This week marks 47 years since the Medicare program was created. This vital program has helped millions of older citizens and people with disabilities across Pennsylvania meet their health care needs. While some in Congress have proposed ending Medicare as we know it, I believe we need to strengthen and improve the program.
To that end, we have made some recent improvements including closing the so-called “donut hole.” When Medicare was created in 1965, prescription medication did not play the role it does today in keeping older citizens healthy. In 2003 initial steps were taken to give beneficiaries greater access to prescription drugs, but left a large gap where beneficiaries would be responsible for all the costs of their drugs, the “donut hole.” More recently Congress made improvements to that benefit to ensure the gap will be fully closed by 2020. In the meantime beneficiaries will get help. In 2011, beneficiaries who fell into the donut hole received a $250 rebate check. In 2012, beneficiaries who fall in the gap will get significant discounts on both brand name and generic drugs. Over 240,000 Pennsylvanians have benefitted from these changes and more people will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.
It is imperative that we continue to improve, strengthen and protect this important program. As we celebrate this anniversary, I commit to continuing the fight to keep Medicare strong and ensure that beneficiaries have access to the services they need.
Today, I was proud to vote in favor of legislation that will prevent the interest rate on federally-subsidized Stafford student loans from doubling on July 1. Without Congressional action, this rate would have risen from 3.4% to 6.8%, adding $1,000 to the debt burden of approximately 7.4 million students, including 394,000 Pennsylvanians. This vote represents an immediate and necessary step in the fight for affordable access to college.
“I believe that anyone with the drive, fortitude and desire to pursue the opportunities afforded by higher education should be able to realize that dream. Studies have shown that those with college degrees can expect higher lifetime earnings and a lower chance of unemployment than those with lower levels of education. In recent decades, however, tuition rates have grown to levels that threaten to put higher education out of reach for many Pennsylvanians, and jeopardize the continued prosperity of the Commonwealth. As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, I will continue to seek solutions that make college accessible and affordable.
Sixty-eight years ago today, American and Allied soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines stormed the heavily-fortified beaches of Normandy, displaying uncommon bravery and ultimately turning the tide of World War II against Nazi Germany. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom and justice, and who will forever be remembered for their courage and determination in the face of unimaginable challenges.
I am proud to represent servicemembers and veterans across Pennsylvania who have served our nation honorably throughout our history. We should pause and reflect on the extraordinary sacrifices made by our brave men and women on June 6, 1944 and every day as they serve our nation around the world.
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to honor the enormous impact of our Nation’s classroom teachers. In our increasingly global economy, great teachers equip students with the skills and knowledge to succeed in a competitive economy, while also cultivating the development of active and thoughtful citizens. With a growing body of research that highlights the importance of teachers on the lives of their students, their daily work deserves recognition as a valuable contribution to the strength of our Nation.
My first job out of college was as a fifth grade teacher in North Philadelphia as part of my service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. This brief experience gave me a firsthand appreciation of the challenges faced by our school teachers. This week, I will reflect on the great teachers who shaped my life and desire to pursue public service, as well the countless Pennsylvania educators who work tirelessly to ensure that every child achieves his or her potential. Please join me in thanking teachers for their extraordinary commitment to students, families and the communities in which they serve.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that, as of December 2011, almost 236,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Pennsylvania saw their prescription drug costs reduced by discounts in the Medicare Part D or ‘donut hole’ coverage gap. In total, Pennsylvanians with Medicare saved over $156 million, at an average of about $660 per person. Nationally, almost 4 million people with Medicare saved $2.1 billion on their prescription drug costs as of December 2011. Older Pennsylvanians will continue to see these benefits until the ‘donut hole’ is completely closed in 2020.
As this was a measure I supported I was very pleased to hear this news. I have seen how challenging and frustrating the costs of health care and prescription drugs can be for older Pennsylvanians and this is a great step forward to fix this problem. In 2011, older Americans and people with disabilities saved $300.3 million on blood sugar lowering drugs, $263.2 million on cholesterol lowering drugs, and $120.2 million on blood pressure medications. I look forward to continuing to fight hard for all Pennsylvanians.