Udall Secures Changes in Health Care Bill to Improve Care, Cut Costs, Help Meet Needs of Rural Colorado
2 Udall-Authored Rural Health Provisions Will Increase Number of Rural Doctors, Help Rural Communities Provide Prevention and Wellness Services
Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Mark Udall announced that he has secured several amendments to improve the Senate's health insurance reform bill, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, by helping to ensure all Coloradans have access to quality and affordable care.
The provisions, which were included in an agreement reached today, will strengthen the health care reform effort to help encourage innovations that improve care and save consumers money. They also will help ensure rural communities are able to share in those innovations. The bill includes Senator Udall's Rural Physician Pipeline Act, a provision aimed at fighting chronic disease in rural communities, and a provision to expand the Independent Payment Advisory Board, among others.
"The road to health care reform has been tough going. It reminds me of the time I skied across Northern Alaska for 40 days, waking up in the same cold tent every day. But today, it feels a little warmer, the skies look a little bluer, and I'm optimistic that we're on the last leg of an important journey," Senator Udall said.
"The agreement we reached today isn't perfect, but it is a solid foundation for changes the country desperately needs. With this improved bill, we can begin giving families the security they need to stay healthy, and we can provide small businesses and workers the freedom to start a business or change jobs without fear of losing their health insurance. It will begin reining in health care costs - which is critical if we expect to restore our economic prosperity. And it provides a framework for reducing the deficit and strengthening Medicare for the long-term."
"I have been moved by stories from families and small businesses around Colorado, as I have traveled the state talking to them about health care. This agreement doesn't have everything I'd like to have seen included, but I am glad that the final agreement includes my amendments, which will encourage innovation, lower costs, improve care, and ensure rural Colorado won't be left behind as we reform our broken health care system," Senator Udall continued.
"We aren't done with our journey yet. I will spend the days leading up to the final vote examining this agreement in detail. But I am very optimistic that we are closer than ever before to ensuring that millions of Americans will be able to have secure, stable and affordable health care."
The following is a summary of the Udall-sponsored amendments included in the "Manager's Package" today:
Improving Rural Health Care
• Rural Physicians Pipeline Act - Senator Udall's amendment would address 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 would 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 would expand 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, would 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.