Good health care is a very personal matter for me and my family. When my daughter was born she was very sick. But due to an insurance company rule, I was forced to leave the hospital just 24 hours after she was born. Along with other mothers, I went to the state legislature and got one of the first laws passed in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay. That experience was a crucial part of my decision to enter public service and fight for common sense health care solutions.
Minnesotans have faced higher health care costs than ever before -- costs that have far outpaced the growth in family incomes.
Many of our businesses, particularly small businesses, have been struggling to afford the costs of health insurance, even though they want to cover their employees. Employees have been forced to pay a larger share of the premiums - or no health insurance at all. And more and more Minnesotans with health insurance have struggled to pay escalating deductibles and co-pays.
Ever escalating health spending now accounts for more than one-sixth of our economy. Unchecked, it will increasingly choke our family, local, state and federal budgets. We must make the system cost-effective, proactive and stable.
To address escalating health care costs, Congress passed and the President signed into law health care reform legislation -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. For specific questions about the Act, please visit: www.healthcare.gov
I fought hard to ensure that the health care reform bill included specific provisions to provide better health care for Minnesotans:
Rewarding high-quality, efficient care. Minnesota is known for its high-quality health delivery systems and innovative quality measures that provide Medicare beneficiaries with better value. Despite periodic efforts at reform, Medicare has not rewarded this high-quality. States that have historically delivered low quality, inefficient care are paid for wasteful practices, while efficient states such as Minnesota are punished. For example, according to a study by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, if spending for chronically ill patients everywhere in the country mirrored the efficient level of spending in the Mayo Clinic's home region of Rochester, MN, Medicare could save $50 billion in taxpayer money over five years. To rein in costs, we need to have all states aiming for high-quality, cost-effective results like those we have achieved in Minnesota. That is why I authored legislation creating a "value index" for Medicare reimbursement rates. The value index was included in the final bill. Research shows that these efficient delivery practices can save the Medicare program upwards of $100 billion a year, while also providing beneficiaries better access to the care they need.
Reducing costs for small businesses. Right now, small businesses are paying 20 percent more than big businesses do on health care. As a result, many small businesses have been forced to reduce health benefits for their workers or drop them altogether. In health care reform, I fought to make sure that we made health care more affordable and accessible for small businesses. Beginning in 2011, small businesses will be eligible for tax credits worth up to 35 percent of their contribution to their employees' health insurance plans. In 2014, the tax credits will increase. As an original sponsor of the Small Business Health Options Program Act (SHOP Act), I also fought to include this bill in the final health reform legislation. The SHOP Act allows small businesses to pool together to spread financial risk, reduce cost, and increase choice of health care plans.
Including preventative care. Our health care system needs to reward prevention. It's a lot better for the patient, the employer, and the pocketbook if a chronic medical problem can be prevented or managed early to stave off complications and the need for costly care. The EARLY Act, legislation I introduced to provide increased support and awareness to young women about the risks of breast cancer, was included in the final health care reform bill and is a step toward better educating patients about the importance of prevention. The new law also provides free preventative care for Medicare Beneficiaries and offers grants to help small employers provide wellness programs that have been proven to help employees lead healthier lifestyles.
Providing stable coverage. Families cannot continue to hear the burden of runaway health care costs. We need to make coverage stable so that families have the peace of mind in knowing that a health care procedure or surgery won't threaten their family's finances. I fought to ensure that the health care reform bill implements safeguards so people can no longer be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition and children will continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26. If you are a senior, you will get help in 2010 with dramatic reductions to the cost of brand-name prescription drugs for seniors. In addition, the "doughnut hole" in the Medicare Prescription Drug Program will be closed over the next few years.
I will continue to make sure this legislation provides better health care for Minnesotans and I will continue to focus on these health care priorities:
Make health care more affordable:
Crack down on excessive costs and health care fraud. Law enforcement authorities estimate that health care fraud costs taxpayers more than $60 billion every year. These criminals scheme the system to rob the American taxpayers of money that should be used to provide health care to those who need it most. We must put a stop to this. To help deter health care fraud, I've introduced a bipartisan bill that would require direct depositing of all payments made to providers under Medicare and Medicaid.
