All blogs filed under Health Care
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet with Rachael Ray, host of 30 Minute Meals on the Food Network, to discuss child obesity and poor nutrition, two major contributors to health and developmental problems. Our conversation focused on a number of interrelated issues, including nutrition education, access to healthy and affordable food and school breakfast and lunch meals.
The United States has the highest prevalence of obesity among developed nations. Obesity increases the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and arthritis, resulting in estimated yearly costs of over $117 billion.
I appreciate Rachael Ray’s work through her organization Yum-o and the attention she is paying to the food-related issues we are facing. There are countless people throughout Pennsylvania who work on these issues and I appreciate everything that is being done to reverse the current trends.
I believe that every person is able to make a difference and help to change our current food culture. One way that I am working to address these concerns is to ensure children eat healthy foods. Currently, I am working on addressing these issues as the Senate considers the Child Nutrition Act, the renewing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other legislation.
Ending hunger remains one of my top priorities as it cuts across all of the major challenges we are facing, including preventive health care, quality of life for families and the ability of children to take full advantage of educational opportunities.
Yesterday, I attended the grand opening of the new Norristown Regional Health Center (NRHC) in Montgomery County. Due to a consistent increase in patients, long waiting times and lack of space for expansion, the NRHC purchased a larger facility to meet growing demand.
The new facility was renovated with partial funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and will allow the NRHC to see more patients, offer more services, decrease waiting times and hire more staff. The newly renovated facility includes 16 examination rooms, 5 triage and 5 dental exam rooms, an onsite physician medication dispensary and expanded laboratory and administrative space.
This facility is important as it will serve a particularly disadvantaged community and create jobs. I appreciated the tour provided by Patti Deitch, President and CEO of Delaware Valley Community Health, and am thankful for the hard work and essential services that the NRHC provides to people in the region.
On Monday, I joined Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Paul Kanjorski to discuss Medicare funding with leadership, doctors, nurses and staff of hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Current law, under a provision called "Section 508," provides for extra money to 14 hospitals in northeastern Pennsylvania so they can recruit high quality health care professionals and pay them better wages. Since joining the Senate in January 2007, I have consistently advocated to continue these funds, which are critical to hospitals in northeastern Pennsylvania so they compete with hospitals in surrounding areas. The most recent extension of this provision expired on September 30, 2009 and I’ve been working to have it extended.
Both versions of the current health reform legislation include an extension of the 508 relief. The Patient, Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Senate bill) includes a one-year extension and the Affordable Health Care for America Act (the House bill) includes a two-year extension.
While I am encouraged that both bills contain an extension, Senator Specter and I sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging them to include the two-year extension in the final version of bill. The longer extension would assist hospitals in budgeting and give them a sense of security that enables them to better serve our communities. I will continue to work to help these hospitals in the coming months and years.
Today I attended a rally for comprehensive health care reform with fellow Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. We were joined by five college basketball coaches from around the country, including Coach Ed DeChellis from Penn State University. The coaches are visiting Washington with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to emphasize that comprehensive health care reform giving all Americans access to adequate, affordable health care must be passed NOW, not later. The consumer protections included in our discussions of health care reform are critically important for cancer patients: removing annual or lifetime caps on coverage; prohibiting insurance companies from watering down or cancelling coverage when someone gets sick; and prohibiting insurers from discriminating against individuals with preexisting health conditions (such as a previous cancer diagnosis) by denying them coverage or charging them more.
Did you know that health insurance companies can discriminate against you because of a pre-existing condition like diabetes or high blood pressure? It's one of the biggest problems people in Pennsylvania and many other states encounter and that prevents them from getting health insurance. This article in the New York Times illustrates the devastating effect this discrimination can have. We need to pass legislation that says that a pre-existing condition will not prevent you, your son, daughter, spouse, or loved one from getting the care you deserve. That is included in the healthcare bill reported out of my committee, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Nine percent of Pennsylvanians have diabetes, and 28% have high blood pressure. Under current law, a health insurance company can deny you coverage or charge you more if you are one of the millions of Pennsylvanians with one of these conditions, or refuse to cover any treatment related to the condition. A 2007 survey by The Commonwealth Fund found that 36% of individuals who had looked at individual health insurance policies in the last 3 years were discriminated against because of their health history.
Health care reform would open new doors for those who have been discriminated against because of their health status. The language in the Affordable Health Choices Act is simple: "A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage may not impose any preexisting condition exclusion with respect to such plan or coverage." (Sec. 2705)
In addition to ending discrimination based on health status, health insurance companies will also be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for people who become seriously ill; charging you more because of your gender; or placing an annual or lifetime cap on the coverage your receive. These consumer protections are an essential component of health care reform in the Affordable Health Choices Act.