News Releases -
Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin
Thursday, 03 February 2011 08:09
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) today made the following comments on the Senate floor about the importance of health reform and the consequences of repealing the law. The Senate is expected to vote on a Republican amendment that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, the health reform bill that was signed into law last year. Repeal would deprive millions of Americans of important protections against insurance companies, raise health costs, cut funding to rural hospitals in Iowa, and, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, increase the federal deficit by $230 billion by 2021. Harkin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below. Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, as well as the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Mr. President, if there is one clear message that voters sent in the past election, it is that they want Democrats and Republicans in Congress to cut out the bickering and partisanship, and to focus like a laser beam on boosting the economy, creating jobs, and reducing the deficit.
“So I find it absolutely astonishing that the Republicans’ No. 1 priority – their obsession – in these opening weeks of the new Congress is to launch bitter new partisan attacks on the new health reform law, and to attempt to repeal it – something that would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and add $240 billion to the deficit over the next decade.
“It would be sufficient to oppose this reckless amendment strictly on budgetary grounds. As I said, it would add $240 billion to the deficit in the first decade, and nearly $1 trillion in the second decade. The sponsors of the amendment have proposed no offsets whatsoever. So for all the Republicans’ crocodile tears over big budget deficits, their first action in the new Congress is to propose adding nearly a quarter trillion to the deficits over the next 10 years!
“The Congressional Budget Office is our only objective, nonpartisan referee when it comes to budget projections. CBO has told us, in no uncertain terms, that the McConnell amendment will add $240 billion to the deficit.
“The Republicans’ lame response is to attack the credibility of CBO and to claim that the hundreds of billions in budget savings thanks to the new health reform law are supposedly based on “gimmicks.” That is complete nonsense. The budget savings in this new law are real. If anything, CBO has underestimated the savings that will come about as a result of the robust wellness and prevention provisions in the new law – provisions that will keep Americans healthy and out of the hospital in the first place.
“I would simply add that if the savings in the new law were based on gimmicks, then those gimmicks would certainly show up by the second decade of the law’s implementation. That’s the nature of gimmicks – they eventually get exposed. But the savings in the new law actually skyrocket in the second decade to nearly $1 trillion. So to wildly assert that the savings are based on gimmicks is flat wrong; it is irresponsible.
“Let’s be clear, the Republicans’ obsession with repealing the new health reform law is not based on budgetary considerations. It is based strictly on ideology. They oppose the law’s crackdown on abuses by health insurance companies. And they oppose any serious effort by the federal government to secure health insurance coverage for tens of millions of Americans who currently have none.
“We all remember William Buckley’s conservative motto. He said that the role of conservatives is “to stand athwart history yelling stop!”
“In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt passed Social Security, providing basic retirement security for every American. Republicans fought it bitterly. And 75 years later, they are still trying to undo it!
“In 1965, Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare, ensuring seniors’ access to decent health care. Republicans fought it bitterly. And 45 years later, they are still trying to undo it!
“Well, here they go again!
“By the way, notice that the Republicans are no longer even pretending to offer a realistic, comprehensive alternative. They used to talk about “repeal and replace.” Now their focus is mostly on “repeal.”
“As always, the Republican approach to health reform can be summed up in five words: Pray you don’t get sick!
“So make no mistake: The fight to provide access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans has only just begun.
“The same ideologues who came up with the Big Lies about “death panels” and “pulling the plug on grandma” are rolling out their latest campaign of misinformation.
“The good news is that, this time around, the dynamics of the debate have shifted.
“Just as I long predicted, as people learn more about the great things in the Affordable Care Act – benefits and protections that are now guaranteed by law – support for health care reform is growing steadily.
“A year ago, we were bogged down in the messy, frustrating politics of passing the bill. This time around, the law is the law, and what’s at stake is crystal clear:
“Are we going to put the health insurance companies back in the driver’s seat – once again free to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, free to cancel your policy when you get sick, free to cut off payments?
“Are we going to revoke access to health insurance for more than 30 million Americans?
“Are we going to add hundreds of billions of dollars – and, eventually, trillions of dollars – to the deficit by wiping out all of the savings in the Affordable Care Act?
“Are we going to impose higher taxes on up to four million small businesses that are eligible for health care tax credits thanks to the new law?
