with pre-tax dollars.

The second way is to help Americans become more informed health care consumers. Increased health care transparency will make insurance companies accountable to their consumers and will be especially helpful to small businesses by making them cautious healthcare "shoppers". Every healthcare consumer should be able to compare medical charges and know their out-of-pocket costs beforehand.

The third way to reduce health care premiums is through investing more resources in Health Information Technology (Health IT), which is estimated to produce a cumulative savings of $88 billion over a ten year period. Health IT will freely enable the transfer and sharing of information among all doctors and institutions that care for a patient. These records would lessen the chances of errors and duplication and would encourage better coordination of medical treatment so that all Americans will have the same health care opportunities no matter where they live.


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