Issue Position: Health Care
The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet more than 45 million Americans have no health insurance. Too many hard-working Americans cannot afford their medical bills, and thus, health-related issues are the number one cause for personal bankruptcy. Too many employers are finding it difficult to offer the coverage their employees need.
Promoting affordable, accessible, and high-quality health care was a priority for Barack Obama in the Illinois State Senate and is a priority for him in the United States Senate. He believes firmly that health care should be a right for everyone, not a privilege for the few.
Preserving and Improving Medicare and Medicaid
Medicare and Medicaid represent America's commitment to take care of the elderly and the poor--some of our most vulnerable citizens. Senator Obama has voted to preserve and strengthen these programs at every opportunity. He has voted to restore funding to these programs and has voted against budgets that cut these programs.
Some 42 million American seniors are served by Medicare, including 1.7 million in Illinois. Medicare is a promise we have made to our seniors, and along with Social Security, it is essential to a dignified and financially sound retirement. Cuts to Medicare will seriously harm those who have worked all their lives, paid into the system, and need medical care.
Senator Obama is concerned about the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program and its effect on our nation's elderly and disabled. In particular, he is concerned about the difficulty encountered when enrolling and choosing among a large number of plans (more than 40 in Illinois); the restrictions on changing plan selection after enrollment; the prohibition against negotiating for the best drug price or discounts, and the high costs of the program for seniors.
Senator Obama is a cosponsor of the Medicare Informed Choice Act, which would have extended enrollment without penalty and allowed for a one-time plan change during the first year of the plan.
Medicaid is the nation's health safety net. Over 53 million Americans of all ages, including 2 million Illinoisans, rely on Medicaid for their health care. As a member of the Senate's Medicaid Working Group, Senator Obama will continue the fight to strengthen Medicaid, as well as help providers who care for large numbers of poor and uninsured patients.
Improving Quality of Health Care
Senator Obama is pursuing legislative initiatives to help improve health care quality.
He helped draft and introduce the National MEDiC Act, which promotes patient safety initiatives, including early disclosure and compensation to patients injured by medical errors. He also introduced the Hospital Quality Report Card Act, which will use federal hospital quality reporting requirements to inform and assist patients and other consumers in making their health care decisions.
Senator Obama strongly believes that greater use of health information technology can contain costs and improve the efficiency of our health care system. He introduced the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Efficiency Act, which would leverage the federal government's purchasing power to encourage increased adoption of technology by participating health plans.
In 2005, Senator Obama spoke at the commencement of the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine about the importance of health information technology.
An estimated 8.7 million children in the U.S. are uninsured, and this figure represents an increase for the second year in a row. Health coverage is critically important for a healthy start in life, and this is particularly true now that the rate of many diseases in childrenobesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, to name a fewhas started to rise dramatically. This nation can and must do more to protect and promote the health of children. To address this problem, Senator Obama has been a strong supporter of expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover more uninsured children.
Promoting the prevention of HIV/AIDS domestically and abroad, as well as accelerating the research and development of treatments for the disease, is a priority of Senator Obama's. With 8,000 AIDS-related deaths and 14,000 new infections every day, HIV/AIDS will likely become the third leading cause of death in the world.
While traveling in Africa in August of 2006, Senator Obama and his wife took a public HIV test in hopes of decreasing the stigma surrounding testing. Additionally, Senator Obama calls for an increase of at least $1 billion per year for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in order to expand our global AIDS efforts into Asia and the Middle East, enhance our work in Africa, and further address issues such as nutrition and prevention.
In Illinois, an estimated 40,000 - 42,000 individuals are living with HIV/AIDS. The Ryan White Care Act (RWCA) provides the majority of Federal support for those suffering from HIV/AIDS in our country. This legislation was reauthorized during the final hours of the 109th Congress, although changes in the epidemic - as well as insufficient funding - made it a difficult reauthorization to tackle. Throughout the reauthorization process, Senator Obama worked closely with RWCA service providers, the Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Illinois Department of Public Health to analyze and find ways to improve the program for Illinois and for the nation. Senator Obama will continue to protect the multifaceted care upon which RWCA beneficiaries depend.
Over the last few years, it has become clear that women are rapidly becoming the new face of the AIDS epidemic, both here in the United States and around the world. We are faced with the sobering statistic that by the end of the day, another 7,000 women will have been infected with HIV. In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last twenty years. In fact, AIDS is now the number one cause of death among African-American women aged 25-34.