“Mr. President, I also want to rebut the extreme, ideological attacks on the “individual mandate” in the new law. Republicans claim that this is somehow an “assault on freedom.” Well, it is certainly an assault on the freedom to go without insurance, show up at the emergency room, and stick other Americans with your health care bills!
“The individual mandate is just common sense – that’s why so many Republicans supported it in the past.
“Senator John Chafee’s reform bill in the early 1990s included an individual mandate; it was supported by Republican Senators Grassley, Hatch, and Lugar.
“More recently, the original Wyden-Bennett bill, including an individual mandate, was supported by Senators Alexander, Crapo, Corker, Graham, and Grassley.
“And, as we all know, the individual mandate was a critical piece of Republican Governor Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts.
“As I said, it’s just common sense. By eliminating free riders and putting everyone in the risk pool, we keep rates down for everyone. And it’s the only way that people with preexisting conditions are not left out in the cold.
“When we join together, we have more freedom.
“When everyone is covered and no one is left out, we enhance liberty.
“Health reform is all about freedom – freedom from the fear that if you get sick, you won’t be able to afford a doctor . . . freedom from the fear that a major illness will lead to financial ruin. These are the practical freedoms that really matter to Americans.
“Mr. President, I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me to thank me and other sponsors for passing the Affordable Care Act. They tell me how it has personally affected their families in profoundly positive ways.
“Let me tell you about Sarah Posekany of Cedar Falls, Iowa. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 15 years old. During her first year of college, she ran into complications from Crohn's, which forced her to drop her classes in order to heal after multiple surgeries. Because she was no longer a full-time student, her parents' private health insurance company terminated her coverage. Four years later, she found herself $180,000 in debt, and was forced to file for bankruptcy. Sarah was able to complete one semester at Hawkeye Community College, but could not afford to continue. Because of her earlier bankruptcy, every bank she has applied to for student loans turned her down. With the new health law, people like Sarah are able to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until they are 26.
“And consider the case of Eleanor Pierce, also of Cedar Falls, Iowa. When her job with a local company was eliminated, she lost her health insurance. She had the option of purchasing COBRA insurance, but it was completely unaffordable. So she searched for coverage on the private, individual market, but was almost universally denied access because of her pre-existing condition of high blood pressure. The only plans that would cover her came with premiums she could never hope to afford without an income.
“So Eleanor – at age 62, suffering from high blood pressure – had no choice but to go without insurance, and hope for the best. But, Mr. President, “hope for the best” is no substitute for regular medical care. One year later, Eleanor suffered a massive heart attack. And, when all was said and done, she had racked up $60,000 in medical debt.
“Mr. President, we need to get beyond ideological obsessions and listen to these ordinary Americans – victims of the old, broken health care system. Americans have a clear message: The new law has important new benefits and protections. Don’t take these protections away!
“Nearly half of non-elderly Americans have some type of preexisting condition, like high blood pressure, arthritis or heart disease. The new law outlaws the denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions. The McConnell amendment sweeps that away.
“The largest health insurer in California used technicalities to cancel the policies of women who got breast cancer. The new law outlaws the practice of canceling policies when people get sick. The McConnell amendment fully restores the right of health insurers to return to that despicable practice.
“The new law prohibits insurers from imposing lifetime limits on benefits. The McConnell amendment takes that away.
“The law allows parents to keep adult children on their policies until age 26. The McConnell amendment takes that away.
“Mr. President, I want to briefly mention the destructive impacts the McConnell amendment would have on my State of Iowa:
- It would raise taxes on more than 260,000 Iowans by taking away tax credits to help them purchase health care coverage.
- More than 8,300 young adults in Iowa would lose their insurance coverage through their parents’ health plans.
- Tens of thousands of Iowa seniors would face significantly higher prescription drug prices, and, once again, would have to pay a co-pay for preventive services such as colonoscopies and mammograms.
- And, of course, the 1.9 million Iowans with private coverage would, once again, be vulnerable to the whole range of abuses and discriminatory practices by health insurance.
“In addition, Mr. President, I want to mention that the new health reform law dramatically remedies the discrimination against Iowa and some other states in terms of Medicare reimbursement. Under a complicated Medicare formula, doctors in Iowa and a number of states were paid less for their services than their colleagues elsewhere. Under the formula, for example, Iowa physicians are reimbursed less than doctors in Louisiana.
