Issue Position: Health Care
Our health insurance system is in desperate need of reform. While health insurance premiums continue to mount for those with health care plans, nearly 50 million Americans have no health coverage at all.
I support legislation that would cut health care costs, protect consumer choice, and ensure all Americans access to quality affordable coverage.
Health care reform is about protecting what works and fixing what's broken. It's about giving you choices in the health care you want. Our health care system is broken if private insurance companies dictate which doctors your children can see or which health services you're able to access and afford. I'm committed to reforming our health care system to increase the insurance options available to Americans.
On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law comprehensive health reform legislation, the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." This new law will lower costs and strengthen coverage for middle-class families with insurance, while providing help to the more than 30 million Americans who lack it.
This law will reduce prescription drug costs for seniors by closing the Medicare "donut hole," provide tax credits to small businesses to help them afford coverage for their employees, allow young people to stay on their parents' health plan until age 26, and end insurance company abuses such as pre-existing condition exclusions, gender discrimination, cutting off coverage when it's needed the most, and arbitrary caps on benefits.
When Congress passed this bill, and when President Obama signed it into law, the needs of Ohio's families took priority over the demands of special interest groups. I am proud to have played a role.
Medicare is a landmark public health insurance program that covers retirees and individuals with disabilities -- more than 45 million Americans nationwide. Before Medicare was enacted, nearly half of all retirees were uninsured. Now virtually all retirees have access to meaningful health coverage through Medicare. As health care costs grow, so do the costs of Medicare. It is crucial that we preserve and strengthen Medicare so that retirees and individuals with disabilities can continue to rely on the essential health care coverage it provides.
Correcting the Medicare Physician Payment Formula
The current Medicare physician payment system penalizes doctors for health care trends beyond their control, including changes in the quantity and types of health care services patients need. Punishing doctors for doing their job is both counter-intuitive and counter-productive.
Last year, Congress enacted the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which prevented a scheduled 10.6% physician payment cut and increased physician payments through 2009. I was proud to support this legislation, but it is only a short-term solution. I will continue to push for a new payment mechanism that accurately reflects the costs physicians incur.
Protecting Medicare Beneficiaries from Identity Theft
More than 8 million Americans were the victims of identity theft in 2005, costing the U.S. economy more than $15 billion. One way Americans have been urged to protect themselves from this growing threat is to keep their Social Security number as private as possible, and the Social Security Administration urges citizens not to "routinely carry their social security card or other documents that display your number."
Unfortunately, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has not heeded this advice, issuing 44 million Americans Medicare cards that clearly display the beneficiary's Social Security number. What's worse, beneficiaries are instructed to carry their cards with them at all times, placing millions of older Americans at risk for identity theft. I am working on legislation that would help CMS take the steps necessary to replace existing Medicare cards with cards that pose no risk of identity theft.
Medicaid is a federal-state partnership that provides health care to more than 60 million Americans. In Ohio, the Medicaid program is an essential part of our health care system, our long-term care system, and our economy. Medicaid covers 1 in 3 Ohio seniors in nursing homes. It is a lifeline for low income individuals with severe disabilities and low income children with no other source of health care. Without Medicaid, not only would the public health falter, but health care costs would rise. That's because in the absence of Medicaid, individuals in need would be forced to rely on emergency rooms for delayed and expensive care.
Supporters of Medicaid budget cuts argue that Medicaid costs are growing too fast for the federal government to continue supporting the program. In fact, it is the underlying cost of essential health care that is growing. As an insurer, Medicaid covers rising health care costs more efficiently than private insurers do. Medicaid costs have historically grown about 4.5% a year -- employer premiums have grown at 12.6%.
I will continue to fight to strengthen this crucial public health program while working to ensure that it continues to provide exceptionally cost-efficient coverage.
In an age of global trade, global terrorism, and global population migration, ensuring the nation's health and safety has proven more complicated than ever before. We need to take immediate action to shore up our nation's public health infrastructure, including increasing support for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC safeguards our nation's health and is crucial to all the public health issues we confront, including ensuring our nation responds quickly and effectively when faced with new public health issues like swine flu.
Expanding Access to Community Health Centers
Community health centers around Ohio -- in Dayton, Lorain, Springfield, Lancaster -- and around the state play a vital role in helping Ohioans obtain access to primary and preventative health care services. I will continue fighting for more funding of Ohio's 137 community health care centers so underserved communities receive the health care they need.
Infant mortality rates are a crucial indicator of the health and well-being of populations across the world. Unfortunately, the United States ranks 32nd out of the 33 most industrialized nations in the rate of infant deaths. In part, our country's poor ranking has to do with racial and socioeconomic disparities in access to health care. The Healthy Start Program provides indispensible health and social services to mothers and newborns, and this community-based model has been proven to dramatically decrease infant mortality, low birth-weight, and racial disparities. I am proud to have authored the Healthy Start Reauthorization Act, which became law in 2008 and reauthorized funds for this program through 2013.
Investing in Health Information Technology
Investing in health information technology is the key to improving health care quality and efficiency. I support efforts to make electronic health records the norm in all physicians' offices so that patients and other health providers like pharmacists can benefit from a safer, more efficient system. Health information technology will reduce costly red tape, help prevent medical errors, and, ultimately, save lives. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 invests more than $19 billion to help accelerate adoption of much-needed updates to nationwide health information systems.
Eliminate Tuberculosis and Keep Antibiotics Working
One third of the world's population is infected with the Tuberculosis (TB) bacterium. TB kills 2 million people each year and is the single biggest killer of both people with AIDS and young women in the world. Recently, drug-resistant strains of TB have emerged, dramatically increasing both the costs of treating TB and the lives lost to this disease.