In order to expedite the availability of preventive tools for women, Senator Obama is the lead Democratic sponsor of the Microbicide Development Act, which encourages scientific leadership on this issue and strengthens research and development programs at the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The legislation would also establish a unit at the NIH specifically dedicated to microbicide research. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women could use to protect themselves from contracting HIV, even while conceiving children. When fully developed, experts predict that microbicides could stop 2.5 million infections over three years in women, men, and infants.
Avian influenza - or bird flu - is a potentially grave health threat to the U.S. and other countries around the world. Senator Obama was one of the first members of Congress to speak out about the issue and push for greater funding to improve preparedness.
Starting in March 2005, he obtained $25 million for international efforts to combat the avian flu and called for an inter-agency task force to immediately address this issue. This funding is now being used to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in Southeast Asia.
Senator Obama introduced the Attacking Viral Influenza Across Nations Act, which calls for collaboration and cooperation at the state, national, and international level to ensure preparedness in the event of pandemic influenza. Such preparedness includes the procurement of antivirals, development of effective vaccines, and improvement of the public health infrastructure and medical surge capacity in hospitals.
Senator Obama also worked to push $7.9 billion through the Senate to help the U.S. prepare for the possibility of an avian flu pandemic.
Since coming to Washington, Senator Obama has made the elimination of childhood lead poisoning one of his top priorities.
Over 400,000 children in the U.S. suffer from lead poisoning. Lead is a highly toxic substance that can produce a range of health problems in young children including IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity, and damage to the kidneys, brain and bone marrow. The most common source of lead exposure is lead paint in older housing.
During his first year in office, Senator Obama successfully fought to get the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publish long-overdue rules for how contractors involved in the renovation and remodeling of homes should deal with lead paint hazards. To force the EPA to issue the rules, Senator Obama threatened to block the confirmation of an EPA official and passed an amendment to stop the EPA from delaying the rulemaking process. When the rules are eventually finalized, they will prevent 28,000 lead-related illnesses each year, resulting in an annual net economic benefit of more than $4 billion.
Lead is also present in many children's products. In 2003 and 2004, nearly 150 million pieces of toy jewelry were recalled because of toxic levels of lead. To address this problem, Senator Obama introduced the Lead-Free Toys Act to require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban any children's product containing lead.
In December 2006, Senator Obama released a report showing that a number of souvenirs purchased in the U.S. Capitol gift shops contained large amounts of lead. Those items were promptly removed from store shelves.
Senator Obama is also an original cosponsor of the Home Lead Safety Tax Credit Act, which would provide tax credits to property owners who eliminate or contain paint hazards in homes where low-income young children or women of child-bearing age live.
Recognizing that 30 years after the ban of lead in paint many of our children are still being exposed, Senator Obama also introduced the Lead Poisoning Reduction Act, which would help protect children from lead poisoning by requiring that all non-home-based child care facilities, including Head Start program locations and kindergarten classrooms, be lead-safe within five years. The legislation would also establish a $42.6 million grant program to help local communities pay to make these facilities safe.
He also introduced the Healthy Communities Act to identify and address problems in communities that are at high risk from environmental contaminants. In addition, recognizing the contribution of housing, parks, trails, roadways, and public transportation to healthy lifestyles, Senator Obama introduced the Healthy Places Act to assess and support improvements to the built environment.
Fifty million, or one in seven, individuals in our country suffer from a disability. With proper support, many, if not most, people with disabilities are strong contributors to society. All Americans, regardless of disability, deserve a dignified life, and there are many government programs that are essential to this commitment. In addition to enforcement and funding of the Americans With Disabilities Act, we must also defend and strengthen Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
With the beginning of the 110th Congress, Senator Obama now serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over many disability issues. This is a unique opportunity to be a key player in the policy debates to come, including over long-term care services, services in our schools, and the reauthorization of the Developmental Disabilities Act.
Genomics is the study of how a person's genetic makeup affects propensity for disease and response to treatment. Research in this area has the potential to predict which people will get sick, diagnose illnesses earlier, and screen patients to determine which drugs will be safe and effective. In August 2006, Senator Obama introduced the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act, which would increase funding for research on genomics, expand the genomics workforce, provide a tax credit for the development of diagnostic tests that can improve the safety or effectiveness of drugs, and reaffirm the need to protect genetic privacy.