“As part of the new health reform bill, I joined with Reps. Bruce Braley, Leonard Boswell and Dave Loebsack to negotiate a compromise that provides an immediate $800 million to address geographic disparities for both doctors and hospitals, as well as written guarantees from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for further action to reform Medicare reimbursement rates. This great achievement is wiped out if the McConnell amendment passes.
“In addition, thanks to the new law, mid-sized hospitals in Iowa – the so-called “tweeners” – will see a greater Medicare reimbursement. The two-year fix will cover Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012 and will aid low-volume hospitals, some of which have struggled to keep their doors open. The fix was included in the new health reform law – the Affordable Care Act.
“At the heart of the reform mission was an effort to decrease the number of uninsured and increase access to affordable care. The law does just that and will ensure every Iowan access to quality healthcare, which these community hospitals. This, too, goes away if the McConnell amendment prevails.
“Finally, Mr. President, I want to mention the many millions of Americans who will be denied health coverage if the McConnell amendment passes. The Republicans, apparently, reckon that middle class Americans who already have health insurance don’t care about those who are not so fortunate. I couldn’t disagree more strongly!
“Americans do care about the uninsured. And they are well aware of the devastating human cost of repeal. Nearly 45,000 Americans die each year, in part, because they don’t have health insurance.
“With this landmark law, we are ensuring – at long last – that every member of our American family has access to quality, affordable health care as a right, not a privilege!
“So mark my words: The American people are not going to allow the Republicans to take away this great humanitarian achievement.
“Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to oppose the McConnell amendment. It blows a huge hole in the budget deficit. It destroys hundreds of thousands of jobs. It repeals the Patient’s Bill of Rights – allowing health insurers to return to the same old abusive and discriminatory practices. It revokes health insurance coverage for tens of millions of Americans.
“Instead, let us listen to the American people.
“Let us move forward to build a reformed health care system that works not only for the healthy and the wealthy, but for all Americans.”
News Releases -
Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Raquel Schott
Monday, 31 January 2011 15:24
Exercise counteracts anxiety and depression, from Harvard Men’s Health Watch
BOSTON—Regular aerobic exercise can bring remarkable changes not just to your body your metabolism, and your heart, but also to your spirits, reports the February 2011 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.
Aerobic exercise is the key for your head, just as it is for your heart. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. Endurance athletes commonly experience the restorative power of exercise, and this has been verified in clinical trials that have used exercise to treat anxiety and depression.
How can exercise contend with problems as difficult as anxiety and depression? There are several explanations, some chemical, others behavioral. The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
Behavioral factors contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. As your waistline shrinks and your strength and stamina increase, your self-image will improve. You’ll earn a sense of pride and self-confidence. Your renewed vigor will help you succeed in many tasks, and the discipline will help you achieve other lifestyle goals. Exercise and sports also provide opportunities to enjoy some solitude or to make friends and build networks.
Harvard Men’s Health Watch notes thatyou should exercise nearly every day. That doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym. But it does mean at least 30 minutes of moderate activity. And if you need more help with stress, consider autoregulation exercises involving deep breathing or muscle relaxation.
Read the full-length article: “Exercising to relax”
Also in this issue:
- Meat or beans—which is the better protein?
- Heart disease and testosterone replacement
- Ultrasound checks for abdominal aortic aneurysm
Harvard Men’s Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications (www.health.harvard.edu), the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $28 per year. Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/men or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).
News Releases -
Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin
Monday, 31 January 2011 13:46
WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 27, 2011 - At this morning’s hearing, Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and other members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) heard testimony from Americans who are already experiencing benefits of the Affordable Care Act. One witness, a 21 year old named Emily Schlichting who suffers from a chronic auto-immune disease, told the Committee that her life has drastically changed for the better thanks to the new health reform law.
“I believe that allowing young people to stay on their parent's insurance gives us new freedom to work toward our goals without going uncovered. But even more important than that is the fact that the Patient’s Bill of Rights makes it so that I can’t be denied insurance simply because I have a disease I can’t control,” Schlichting said in her testimony.
“I’m one example of millions and millions of young Americans who have been helped by this bill, whether through the Dependent Care clause or the Patient’s Bill of Rights or the combination of the two, like me…Health care is something that is easy not to care about when you’re young and you’re healthy…Young people are the future of this country and we are the most affected by reform— we’re the generation that is the most uninsured. We need the Affordable Care Act because it is literally an investment in the future of this country.”
