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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - March 25, 2009)

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By Mr. KERRY (for himself, Mr. ALEXANDER, Mr. WYDEN, Mr. WHITEHOUSE, and Mr. BROWNBACK):

S. 701 A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to improve access of Medicare beneficiaries to intravenous immune globulins (IVI); to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, as we move forward with comprehensive health reform we must also not ignore that some of our most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries are subject to costly, bureaucratic red tape which is delaying
essential, life-saving treatments. Addressing this problem can both increase the quality of life for many patients and ease financial burdens for their medical providers.

Between 6,000 and 10,000 Medicare beneficiaries have primary immunodeficiency diseases, PIDD, that require intravenous immunoglobulin, IVIG, treatment to maintain a healthy immune system.

Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases, PIDD, are disorders in which part of the body's immune system is missing or does not function properly. Untreated PIDDs result in frequent life-threatening infections and debilitating illnesses. Even illnesses such as the common cold or the flu can be deadly for someone with PIDD.

Because of advances in our medical understanding and treatment of primary immune deficiency diseases, individuals who in the past would not have survived childhood are now able to live nearly normal lives. While there is still no cure for PIDD, there are effective treatments available. Nearly 70 percent of primary immune deficient patients use intravenous immunoglobulin, IVIG, to maintain their health.

Immunoglobulin is a naturally occurring collection of highly specialized proteins, known as antibodies, which strengthen the body's immune response. It is derived from human plasma donations and is administered intravenously to the patient every three to four weeks.

Currently, Medicare beneficiaries needing IVIG treatments are experiencing access problems. This is an unintended result of the way Medicare has determined the payment for IVIG. In January 2005, the Medicare Modernization Act changed the way physicians and hospital outpatient departments were paid under Medicare. The law reduced IVIG reimbursement rates so most physicians in outpatient settings could no longer afford to treat Medicare patients requiring IVIG. Access to home based infusion therapy is limited since Medicare currently pays for the cost of IVIG, but not for the nursing services or supplies required for infusion.

As a result, patients are experiencing delays in receiving critically-needed treatment and are being shifted to more expensive care settings such as inpatient hospitals. In April 2007, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, OIG, reported that Medicare reimbursement for IVIG was inadequate to cover the cost many providers must pay for the product. In fact, the OIG found that 44 percent of hospitals and 41 percent of physicians were unable to purchase IVIG at the Medicare reimbursement rate during the 3rd quarter of 2006. The previous quarter was even worse--77.2 percent of hospitals and 96.5 percent of physicians were unable to purchase IVIG at the Medicare reimbursement rate.

We have an opportunity to fix this very real problem with a compassionate and common sense solution. I believe we can improve the quality of life for PIDD patients and cut inpatient expenses by improving reimbursement procedures for IVIG treatments for physicians and outpatient facilities and allowing for home treatments and coverage for related services.

That is why, today, I am introducing the Medicare IVIG Access Act, with Senators ALEXANDER, WYDEN, WHITEHOUSE, and BROWNBACK, to authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to update the payment for IVIG, based on new or existing data, and to provide coverage for related items and services currently excluded from the existing Medicare home infusion therapy benefit. This bill is endorsed by several national organizations from the patient and physician communities, including the Immune Deficiency Foundation, GBS/CIDP Foundation International, the Jeffrey Modell Foundation, the Clinical Immunology Society, and the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

I hope all my colleagues can support this legislation to help patients, physicians, caretakers, researchers, and plasma donors.

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By Mr. KERRY (for himself, Mr. LUGAR, Mr. KAUFMAN, and Mr. MENENDEZ):

S. 705. A bill to reauthorize the programs of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I rise to support the Overseas Private Investment Corporation Reauthorization Act of 2009. Along with Senators LUGAR, KAUFMAN and MENENDEZ, I ask for approval of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation Reauthorization Act of 2009, a bill to reauthorize a vital U.S. Government agency that has assisted U.S. businesses and promoted projects in support of our foreign policy interests since 1971. This legislation reauthorizes the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC, for 4 years.

OPIC is an independent U.S. agency whose mission is to mobilize U.S. private sector investment in poorer countries to facilitate their economic and social development. It provides U.S. companies with financing--from large structured finance to small business loans, political risk insurance, and investment funds.

OPIC operates at no net cost to taxpayers: OPIC charges market-based fees for its products and operates on a self-sustaining basis. Over its 38-year history, OPIC projects have generated more than $72 billion in U.S. exports and supported more than 273,000 American jobs while supporting over $188 billion worth of investments that have helped developing countries generate almost $15 billion in host-government revenues leading to over 821,000 host-country jobs.

OPIC's financing and political risk insurance help U.S. businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises, to compete in emerging markets and meet the challenges of investing overseas when private sector support is not available. OPIC promotes U.S. best practices by requiring that projects adhere to international labor standards.

OPIC also engages in critical foreign policy areas. It is implementing major projects in the Middle East, including Jordan, the West Bank, and Lebanon. In Africa, OPIC has established a new investment fund that will mobilize $1.6 billion of private investment in Africa towards health care, housing, telecommunications and small businesses. The agency also gives preferential consideration to projects supported by small businesses. It has even established a separate department to focus on small business financing. An overwhelming majority of projects supported by OPIC involved small business--87 percent in fiscal year 2006. This is up from 24 percent in fiscal year 1997.

The bill incorporates several important aspects, including: strengthening the rights of workers overseas, and strengthening transparency requirements to ensure NGOs and other interested groups have sufficient notice and information about potential OPIC-supported projects.

We all are aware of the unfortunate history associated with extractive industry projects and developing countries. Our bill ensures that OPIC projects will conform to principles and standards developed by the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. The transparency for extraction investments is a new subsection created by the bill to ensure that countries with extractive industry projects will put in place functioning systems to allow accurate accounting, regular independent audits and broader accountability. Ultimately, this will be an important tool for preventing fraud, bribery and corruption in host countries with extractive projects.

This legislation will also ensure greater transparency for how the Corporation operates. It directs OPIC to provide more detailed information in advance about potential projects so NGOs and other groups can determine their impact. The bill ensures that NGOs and other interested groups will have adequate notice and information about potential OPIC-supported projects, prior to Board meeting votes on OPIC assistance.

I would like to reiterate that OPIC is an important foreign policy tool that encourages U.S. private sector companies to invest in poorer countries and improve their economic and social development. I want to make sure OPIC can continue to do its good work, but I also want to ensure that OPIC adheres to the highest labor and environmental standards, incorporates stringent accountability measures towards extractive industry projects, and promotes a green investment agenda.

In conclusion, I urge my colleagues to approve the Overseas Private Investment Corporation Reauthorization Act of 2009 and join in this effort.

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