Issue Position: Health Care for All
"No medical relationship is more important than the one between you and your doctor." - Congressman Mark Kirk
Congressman Kirk has made accelerating biomedical research and expanding access to health care key priorities in the Congress. He shares a passion to bolster our nation's health care system and believes that enhanced biomedical research, a fair medical liability system, incentives for employers to provide health insurance, commitment to advances in health care technology, and preventive health care initiatives are all critical elements in achieving that goal.
Medicare Modernization and the Prescription Drug Benefit
In the 108th Congress, Congressman Kirk supported the Medicare Modernization Act, which created the new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. Back in 1965 when Medicare was founded, the federal government promised to pay for senior hospital care and doctors' visits. Very few prescription drugs were allowed outside of the hospital. The original Medicare did not pay for lifesaving prescription drugs bought at a local pharmacy.
Today, doctors practice medicine in ways not thought of in 1965. In designing a plan to update Medicare, Congress sought to give seniors the opportunity to leave their program as it was designed in 1965. Many seniors need more. Seniors fighting diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes need outpatient medicines that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The original Medicare law did absolutely nothing to help seniors with these costs.
Congressman Kirk believes seniors ought to have the option to update their Medicare to give peace of mind should they ever face a need for expensive medicine outside the hospital. He visited dozens of senior centers and civic gatherings to discuss the details of the Prescription Drug Program and savings seniors can receive.
The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit began on January 1, 2006. As of May 2006, more than six months after coverage began, over 37 million seniors, including 1.7 million seniors in Illinois, received their prescription drugs through the new Medicare Prescription Drug Program. The average senior saves $1,100 per year in reduced drug costs. However, there are some seniors who have not yet decided whether to participate. That is why Congressman Kirk became original cosponsor of H.R.5399, Medicare Drug Benefit Enrollment Fairness Act of 2006, introduced by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) on May 17, 2006. This bill waives the one percent penalty beneficiaries must pay for each month they sign up beyond the May 15, 2006 deadline. Waiving this penalty will give seniors who now realize the benefits of this plan the opportunity to sign up without paying a burdensome fee.
Medical Malpractice Reform
Securing access to quality health care and keeping doctors in Illinois is one of Congressman Kirk's highest priorities in Congress. Unfortunately, many health care specialists are being forced to scale back or abandon their practices as a wave of unreasonable lawsuits caused insurance premiums to soar. Today, we face a health care crisis in Illinois because of an exodus of doctors leaving the state, restricting effective care and jeopardizing patient safety.
To help protect patients, Congressman Kirk co-sponsored H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care (HEALTH) Act, which takes several steps to ensure that health care liability, does not cripple physician care. The HEALTH Act discourages frivolous lawsuits by capping non-economic damages, limits lawyer's contingency fee, and increases the share of court awards that go to injured patients. President Bush indicated he would sign this legislation which is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.
Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research
Congressman Kirk believes that the federal government must support the groundbreaking promise of stem cell research. Pluripotent stem cells have the ability to develop in nearly any cell in the human body, providing real hope for the millions of Americans suffering from a wide-range of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and even spinal cord injuries.
Congressman Kirk is a leader in gaining passage of reasonable legislation expanding the current restrictive stem cell policy. He was an original co-sponsor of H.R.3, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. This bill would allow the federal government to fund research on stem cells derived after August 2001 that have been derived with the following requirements: originally created for fertility treatment purposes, in excess of clinical need, and otherwise would have been discarded, written consent provided by donor. Congressman Kirk was proud to support the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act when it passed the House of Representatives on January 11, 2007.
Click here to see the Powerpoint Presentation Congressman Kirk gave to Biomedical Industry Convention at McCormick Place on April 11, 2006.
On May 16, 2005, Congressman Kirk chaired an Ad Hoc Congressional Hearing on Stem Cell Research with Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Congressman Joe Schwartz (R-MI) with three of the world's leading experts on embryonic and adult stem cell research, and three patients suffering from Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes, and spinal chord paralysis.
Saving our Veteran's Hospital
As veteran, Congressman Kirk understands the sacrifices made by those who wore their country's uniform.
Congressman Kirk believes the federal government must honor its commitments to our nation's veterans. To ensure quality healthcare for the Greatest Generation and all veterans, Congressman Kirk helped save the North Chicago Veterans Hospital from closing by pioneering a plan to combine our northern Illinois veterans hospital with a new naval hospital planned for Naval Station Great Lakes. The Navy now plans to build a $100 million Joint Ambulatory Care Center right next to the North Chicago Veterans Hospital, offering medical care for both veterans and active duty patients. On July 10, 2006, Congressman Kirk joined Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon Mansfield at the ribbon cutting ceremony opening the newly renovated joint Navy/VA Operating Rooms and Emergency Room at the North Chicago VA Hospital.
Strengthening Illinois Hospitals
When Lake County hospitals were administratively separated from the higher reimbursing Chicagoland area, Congressman Kirk secured an agreement with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to continue paying Lake County hospitals the lucrative Cook County "wage index." This agreement saved Lake County hospitals upwards of $6 million through 2009.
Congressman Kirk is also working with his colleagues in the Illinois delegation to increase Illinois Medicaid dollars. In December 2004, CMS approved the Illinois Hospital Assessment Program for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005, which brought the state an additional $430 million in much needed Medicaid funding, including nearly $8 million for 10th district hospitals. Congressman Kirk is now working in a bipartisan manner with the Illinois delegation to approve more federal Medicaid funds for Illinois.
Accelerating Fully Electronic Medical Records
As a member of the 21st Century Health Caucus, Congressman Kirk is committed to supporting health information technology a means to reduce medical errors and save taxpayer dollars. He is a cosponsor of H.R.4157, The Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2005, introduced by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT), which creates an Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and establishes electronic health record standards to make systems across the country interoperable. H.R. 4157 passed the House of Representatives on July 27, 2006.
Improving Physician Reimbursement
Physicians are the cornerstone of our health care system. We must ensure Medicare reimburses physicians at a level that allows them to continue to provide services to Medicare patients. Physicians are currently reimbursed based on a complex dysfunctional formula called the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR).
Under current law, the SGR formula would cut physician reimbursements by 4.8 percent on January 1, 2007. With no congressional intervention, this cut would cause more physicians to opt out of the Medicare system, resulting in diminished access to care. Last year, Congressman Kirk supported legislation, known as the Deficit Reduction Act, which erased the proposed 4.4 percent cut in 2006. Congress should intervene again to undo the cuts to physician reimbursement proposed for 2007.
Recently, Congressman Kirk joined over 80 colleagues in signing a letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging them to immediately address these drastic cuts.