Healthcare and Senior Issues

HEALTH CARE AND SENIOR ISSUES

Senator Collins has consistently supported programs to expand access to health care and improve health care, particularly for citizens living rural areas.  She led the fight to restore critical funding to Medicare for home health care so that elderly and disabled residents can receive needed care in their homes.  The ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Senator Collins founded the Senate Diabetes Caucus, and led the effort to more than triple federal funding for diabetes research.  As Senate co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, Senator Collins has worked to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research and to strengthen support for family caregivers.  Selected efforts and accomplishments include:

Health Care Reform: There is no question that our nation’s health care system requires substantial reform.  The status quo of soaring health care costs, families struggling, millions uninsured, and health care provider shortages across Maine and the nation is unacceptable.  That is why Senator Collins worked for months with her colleagues in 2009 and 2010 to craft a bipartisan consensus bill that would help reduce the cost of health insurance for families and better enable small businesses to provide coverage for their employees.  Senator Collins was disappointed that the President and Senate leadership chose to abandon this approach and instead enacted the partisan Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which does not do enough to rein in the cost of health care or to provide consumers with more affordable choices.  In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that this legislation will actually increase costs for many families and small businesses – the opposite of what reform should produce. 

Alzheimer’s Disease: As the Senate Co-Chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, Senator Collins is all too aware of the tremendous personal and economic toll this devastating disease takes on more than five million Americans and their families.  Until now, there has been no national strategy to defeat Alzheimer’s and efforts to combat the disease have lacked coordination and focus.  Senator Collins was a lead author of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which was signed into law in 2011, to create a strategic national plan to ensure that our resources are maximized and leveraged to combat Alzheimer’s disease.  She is also a lead sponsor of the Spending Reductions through Innovations in Therapies Agenda – or SPRINT– Act, to accelerate the development of treatments and therapies for high-cost diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Diabetes:  Since Senator Collins founded the Senate Diabetes Caucus, funding for diabetes research has more than tripled from $319 million in 1997 to more than $1 billion today.  As a consequence, there have been some encouraging breakthroughs in diabetes research.  For example, advances in technology, like continuous glucose monitors, are helping patients control their blood glucose levels, which is key to preventing diabetes complications.  These advances are moving us closer to our long-term goal of an artificial pancreas which has the potential to revolutionize diabetes care.  An implanted artificial pancreas would link two existing technologies, the insulin pump and the continuous glucose monitor.  Used together, these two technologies have the potential to dramatically improve blood glucose control, which would improve the quality of diabetes care and help to prevent such serious and costly complications as blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure, and amputations. 

Drug Shortages: Physicians, pharmacists and patients throughout the country are currently struggling to cope with a surge in shortages of drugs that is causing significant disruptions in care and putting patients at risk.  According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the number of drug shortages has nearly quadrupled over the last six years, jumping from 61 products in 2005 to a record 231 by the end of November 2011.  Many of the drugs in short supply are vital, used in hospitals and cancer centers for anesthesia, chemotherapy, and treatment of infections.  There are also continuing shortages of drugs used in emergency rooms and intensive-care units.  That is why Senator Collins joined with Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) in sponsoring the Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act, which became law in 2012.  The bill provides the FDA with the tools it needs to better manage, and hopefully prevent, shortages of life-saving medications.

Dental Health: While oral health in the United States has improved dramatically over the last 50 years, these improvements have not occurred evenly across our population, particularly among low-income individuals and their families.  As a consequence, effective treatment and prevention programs are not being implemented in many of our communities.  In Maine, there is one general practice dentist for every 2,300 people in the Portland area.  The numbers drop off dramatically, however, in other parts of the state.  In Aroostook County, for example, there is only one dentist for every 5,500 people. 

To address this shortage of dental professionals, Senator Collins authored the Dental Health Improvement Act which was signed into law.   This law authorizes grants that States can use for a variety of programs to strengthen the dental workforce in rural and underserved communities.  Senator Collins was also instrumental in getting a provision in the FY 2007 Defense Authorization Act requiring TRICARE to cover general anesthesia for dental services provided to military dependents when needed.  Specifically, general anesthesia and operating room costs are now covered under a military family’s TRICARE medical plan for children ages five and under and for those with developmental, mental, or physical disabilities regardless of age.

Home Health:  Issues affecting home care and hospice have always been top priorities for Senator Collins, and she has been recognized as the leader on a variety of initiatives to strengthen, modernize and promote fairness in the Medicare home health benefit.  For example, she successfully fought for additional payments for Medicare home health services delivered in rural areas.  She has also introduced legislation to enable nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists to certify or initiate home health services for their Medicare patients to ensure that our seniors and disabled citizens have timely access to Medicare home health services.

Mental Health: Senator Collins is a strong advocate for individuals who suffer from mental illness and their families.  She was an original cosponsor of the Senator Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act, which requires insurers to cover mental illness in the same way that they cover physical illness.  Since more than one in five Americans aged 65 and older experiences mental illness, she has also introduced legislation, the Positive Aging Act, to fund demonstration projects to integrate mental health services in primary care settings and also support grants for community-based mental health treatment outreach teams to improve older American’s access to mental health services.  Senator Collins, in an effort to expand access to critical mental health services, is a cosponsor of the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act and the Excellence in Mental Health Act.  The Excellence in Mental Health Act would expand access to affordable mental health care for individuals through Community Mental Health Centers while the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act  would allow Medicare recipients to receive services from Licensed Clinical Professional Councilors.

Rural AEDs: Cardiac arrest causes the sudden death of more than 250,000 people each year.  Many of these deaths could be prevented if automated external defibrillators (AEDs) were more accessible.  Senator Collins authored the Rural Access to Emergency Devices Act, which provides grants to states to purchase AEDs and to train potential responders in their use.  Since this law was enacted in late 2000, more than $40 million has been awarded in 49 states.  Since 2001, Maine has received more than $1 million and has purchased approximately 600 AEDs which have been deployed throughout the state – to police, fire, and ambulance departments, town halls, schools, colleges, parks, museums, and to YMCAs—saving lives.

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