Health issues affect us all and determining the best means of addressing them is an important part of my work in Congress.
Regardless of personal background or political leanings, we all share a concern for access to health care for ourselves and our families. I am committed to making health care more affordable and more accessible.
During the 111th Congress, access to quality, affordable and comprehensive health insurance and care have been front and center. During the discussions, I've worked with my colleagues to address some of the most pressing issues facing our community - including expanded access to health clinics, recruiting and retaining doctors to work in our inner cities, improved access to pre-natal care and services to reduce our infant mortality rate, and ways to reduce the financial impact to hospitals like The MED that provide hundreds of millions in uncompensated care to people each year.
I voted in favor of Congress’ health care reform legislation, H.R. 3590, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act , and H.R. 4872, The Health Care & Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010. Both of these bills were signed into law by the President in 2010.
These laws will forever change the landscape of America’s health care delivery system for the better. These new laws extend health insurance to millions of Americans who don’t have it now, and will cover more than 95 percent of our country’s citizens with affordable, quality health plans. The passage of these bills will help The MED through a provision in the reconciliation package, for which I fought, that increases the state’s diminutive Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payment. In January of 2010, I had the opportunity to speak to President Obama about Tennessee’s unusual DSH payment situation. The President was receptive to my suggestions on behalf of Tennessee’s hospitals, especially The MED, and he promised to look into the issue. Under this provision, The MED will receive more federally directed funding than it does now, as it renders more uncompensated care than any other hospital in the state of Tennessee. Accordingly, Shelby County tax payers will reap the benefits of this provision, as they are the ones who foot the bill for the care that The MED provides to those patients who are unable to pay.
The reform laws also invest heavily in our Community Health Centers. The $11 billion investment in these important neighborhood resources will go a long way in ensuring that every American, not just those who can afford it, can receive quality care. It incentivizes prospective doctors to go into the field of primary care and encourages them to practice where we need them most—in urban areas.
Memphis supports a strong health network and first-class medical research facilities. I’m proud to represent the city’s fine medical institutions and help enable them to continue their high quality of patient care and their outstanding medical research. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the University of Tennessee together have received millions of dollars in federal grants since I’ve been in office. I will continue to support their work and the other important research projects underway across our community. I will continue to stand up for legislation that supports Tennesseans who live with cancer, diabetes, and other life-altering diseases as well as the doctors and researchers who are fighting for cures.
One of the most devastating and heart-breaking health problems confronting our community is the high rate of infant mortality across Memphis. The infant mortality rate in the United States is one of the highest of any industrialized nation in the world, and Memphis has one of the highest rates in the country. I have sponsored two pieces of legislation in the House that address our high infant mortality rate: H.Res. 260, a resolution supporting efforts to reduce infant mortality in the United States (passed on September 16, 2009) and H.R. 3470, the NEWBORN Act. The NEWBORN Act creates as grant program in 15 areas across the country with high infant mortality rates to fund research and outreach programs; this bill passed the House as a part of H.R. 3962 , the House’s first health care reform measure, but was not passed by the Senate. I am committed to seeing that the NEWBORN Act is passed and enacted as soon as possible so that we can begin the process of funding quality programs to reduce the rate of infant mortality in our nation’s most affected cities.
Another pressing health issue is the growing nursing shortage. This shortage is felt across the nation and Memphis, especially, has a critical need for more nurses. I have always supported nurses and I am proud to be a member of the Congressional Nursing Caucus, chaired by former nurse Rep. Lois Capps (CA-23). Through legislation, I am working to provide funds to expand nursing school facilities and increase their faculties, in order to admit and train more capable men and women who want to become nurses. I have cosponsored H.R. 2381 , the Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2009; H.R. 2563 , the Emergency Nursing Supply Relief Act; and H.R. 2730 , the Student-to-School Nurse Ratio Improvement Act of 2009.
I have faithfully voted in favor of measures that aim to prevent severe cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates to our nation’s doctors. I believe that physicians deserve to be reimbursed fairly for the care they provide, and my voting record reflects this. I voted in favor of H.R. 3961, the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009, which reforms the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) system in Medicare’s physician fee schedule to eliminate the 21% cut in physician fees planned for 2011 and put physician payments on a sustainable path for the future. However, our physicians are still faced with impending reimbursement cuts. I am committed to ensuring that our nation’s health care providers can continue to treat their Medicare patients, and I will continue to vote in favor of legislation that avoids these cuts.
In addition to Medicare and Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been a leading health issue facing Congress. Congress created CHIP in 1997 with broad bipartisan support. CHIP provides health coverage for children in working families with parents who either can’t afford insurance or hold jobs that lack health care benefits. I was proud to speak on the floor in support of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. I voted in favor of the CHIP Reauthorization Act in 2009. The program currently provides health insurance for more than 7 million children. This legislation protects coverage for those children and expands it to include an additional 4 million children who would otherwise be uninsured.
The House also passed the final version of Mental Health Parity/Addiction Equity in March of 2008. The bill is designed to end discrimination against patients seeking treatment for mental illnesses and addiction care by prohibiting insurers from imposing treatment or financial limitations when they offer mental health and addiction care that are more restrictive from those applied to medical and surgical services.