Health Care issues affect us all and determining the best means of addressing them is an important part of my work in Congress.
The United States has the most expensive health care system in the world in terms of absolute costs, per capita costs, and percentage of gross domestic product. Yet despite the fact that we spend more on health care than any other industrialized nation, too many of our citizens cannot access the very medical care that America has long been a leader in providing. As the cost of health care continues to rise, it imposes an increasing burden on our families, places American employers at a competitive disadvantage and creates significant fiscal challenges to balancing our federal and state budgets.
One of my top priorities in Congress has been the establishment of a universal health care system that increases quality, affordability, efficiency and choice for families and businesses across America. In 2005, prior to Congressional efforts focusing on comprehensive health reform, I developed the American Health Benefits Act, a proposal designed to guarantee every American access to the same coverage as members of Congress.
I am also a strong advocate of strengthening our public health and safety net programs, including the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Medicare, Medicaid and veterans' programs; as well as promoting a strong and sustainable health care workforce; and encouraging investment into innovative research and technology.
On March 21, 2010, I was proud to join my Congressional colleagues in taking an historic vote to pass comprehensive health reform legislation. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has already started instituting the changes we need to provide more security and stability to Americans who have health insurance, guarantee insurance to the millions who don't, and lower health care costs for our families, businesses and the government.
These goals were ultimately reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a June 28, 2012, decision to uphold the law. The consumer protections at the heart of the law will prevent families from being denied coverage because they are sick, abolish annual and lifetime insurance limits, allow young adults to remain on their parents’ coverage and close the Medicare prescription drug donut hole for seniors.
The high court’s ruling also substantiated Rhode Island’s efforts to lead the nation in the planning and implementation of necessary delivery system reforms, including a health insurance exchange that will allow individuals and small businesses to shop for insurance based on transparent, competitive pricing while providing tax subsidies to those who can’t afford the full cost of coverage.
The Medicare system was established in 1965 because the private health care industry was unable to provide adequate health coverage for the elderly and disabled citizens of our nation. In order to preserve this promise we must take meaningful action to ensure a strong and sustainable Medicare program that provides our seniors with the health care they deserve. The 2010 health reform bill begins to achieve this by closing the Medicare Part D prescription drug gap, also known as the doughnut hole, in order to make drugs more affordable for seniors. This included an immediate rebate of $250 for those who reached the doughnut hole in 2010, and a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs in 2011 and 2012. It also eliminates co-pays for preventive care to promote wellness and ease cost burdens, gets rid of billions of dollars in fraud, waste and abuse and protects Medicare by extending trust fund solvency by nine years.
Additionally, on November 19, 2009, the House passed a companion bill to health reform, H.R. 3961, a measure that would have provided a permanent fix for the flawed Medicare physician reimbursement formula, known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), which is threatening access to care for our seniors. Since the Senate did not act on this legislation, Congress passed multiple temporary measures to delay the expected 27 percent reduction in doctor reimbursements, including a one year extension through 2013, which was included in the American Taxpayer Relief Act. I continue to believe we must find a permanent solution so that Medicare physician reimbursements more accurately reflect the costs of providing care in the current market.
Innovative Health Research
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the primary agency charged with conducting and supporting medical research. Projects funded by NIH represent opportunities to understand diseases, improve health, and open the way for future progress in medical research. They provide us with the knowledge needed to understand - and ultimately to control or defeat - cancer, Parkinson's, diabetes, and many other ailments, diseases and conditions. Biomedical research not only represents the future of medical innovation, but it is an important engine of economic innovation. It has enormous potential to translate into 21st Century jobs.
During my time in Congress, I have been proud to advocate strongly for funding increases at NIH, as well as the Department of Defense Medical Research Programs and the Veterans Administration's Office of Research and Development, which play key roles in advancing knowledge and promoting innovations that improve the health and care of our servicemembers, veterans and the nation as a whole.