That is why I introduced the Comprehensive TB Elimination Act with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, which became law in 2008. This law will help fight the reemergence of TB in the U.S. and help combat the disease globally. The law also gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the authority to respond to international outbreaks of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) and increase funds for the CDC's National Program for the Elimination of Tuberculosis. The U.S. must lead the way in fighting TB. Only by making TB control a priority globally and domestically can we effectively address this growing threat.
To address the larger problem of antibiotic resistance, in the last Congress I introduced the Strategies to Address Antimicrobial Resistance (STAAR) Act with Senator Orin Hatch, which would help coordinate the government's efforts to combat antibiotic resistant infections like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). I plan to re-introduce the STAAR Act in the 111th Congress.
Strengthening the FDA
In 2006, the United States imported 87.8 billion pounds of food. Currently, FDA food safety inspectors examine about 1 percent of imports. And even if inspectors discover a problem, FDA lacks the authority to issue a mandatory recall. The recent salmonella outbreak also revealed FDA's inability to quickly trace-back contaminated foods to their source. These shortcomings served as the impetus behind my Food Safety and Tracking Improvement Act. This bill would provide the FDA with mandatory recall authority, a power I think most Americans would be surprised to learn it doesn't already have, and would establish a national, standardized, and interoperable traceability system at FDA. The safety of our food supply is too important to be left to voluntary, self-policing by private industry. These bills would give federal regulators the authority and resources they need to achieve our government's most important duty: to keep Americans safe.
Similarly, the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals is, more and more, outsourced to nations like China, and FDA has very little capacity to ensure the safety of imported medications. It has become too easy for any unregulated manufacturer to ship tainted goods straight to our country's grocery stores and pharmacies. I have been working with other concerned Senators to investigate pharmaceutical outsourcing and its impact on drug safety, U.S. drug prices, and U.S. jobs.
Creating Pathways to Generic Biologics
Biologics, which are also known as biotech drugs or biopharmaceuticals, are among the most expensive varieties of pharmaceuticals on the market. But generic versions of these drugs are rare because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently lacks a formalized process, or "pathway," for approving them.
In 2009, I worked with a bipartisan group of Senators to create a pathway for generic versions of biologic drugs. The bill, which President Obama endorsed in his budget, would create a pipeline for generic biologics by creating a safe and efficient evaluation and approval process at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Biologics are a new generation of life-saving treatments for diseases like cancer, arthritis, and diabetes, but they are often prohibitively expensive. Just as the availability of generic drugs have helped bring down the costs of medicines for millions of Americans, competing versions of brand-name biologics will make these breakthrough treatments more accessible and affordable for middle class families.
I support increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the cornerstone of medical advancement in the United States, financing lifesaving research to improve the health and well being of all Americans.
Embryonic stem cell research is an extremely promising avenue of medical research and it is in the interest of Americans now and in the future to invest generously in it. That is why we must promote initiatives that translate basic stem cell research into lifesaving medical treatments.
Expanding Access to Cancer Clinical Trials
Cancer patients should be able to pursue the best courses of treatment without putting their financial security at risk.
That's why I introduced the Cancer Clinical Trials Act, which would prevent insurance companies from denying cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials from receiving the routine medical services they would otherwise be provided. Cancer patients should be able to focus on getting better, rather than battling insurance companies.
Pediatric Research Consortia
While children constitute 20 percent of the U.S. population, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) currently dedicates only 5 percent of its annual research budget to pediatric research. This underinvestment is occurring despite the fact that a growing body of evidence indicates that many of America's deadly adult health conditions have their roots in childhood.
In January, I announced bipartisan legislation with Senator Bond (R-MO), the Pediatric Research Consortia Establishment Act, which would accelerate research on childhood illness.
This bill addresses gaps in pediatric research so that we can find new treatments for our nation's youngest patients -- it's about finding treatments for childhood diseases and preventing them from evolving into deadly illness in adulthood.
I have also introduced legislation that would address the severe shortage of pediatric specialists, who play a crucial role in child health.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Health Care
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), I helped secure $14 million in funding for Ohio's community health centers. By introducing and advocating for the Coverage Continuity Act of 2009, I fought successfully to ensure that the recovery package made health insurance more affordable for unemployed workers. The final version of ARRA provided a 65 percent federal subsidy to help these workers afford temporary COBRA health coverage.
H1N1 Resources for Ohioans
As we enter the flu season, Ohioans, like all Americans, must contend not only with the seasonal flu, but with the H1N1 influenza virus. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that we take extra precautions to protect ourselves against the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus.
Currently, every county in Ohio is receiving the H1N1 vaccine as it becomes available. Ohio is projected to receive more than 6.9 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine. As of Friday, October 23, Ohio had received 595,000 doses, and has ordered 389,000 more to be delivered by November 9. To find out when the H1N1 vaccine will be available in your community, contact your local health department or call the Ohio Department of Health's H1N1 Information line at 1-866-800-1404.
Because initial shipments of the H1N1 vaccine are limited, the first vaccinations are available for the following groups:
* Pregnant women
* Household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age
* Health care and emergency medical services personnel
* All people from 6 months through 24 years of age
* Persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza
As more shipments arrive, they will be made available to all Ohioans interested in receiving the vaccine.
In addition to the vaccine, CDC recommends taking the following steps to help protect against the H1N1 virus or seasonal flu. Always cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve, wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer frequently, and stay home if you are sick.
For more information, please visit www.flu.gov, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov and 1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636). You can also receive information from the Ohio Department of Health at www.odh.ohio.gov or by calling 614-466-3543.