Issue Position: Health Care
Senator Maria Cantwell believes all Americans deserve access to quality health care. Today, soaring costs, great inefficiency, and waste make that goal largely unreachable - more people are uninsured than ever before. Maria believes that the dual tasks of reducing costs and improving quality in health care are inextricable and has long fought to accomplish both at once. Maria has taken significant steps to make sure that even the most vulnerable in Washington state have accessible, affordable health care. Maria continues her work to bring the most qualified health professionals into many of Washington's underserved regions and to extend care to many of Washington's neediest children. She has worked to implement cutting edge information technology to improve communication, bring down costs, and reduce errors. Maria has empowered small businesses to provide coverage for their employees and invested today, in the next generation of experts that may very well find, tomorrow, the great cures of this century.
Preserving Medicare for Washington Seniors
Maria believes Medicare should be a universal benefit for America's seniors. Prescription drugs should covered by the Medicare program, but Maria believes the Medicare Part D program is inadequate because it leaves too many Washington seniors behind by failing to rein in soaring drug costs or ensure that low-income beneficiaries won't be hurt. She worked hard to pass a more effective plan, and continues to call for changes so seniors can actually take advantage of the program at the lowest prices possible. Maria supported extending the prescription drug benefit enrollment deadline and waiving the penalty. She continues to reach out to the millions of seniors still without adequate drug coverage and to advocate changes that would eliminate gaps in prescription drug coverage and provide life-saving medications to low-income and disabled seniors.
Helping Children Get Quality Care
Maria has fought hard to protect the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which because of the funding formula short-changed states like Washington that were providing more care for children before the program started. Securing a short-term fix, Maria returned $23 million to Washington state in 2004. She continues to cosponsor legislation to make the temporary adjustment a permanent one, also cosponsored the Children's Health Protection and Improvement Act of 2004, which would keep unspent SCHIP dollars in reserve for future use.
Medicaid: Health Care for Those Who Need it most
Maria is a strong supporter of increasing funding for the Medicaid programs that are critical to so many Washington state residents. She believes that our most vulnerable need access to key medical services and has been working diligently to ensure every citizen has access to quality and affordable medical care. Maria knows how important the vital services provided by disproportionate share hospitals are and is working to make sure they are consistently funded.
Ensuring Rural Access to Care
In rural parts of Washington it is becoming increasingly hard to have access to quality, affordable health care. Maria works hard to support rural health care - improving reimbursement rates to providers and hospitals, providing incentives for doctors to practice in rural areas, and changing Medicare rules to ensure that critical services, including hospitals, home health care are available without the need to travel long distances. When Maria learned that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were posed to issue a rule erroneously stripping the Wenatchee Valley Medical Clinic of its status as a Rural Health Clinic, she went to work. She got CMS to fix its rules, preserving access to care for many of the people in Central Washington, and its six satellite clinics through Central and Eastern Washington.
To help rural and underserved communities get doctors, Maria introduced the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Act, which was signed into law in 2004. By offering grant and loan repayment assistance to medical professionals tax-free, Maria expanded the NHSC's capacity by nearly 70 percent - getting more doctors to rural and underserved communities. More than 70 percent of NHSC clinicians continued to work in underserved communities after their obligation was fulfilled. Of these clinicians, approximately 80 percent remain in service at the site at which they originally served.
Using Technology to Deliver Better, More Cost Effective Health Care
Maria is on the forefront of efforts to improve patient care and save billions through the use of information technology in health care. Maria has worked to increase the use of electronic medical records with federal standards and funding. She supports the Senate-passed Wired for Health Care Quality Act, which helps develop a nationwide interoperable technology infrastructure, particularly focused on small and rural providers. By getting cutting-edge health information technology to hospitals and clinics throughout the country we can improve care and save lives.
Small Business Health Insurance
Maria has a plan to expand coverage within the small-business workforce -- especially for low-income workers -- by making premiums more affordable. She supports the Small Employer Health Benefit Program (SEHBP) (S. 2510) which would allow small employers to pool their risk and provides tax incentives if they elect to cover a portion of their employees' premiums. By bringing businesses together, we can make health care security a reality for thousands of Washington workers.
Expanding the Health Provider Workforce
Maria is working hard to address the shortage of allied health professionals in Washington state and across the nation. She has introduced the Allied Health Reinvestment Act (S. 473) to fund education, practice, and retention programs for a wide variety of allied health professionals, ranging from dental hygienists, dietary and nutrition specialists to lab staff, health IT experts and specialized therapists. Maria has repeatedly supported extend federal funding for medical education programs.
Recruiting and Retaining Nurses
Maria understands that a critical nursing shortage threatens our health care sector as a whole. She is continuing her efforts to attract and retain nursing professionals. She has worked to create a National Nurse Corps Scholarship for those willing to serve in areas with critical nursing shortages and creates grants, loan repayment ands and training programs to assist with recruitment and career development.