Lowering prescription drug prices. I support a prescription drug benefit for seniors as part of Medicare, though I believe it can be simpler, more customer-friendly and less expensive than the program that Congress adopted in 2003. Unfortunately, the "non-interference" clause in the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit expressly prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower prices from pharmaceutical companies. This prohibition has imposed substantial, and unnecessary, costs on America's taxpayers and seniors, who are paying excessive prices for prescription drugs. With Medicare barred from negotiating discounts, seniors face inflated prices for their medications, while the pharmaceutical industry gets a huge financial windfall. I am fighting to change that so our seniors can have access to their medicines at the lowest possible prices.
Taking care of our seniors. Seniors want to be able to live independently and stay in their own homes. Family support is essential to making that option possible. Elder care responsibilities can result in high, out-of-pocket health and long-term care expenses for families that care for aging parents and relatives. I have sponsored three pieces of legislation - the Americans Giving Care to Elders Act, the Long-Term Care Integrity Act, and the Long-Term Care Insurance Consumer Right-to-Know Act -- to assist families who care for aging family members and improve understanding of long-term care insurance policies. The legislation is designed as a starting point to relieve the financial burdens family caregivers may face.
Fighting price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. There is evidence that pharmaceutical companies target outrageous price increases for selected drugs used by vulnerable populations or for rare diseases. Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota brought one example to my attention: a drug known as Indocin I.V. For many years, the drug has been crucial in treating a heart condition in premature babies. But after Ovation Pharmaceuticals acquired the rights to the drug, the company quickly increased the drug price from $100 to $1,875. I asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Ovation for anticompetitive practices and price manipulation, and together with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), I then called for a Government Accountability Office investigation into prescription drug pricing. Acting on this complaint, the FTC is now taking legal action in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, charging Ovation with violating federal antitrust laws and artificially inflating the price of the two drugs.
Moving health care forward:
Investing in science. In Minnesota, we value science and the progress its represents. The National Institute of Health (NIH) is our nation's primary entity for biomedical research, and I supported increased funding of the NIH so that our scientists can concentrate on finding life-saving cures and not on finding the money to do their research. I also introduced, and Congress passed into law, the Paul Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Act to strengthen research and determine best care practices for people suffering from muscular dystrophy.
Supporting stem cell research to seek new cures. Stem cell research promises to be the pathway for a new generation of life-saving cures, offering hope to millions of Americans and their families. I voted in favor of the bipartisan Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would expand the number of embryonic stem cell lines accessible to federally funded scientists seeking new treatments and cures for severe medical conditions, such as juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, spinal cord injuries, and certain types of cancer.
Utilizing technology. Information technology is transforming all aspects of our modern society, and it holds the same promise for the health care industry. Over 30 percent of every health care dollar is being spent on paperwork and administration. That money should be going to medical care, not paper pushers. We must modernize our health care system, and to this end, I supported efforts to invest in health information technology in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. I have also sponsored legislation that would give health providers the resources they need to establish secure and effective health IT systems that will reduce administrative costs and bring health care into the 21st century.
Making health care more accessible:
Expanding health care coverage for children. I strongly supported the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, which extended health coverage to children who do not qualify for Medicaid and whose families cannot afford private insurance. The passage of this legislation ensures health care coverage for an additional 4.1 million uninsured children. With nearly 82,000 uninsured children in our state alone, I am happy that we have taken the necessary steps to make health coverage for our nation's children a top priority.
Strengthening Medicaid. The Medicaid program provides health insurance for our families, children, and seniors who need it the most. I sponsored legislation to block efforts to drastically cut payment for vital - and fiscally sound - Medicaid "case management" services that help children and seniors obtain necessary medical and community services. I also fought to secure necessary Medicaid dollars for Minnesota in 2009 and 2010.