Ms. Schlichting’s testimony was featured today in the Omaha World-Herald and her full remarks, along with the testimony of the rest of the witnesses and an archived webcast of the hearing, can be found at http://help.senate.gov
This is the first in a series of hearings that Chairman Harkin will convene to examine the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and how it is benefitting Americans. In his opening remarks, Harkin said:
“We meet today for the first in a series of hearings this Committee will hold on the Affordable Care Act – hearings that will focus not on the politics of health care reform, nor on the rhetoric that surrounds it, but rather on the tangible, positive impact that reform is having on Americans’ lives. I think we can all agree that what this debate needs is more light and less heat.”
Harkin’s full opening statement as prepared for delivery is below:
Statement by Senator Tom Harkin
"Good morning everyone. We meet today for the first in a series of hearings this Committee will hold on the Affordable Care Act – hearings that will focus not on the politics of health care reform, nor on the rhetoric that surrounds it, but rather on the tangible, positive impact that reform is having on Americans’ lives. I think we can all agree that what this debate needs is more light and less heat.
Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions
Hearing on The Affordable Care Act: The Impact of Health Insurance Reform on Health Care Consumers
January 27, 2011
"To that end, today’s hearing will focus on the benefits of health reform that Americans are experiencing right now – specifically the bundle of significant consumer protections that went into effect in late September of last year, known as the Patient’s Bill of Rights.
"These protections are a historic, long-awaited improvement in the quality and scope of health coverage for all Americans. Every American who pays a health insurance premium is now protected against some of the most egregious and abusive practices of the insurance industry. Put another way, thanks to health reform, Americans now have protections that every Senator on this dais has had for years.
"Before the Affordable Care Act, nearly 102 million Americans were in health insurance policies with lifetime limits, and it was estimated that as many as 20,000 people annually could be denied coverage for care due to those limits. Unsurprisingly, people in danger of hitting a lifetime limit are seriously ill, and their benefits run out just when they need them most. The Affordable Care Act permanently eliminates all lifetime limits, and phases out annual limits by 2014, providing economic and health security for those who need coverage most. One of those folks, Lisa Grasshoff, is here today and will talk a bit later about how the Act’s ban on lifetime limits has helped her care for her son and strengthened her family’s financial future.
"As I’m sure the Secretary will discuss in her testimony, last week the Department of Health and Human Services released an important report analyzing preexisting health conditions. The report’s findings are striking – up to 129 million non-elderly Americans have a preexisting condition, and millions more are likely to develop such a condition over the next eight years. Before the Affordable Care Act, these Americans faced denial of coverage, restriction of health benefits, or higher premiums as a result of their preexisting condition. Their ability to take a new job, start their own business, or make other important life changes was limited – they were, in effect, locked in to their original insurance coverage.
"Because of health reform, insurance companies are now prohibited from restricting or denying coverage to children under 19 because of a preexisting condition. And in 2014, this protection will be extended to all Americans. Between now and 2014, the law establishes an insurance plan in every state tailored specifically to adults with preexisting conditions who are currently “uninsurable,” offering coverage at standard market rates. Thousands of people have enrolled and received coverage of live-saving services like chemotherapy.
"Another element of the Patient’s Bill of Rights is a requirement for every insurance plan to cover evidence-based preventive services that will head off many illnesses, addressing them in the nurses’ office rather than the emergency room. The cost of preventable disease consumes 75% of health care spending annually, dollars that could be used to build roads, improve schools and create jobs. The prevention investments in the law are down payments on the long-term project of transforming our current sick care system into a genuine health care system—and first-dollar coverage of preventive services like mammograms and immunizations are a vital part of that.
"Before the Affordable Care Act, millions of young adults went without health insurance because their jobs didn’t offer it, or because they were ineligible for coverage on their parents’ policy. These young people -- starting a new job or a new business, folks who don’t have a lot of money – had to largely fend for themselves in a chaotic, unregulated market for individual coverage that charges high premiums for only modest benefits. Now, health reform allows these young people – more than 2 million of them -- to stay on their parents’ policy until age 26. This reform relieves young people of the burden of high health insurance costs – and for those who can’t afford coverage, the fear of financial ruin. This reform is particularly important for young people with chronic illnesses, as we will learn from one of our witnesses today, Emily Schlichting, a University of Nebraska student.
