Issue Position: Health Care
As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, I am committed to enhancing our nation's healthcare by addressing the issues of cost, quality, coverage and accessibility.
It is vital that we empower individuals to take charge of their own healthcare by providing access to an affordable insurance market through tax credits and deductions. The cost of healthcare will then be tied to consumer demands and through increased competition in the private market, consumers will be able to find best prices, most choice and improvements in quality care and access to care. There are currently 44 million uninsured individuals in America and 9 million uninsured children. It is critical that Congress work to provide access to affordable healthcare insurance for all Americans.
Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research is one of the most important issues we will deal with and I have tried to approach the debate in as careful a manner as possible. I understand both the potential and promise that such research holds as well as its moral implications. I have consulted preeminent scholars and researchers around the country who are on the verge of breakthroughs in several areas and who believe that embryonic stem cell research could hold the key to their success. In every meeting or conversation I've had on this issue, I also have raised the moral implications that concern us all. Certain methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells could destroy a potential life in the process, and that is unacceptable. There are also concerns that this research could lead to human cloning or fetal farming, both of which I adamantly oppose.
I have worked during the past year to draft a solution that would allow this important research to move forward without compromising moral standards. My proposal is based on research that is being conducted at the University of Georgia in which embryonic stem cell lines are created from the natural byproducts of in-vitro fertilization. This byproduct material includes only those embryos that could never become a fetus. This is a good compromise because we receive the benefit of embryonic stem cells without destroying a potential life.
In March 2007, I introduced S.30, the Hope Offered through Principled and Ethical Stem Cell Research (HOPE) Act, with Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). The HOPE Act allows science to move forward in an ethical and moral way by permitting federal funding of scientific research that does not harm embryos, such as deriving cells from amniotic fluid and placentas, and from embryos that have died naturally.
On April 11, 2007, the U.S. Senate approved the HOPE Act by a vote of 70 to 28. I was extremely pleased that an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of my Senate colleagues voted in support of the HOPE Act. The vote was an affirmation of the need to expand embryonic stem cell research. It was also an affirmation that there is a way to expand this important research while still respecting the ethical and moral concerns that exist. The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, and President Bush has said he will sign the legislation into law if it reaches his desk.
Reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program
The State Children's Health Insurance Program, which is known as PeachCare in Georgia, is expected to be reauthorized this year, and I am working diligently to help revise the funding formula so that states such as Georgia will receive appropriate compensation for the children they enroll.
I believe formula updates for this program must encourage states to enroll as many eligible children as possible without penalization. Formulary flaws in the past have contributed to programs such as Georgia's PeachCare running out of money in fiscal year 2007. Although emergency funding was appropriated to fix this shortfall, one of my goals is to ensure this situation does not happen again. The program needs to have updated formulas that reward states for lowering the number of uninsured children and that appropriately allocate funds based on population and growth data.
This program has proven to be a success across all 50 states, and I would like to see to it that the program remains true to its original intent - healthcare access for children.
I understand the frustration seniors have with the price of prescription drugs, and I am a strong supporter of access to affordable healthcare coverage. Congress has created Medicare Part D as an option for seniors to help pay for prescription drugs. The Medicare prescription drug plan is the first federally funded insurance program for prescription drugs. Many seniors have signed up for the coverage and have saved money through these plans.
Under Medicare Part D, public hospitals, private providers, insurance companies and pharmacies all negotiate their drug prices with drug manufacturers. With so many providers negotiating with drug companies, you get maximum competition and better prices. Open market negotiations cause the companies wagering for Part D plan coverage to provide the best possible price. Through this competition, the private sector has provided drug coverage for amounts under $5,100 a year.
The program has recently seen great success. Through competition, providers are competing for the lowest price and premiums are down 30 percent since the bill went into effect. Thanks to the Medicare Modernization Act, seniors are able to access a prescription drug plan that provides the most choice at the best possible price.
I am aware that a small group of seniors have been caught in the so-called doughnut hole' and I will work to remedy the situation. The doughnut hole is a gap in coverage that occurs when the beneficiary spends more than $2,250 and must pay 100 percent of drug costs until they reach $5,100. Once they reach that threshold, they are only responsible for 5 percent of their drug costs and Medicare will pay for the rest. An estimated 92 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will never enter the Medicare drug benefits coverage gap and every beneficiary enrolled in a drug plan is protected against catastrophic expenditures.
I am sympathetic to those who are facing this financial burden, and I am working with my colleagues to see that every senior has access to affordable healthcare. Some options to help with these costs are listed on the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services webpage at www.cms.hhs.gov.
I am concerned with the high price of prescription drugs but I disagree that importing drugs from other countries is the answer. I will always support policies that protect consumers by requiring all prescription drugs to be approved for safety measures, regardless of its country of origin. I believe a ban on importation is appropriate unless the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services can ensure the quality and safety of imported drugs. As the world leader in healthcare innovation, the United States is looked to for standards of safety. The Food and Drug Administration has a duty to preserve our standards by providing that all drugs purchased and brought into the United States are safe.
Health Insurance for Small Business
I know firsthand how difficult it is for small businesses to provide health insurance to their employees because I faced the same challenge when I ran a small business, Northside Realty in Atlanta, for more than 20 years. Today, 44 million Americans lack health insurance, and 62 percent of those uninsured are either employed by a small business or dependent on someone who is.
I support legislation that would allow small businesses to pool together, nationally, to create Association Health Plans and either purchase their health insurance from a provider, or self insure in the same way that large employers and unions currently do. This would give small businesses the same market-based advantages and competitive leverage that large employers and unions enjoy when providing employees health insurance. It would also open the doors to affordable health insurance to millions who have to this day gone without, as well as helped to stem the tide of rising health care costs.