Issue Position: Health
The modernization of the Medicare system is a health policy issue demanding our attention. Florida's three million Medicare beneficiaries legitimately are concerned about limited access due to a shortage of health professionals, the expense and availability of certain treatments - especially prescription drugs - and growing out-of-pocket expenses. Senator Nelson feels those who have paid Medicare insurance premiums all their lives deserve to have full access to the program.
Senator Nelson will continue to support modernizing reimbursement rates for Medicare providers. Without addressing this issue, Senator Nelson believes individuals and communities will continue to be underserved as few quality providers offer services.
Additionally, Senator Nelson has filed legislation aimed at maintaining equal access to the Medicare program. The Equal Access to Medicare Act of 2005 would prevent doctors from charging "access fees" on top of Medicare payments in exchange for continued treatment. Allowing this growing practice to continue unfettered could contribute to the looming shortage of doctors available to serve low - and middle-income beneficiaries.
Medicare Prescription Drug Plan
Congress recently passed the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, adding a new prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program. Senator Nelson voted against the Medicare prescription drug benefit because it was too complicated, did not adequately protect seniors' retiree coverage and failed to address the escalating costs of prescription drugs. Senator Nelson believes seniors deserve a better Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Amid widespread reports of confusions regarding the program, Senator Nelson has introduced the Medicare Informed Choice Act, a bill that would give seniors more time to enroll in the new Medicare prescription drug program. He believes this extra time will allow seniors to fully research their options, ask questions, and make informed decisions. Nelson remains optimistic about the future of this legislation in 2006.
Unfortunately, the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 forbids the government from negotiating lower prescription drug prices on behalf of seniors. In reaction, Senator Nelson cosponsored a bipartisan bill that would allow Medicare to begin bargaining for discounted prices.
Senator Nelson supports a woman's right to choose as set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. He opposes late-term abortion, except in cases in which the life or physical health of the mother is threatened.
Health Insurance for Small Business
Increasing access to health insurance coverage is one of Sen. Nelson's top priorities. In fact, he recently received an award from a major small business organization for his support of the Small Employers Health Benefits Program Act of 2006 (SEHBP). That legislation is based on the successful federal employee health insurance program, and would allow small businesses to pool their employees together to increase access. It would lower health-care costs while maintaining important consumer protections. A different bill, S. 1955 by Sen. Enzi, contains provisions that would harm consumers by eliminating important benefits such as cancer screenings, diabetes supplies and mental health treatments.
End-of-life decisions are difficult and profoundly personal for all Americans, but Senator Nelson hopes to make the process slightly simpler in the future. Following the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, Nelson filed legislation to make it easier to complete living will documents. He hopes this bill will help more people live their last days as they wish and without the interference of judges and politicians.
Patients' Bill of Rights
Nelson voted for a patient's bill of rights that puts decision-making about health care back in the hands of the doctors and the patients - and out of the hands of the HMO accountants. The bill is awaiting further action.