"Finally, the Affordable Care Act puts an end to one of the most outrageous insurance company abuses – cancelling insurance coverage right when someone gets sick, based on a technical paperwork error. These stories turn my stomach:
•a California insurer using computer programs and a dedicated department to cancel policies of pregnant women and the chronically ill, only because they submitted expensive claims;
•another insurance company which started a fraud investigation into anyone who submitted a claim reaching a certain cost level, looking for any reason to cancel the policy;
•insurance companies paying bonuses to employees based on how many policies they cancelled (and therefore how much money they saved).
"Health reform puts an end to that sorry state of affairs.
"Today, we will hear from public officials at both the state and federal levels who are charged with implementing and overseeing the Affordable Care Act, as well as private citizens who will talk about how the Act’s consumer protections have affected them.
"On our first panel, we welcome Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to her first hearing of this new Congress. In addition to expertly implementing the private insurance market reforms we’ll focus on today, I want to applaud the Secretary for her relentless and effective work in eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid. This week, the Department reported that it had recovered more than $4 billion from perpetrators of fraud last year – the highest annual recovery ever. And the Department released new rules, authorized by the Affordable Care Act, giving it even more effective tools to detect and combat fraud.
"Our second panel is comprised of Rhode Island Insurance Commissioner Chris Koller, and three non-government witnesses, Lisa Grasshoff, Joe Olivo, and Emily Schlichting.
"As always, I am very pleased to be joined by our committee’s Ranking Member, Senator Mike Enzi."
News Releases -
Health, Medicine & Nutrition
Written by Grassley Press
Thursday, 27 January 2011 09:33
KOHL, GRASSLEY: STOPPING “PAY-FOR-DELAY” DEALS ESSENTIAL TO LOWERING RX DRUG COSTS
Bipartisan effort to speed less expensive generic prescription drugs to market
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Chuck Grassley have reintroduced legislation limiting pay-for-delay settlements used to keep lower-cost generic drugs off pharmacy shelves. Under these pay-off agreements, brand name drug companies settle patent disputes by paying the generic drug manufacturer in exchange for a promise that it will keep its generic version of the drug off the market. Kohl and Grassley’s “Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act” will stop this anti-consumer practice by presuming these deals illegal, and giving the FTC the authority to stop them.
“Generic drugs save consumers and the federal government money, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. But in order to freeze out competition and delay entry of low cost generic drugs for consumers, brand-name drug companies pay-off generic manufactures to keep their products off the market. It is past time to put an end to these backroom deals and pass this bipartisan legislation,” Kohl said.
“These agreements between generic and brand name pharmaceutical manufacturers are only serving to line the pockets of the companies. When people across the country are having a hard time making ends meet, this wheeling and dealing simply delays the entry of lower priced medicines into the marketplace, leaving consumers on the short end of the stick,” Grassley said.
A compromise version of this legislation passed the Judiciary Committee in late 2009 and was included in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee last year. Final passage of the bill stalled when the House and Senate failed to agree on an Omnibus Appropriations package last month.
The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that stopping these types of settlement agreements would save consumers at least $35 billion over the next ten years, and provide significant cost savings in the amount of $12 billion over ten years for the federal government, which pays approximately one-third of all prescription drug costs. A recent CBO report estimates that the federal government could save $2.68 billion over ten years, should this bill become law
Despite the FTC’s opposition to pay-for-delay patent settlements, two 2005 appellate court decisions have permitted these payoffs. In the two years after these two decisions, the FTC has found nearly half of all patent settlements involved payments from the brand name from the generic manufacturer in return for an agreement by the generic to keep its drug off the market. According to a study by Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), health plans and consumers could save $26.4 billion over the next five years by using the generic versions of 14 popular drugs that are scheduled to lose their patent protections before 2010.
Brand-name drug companies and generic manufacturers routinely enter into settlement agreements to end drug patent litigation, but until 2005, none of them included pay-for-delay provisions. From 2000 to 2004, companies assumed such agreements violated antitrust law. But in 2005, following three courts of appeals decisions that prevented the FTC from taking action on behalf of consumers, pay-for-delay settlements became commonplace. In the four years following these court decisions 63 out of 194 patent settlements had provisions in which the brand name drug company made payments to the generic manufacturer in exchange for the generic manufacturer agreeing to delay entry of generic competition. In 2009, there were a record 19 pay-for-delay settlement agreements that kept generics off the market.
Last Congress, Kohl served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights. Grassley is the incoming Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee.