Restrictions on birth control hurt everyone

Restricting women’s access to birth control hurts everyone.  It hurts women by limiting their ability to get an education or become self-sufficient, and risks their health when they can’t plan or space their pregnancies.  It hurts children born into families not ready or able to care for them. And it hurts families by robbing them of the ability to decide whether and when to have a child.

That is why independent physicians, nurses, and other health professionals agree that providing access to contraception is good medical and economic policy.  And yet – surprisingly – birth control is under attack.  Anti-women groups, and some members of Congress, are pressuring the Administration to roll back some of provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The ACA guarantees access to important preventive health services without expensive co-pays.  This includes contraception for women.  But if anti-women forces get their way, thousands of employers will be allowed to refuse to cover contraceptives in their employer-sponsored health plans.  These forces are attempting to directly interfere with the individual health needs of millions of women by limiting the type of care they can get.


Supercommittee: Don't force cancer clinics to close

This past summer, Congress appointed a super committee to come up with a plan for cutting the nation’s escalating debt.  To this end, this bipartisan group of lawmakers may be considering cuts to Medicare Part B, the federal program that reimburses physicians for medicines they administer as treatment to America's seniors. 
Unlike pills that patients can take themselves at home, Part B drugs must be injected or infused under the direction of a healthcare provider in a professional medical setting, like medicines for cancer patients.  Part B must be kept off the table.  


The goal of an AIDS-free generation: The time to invest in science is now

Last week at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out an ambitious vision to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In a statement that no US leader has made before, Clinton said that it is possible to achieve an AIDS-free generation.
The goal Secretary Clinton lays out is indeed possible, and we welcome her announcement of an additional $60 million for implementation of a combination of prevention strategies in four sub-Saharan African countries and evaluation of their impact. But this funding can only be viewed as a down payment on the work that needs to be done. In order to get there, the Obama administration, along with developed and developing country governments around the world, need to add specific commitments, milestones, and strategies to the vision. And they need to commit to the long haul.
It is 16 days to World AIDS Day, and we expect to hear additional commitments and see leadership from President Obama, with an eye to both the international and domestic epidemics.


Cost vs. public health

Vaccines have eradicated smallpox globally and eliminated polio from the Western hemisphere.  In addition to saving lives, vaccines are a great investment of health care dollars: For every $1 spent on immunization, the U.S. saves $10.20.

Future progress against deadly diseases, however, may be in danger. The current vaccine approval system in the United States is stifling innovation, creating an environment of uncertainty for new immunizations and, more importantly, reducing the public health impact of vaccines.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) – run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and comprised of 15 physicians, epidemiologists and public health officials – decides whether and how vaccines already determined to be safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be recommended for use in certain populations.  Unlike drugs, which are available to patients shortly after FDA licensure, vaccines must go through a second hurdle:  The ACIP vote.  


A new take on the Food Stamp debate

Over the past couple of weeks members of Congress have been taking part in a challenge to live on the average food stamp budget, a public experiment that comes in the midst of an ongoing debate about whether people receiving food assistance should be allowed to spend government dollars on junk food and soda.

But instead of putting all of our focus on how recipients spend their food stamp dollars, we need to take a hard look at the stores that are accepting those dollars -- because lawmakers have a critical opportunity right now to require these stores to improve what they’re selling.

More than 45 million Americans now receive benefits through the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That’s one in every seven people in this country. At least nine states have now requested permission from the federal government to set tighter controls on SNAP benefits.


A call to stop the "epidemic" of opioid pain medicine overdoses

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report about “the epidemic” of overdoses involving prescription opioid pain medicines (strong pain medicines like morphine, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and others).  The report blames rampant overprescribing by doctors and other professionals for the sharp uptick in deaths related to opioid abuse, leading the CDC to propose various solutions aimed primarily at reducing the supply of these medications.  In reality, if Americans want to know where these misused medications are coming from, they need to look in the mirror – or more accurately the medicine cabinet behind the mirror.
In its report, CDC states that that 14,800 people died of overdoses in which prescription opioid pain medicines were present, an increase from about 4000 such cases in 1999.  The CDC then argues that because this increase in deaths occurred while sales of these drugs increased, one caused the other.  This is an easy conclusion to leap to – and one that the CDC has focused on in the past – but it doesn’t make that conclusion right.  And what’s even more dangerous is proposing new policy based on unproven conclusions.



Express Scripts and Medco together will lower healthcare costs

Combining Express Scripts and Medco is an opportunity for two leading pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to apply private sector know-how to solve our country's biggest healthcare challenge: lowering the cost of healthcare while raising the quality.

By joining complementary strengths, the proposed merger will benefit the nation's patients, employers and managed care plans, leading to safer and more affordable medicines for American families.


Innovating health care in the home – a proven solution

The Joint Select Committee is tasked with the difficult challenge of cutting $1.2 trillion or more of overall government spending, just as the first wave of baby boomers reach retirement age. Health care spending, already outpacing our economy, is expected to grow even more.

Curbing this growth in health care spending is absolutely necessary for all of us, yet we cannot accomplish this without radical rethinking of how we provide care.  New legislation should center on implementing innovative solutions that create this new reality for how health care is delivered.
Treating patients with chronic conditions accounts for 85% of total health care costs, and two in five seniors 65 and over have three or more chronic conditions. If we continue to focus only on reactively treating sickness and injury, nothing will change.  To reduce health care spending, we must more efficiently provide for these high-cost patients and make it easier for them to receive proactive, preventive care.  What better place than in the home?


We must address the problems in our health care system

Our health care system is facing many challenges, which were made worse by the president’s health care law. The price of health care continues to rise, and it is directly threatening our future access to care.  From the rising costs businesses are facing because of the new health care law, to Congress’ neglect to repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR), legislation needs to pass that addresses these important issues.  The solution should not include creating new government-run programs, but rather repealing the law and replacing it with legislation that addresses the problems currently in our health care system.

As one of my first actions this Congress, I voted for H.R. 2, which repeals the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.  I have cosponsored legislation, signed a discharge petition to repeal the bill, and am working to write a health care bill through the Republican Study Committee (RSC).  I will do all I can to prevent the implementation of the president’s health care law and will work to ensure the entire bill is repealed and then replaced with patient-centric reform.


Putting an end to viral hepatitis: America’s silent killer

There’s a silent killer loose in America.  It is viral hepatitis, and it contributes to the death of 15,000 Americans every year. Most people don’t even know they have it until years later when it’s too late for any treatment to work.

That is why we’re fighting back with new legislation being introducing today: the Viral Hepatitis Testing Act of 2011, the start of what we expect to be a historic national effort to fight – and ultimately eradicate – Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) in America.  The current approach is not working.  Typically, despite the pervasive nature of Hepatitis B and C, health providers do not screen Americans at high-risk for hepatitis.  Moreover, most people don’t recognize symptoms until later stages when they have developed cancer or liver disease.

It is not surprising, then, that viral hepatitis is more common than HIV/AIDs but remains unrecognized as a serious threat to public health. In addition, viral hepatitis disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic populations. For example, HCV is twice as prevalent among African Americans as among Caucasians. Asian Americans comprise more than half of the known hepatitis B population in the United States and consequently maintain the highest rate of liver cancer among all ethnic groups.