Today, U.S. Senator Mark Udall released the following statement after joining President Obama at the historic signing ceremony of landmark health insurance reform legislation:
"Over the last year, my staff and I have spoken with thousands of families and small business owners from across Colorado. Overwhelmingly, they have told me that they want health insurance reform that guarantees insurance companies will treat patients fairly regardless of gender or pre-existing condition and ensure that no one will ever be dropped from coverage or face bankruptcy if they get sick.
"This historic law requires insurance companies to keep their promises to consumers, and it will strengthen our economy by reducing health care costs for the future. We aren't going to create more jobs in America unless we lift the burden of escalating health insurance costs on our economy. Health insurance reform gives us a solid foundation, enabling us to expand affordable coverage to 32 million Americans, reduce the deficit and strengthen our economy while lowering the growth of health insurance costs. It will help small businesses offer insurance to their employees, and prohibit insurance companies from ever rejecting you for coverage based on a pre-existing condition. I'm pleased that the bill also includes provisions I authored with the input of Coloradans.
"Very soon, the Senate will take up a series of improvements to the bill, and although the final bill isn't perfect, I look forward to casting that last vote. I am truly proud to be a part of this historic moment - one envisioned by our nation's leaders since President Teddy Roosevelt a century ago. This is a tremendous achievement that will provide freedom and security for families across Colorado and throughout our nation."
The following is a summary of the Udall-authored and co-sponsored amendments included in the health insurance reform legislation:
Improving Rural Health Care
* Rural Physicians Pipeline Act - Senator Udall's amendment addresses the shortfall of rural physicians by creating a grant program to help expand rural training programs at medical schools. Of Colorado's 47 rural counties, all but three are designated by the federal government as "health professional shortage areas." This amendment is designed to train "home-grown" doctors with a real, personal interest in the health of their communities. A 2008 study found that if all medical schools enrolled just 10 students per class in a program like this, we could double the number of graduating rural doctors.
* Emphasizing Prevention and Wellness in Rural Communities - This Udall-authored amendment expands a provision in the Senate bill that creates a new Community Transformation Grant (CTG) program to help prevent and reduce chronic disease in communities around the country. In order to ensure that big cities are not getting a disproportionate share of this important funding, Senator Udall's amendment requires that these grants be distributed equitably between both rural and urban areas.
Cutting Costs and Expanding Innovation
* Independent Payment Advisory Board - This key amendment, which Senator Udall offered as part of a package by 11 freshman Democratic Senators, expands the scope of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (formerly called the Independent Medicare Advisory Board). The Payment Board is a provision in the Senate bill already championed by Senator Rockefeller, designed to reduce Medicare spending costs.
Senator Udall's amendment directs the board to examine not just Medicare but the entire health care system to find ways to slow the growth of health costs - including steps the private sector could take voluntarily. The provision is based on comments he heard from groups in Colorado and around the country, ranging from AARP to business to labor organizations, as well as suggestions from the Congressional Budget Office on how best to contain costs.
Improving Treatment for Debilitating Diseases
* Cures Acceleration Network - In recent years, the pharmaceutical industry has focused its efforts on the development of "blockbuster" drugs for conditions like hypertension or high cholesterol that will be assured a large market once they are approved. But not all treatments can be "blockbuster drugs" in terms of their lucrative profit potential, and we need to make sure we're incentivizing the development of life-saving treatments for diseases and conditions that can improve and preserve the lives of all Americans. Senator Udall was the lone co-sponsor of this amendment, filed by Senator Specter, to set up a new public-private program at the National Institutes of Health, which provides grants to accelerate the development of drugs and treatments for diseases lacking a market-based incentive for being studied.
Eliminating Health Disparities in Minority Populations
* Office of Minority Health - In Colorado (much like the rest of the nation), minorities have higher incidences of diabetes, childhood obesity, dental disease, childhood asthma and other diseases. Many face obstacles to care, including geographic, cultural and language barriers, racial bias, and poverty. This amendment, which Senator Udall co-sponsored with Senator Cardin of Maryland, strengthens and codifies into law the Offices of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. These offices are critical to monitoring health care trends and quality of care among minority patients in order to evaluate the success of minority health programs and initiatives.
* Modernizing Health Services for Indians - Senator Udall co-sponsored this important amendment offered by the Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Byron Dorgan, which reauthorizes and modernizes the Indian Health Service. This amendment, among other important provisions, will modernize health care delivery systems, address the shortage of medical professionals, promote disease prevention and wellness efforts, and provide resources to address the increasing rate of Indian youth suicide and mental health disparities.