Declare war on Medicare fraud, not seniors

As Congress wrangles over the debt ceiling, the federal budget, and the future of entitlement programs, it's clear that the nearly $500 billion spent each year on Medicare will remain a topic of great interest. 

And it should be: Medicare, which provides health coverage for elderly and disabled Americans, is second only to Social Security in its share of the federal budget. As it figures out what to do with Medicare, however, Congress needs to take a close look at the level of fraud in the system and focus on reducing it before asking seniors who have paid into the system their entire lives to accept poorly conceived benefit reductions or co-pays.  Congress, in short, should declare war on Medicare fraudsters, not the seniors that benefit from the program.


Help children with rare diseases get the new medicines they need

Having a seriously ill child is always difficult and painful. It’s even more so when a child’s illness is one of the 7,000 rare diseases for which cures and treatments are hard to find.

Rare diseases affect more than 15 million children in the United States.  A disease is considered rare if it affects less than 200,000 people; however the majority of rare diseases are considered ‘ultra rare’ meaning that they affect less than 6,500 patients.  Diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Huntington’s disease and pediatric cancers are some of the better known rare diseases that strike children and adults.  But there are thousands more that touch only a few hundred lives and are virtually unknown to the broader public.

Because these diseases are rare, support networks are hard to find and information can be difficult to obtain. Even getting a diagnosis can be a challenge because doctors may not know what they’re looking for. And when the diagnosis comes, it is often followed by the frustrating news that no cure exists and treatment options are minimal. 


CER will cost money and lives

Ask anyone for a list of ways to live a longer, healthier life, and they’re likely to include exercise, a better diet and less stress. But there’s something they’re likely to leave off the list that’s had a far more profound effect on health and longevity: medical innovation.

New drugs, new surgical techniques, new medical devices -- from retroviral AIDS therapies to cutting-edge chemotherapy treatments -- have, quite literally, given us more time on earth.

Unfortunately, there’s a piece of the health care reform law passed last year that could derail this life-prolonging momentum. 


Keep Medicaid strong and protect our children

As a pediatrician working in southeast DC, the Medicaid program means more to me than just fodder for heated budget debates on Capitol Hill.  Despite its imperfections, Medicaid is a lifeline of health and dignity for my patients and their families.

So when I hear talks of "tightening the belt" when it comes to federal spending, I don't see Medicaid as an expendable program. Yet, this belt-tightening metaphor is being used to justify support for proposed legislation like the State Flexibility Act (HR1683/S868), which lets states off the hook from maintaining Medicaid eligibility requirements for some of the country's most vulnerable populations. 


Religious voices support access to abortion

Some of the legislation that has come out of Congress recently seems more like a decree from on high than the result of the democratic process. Capitol Hill should be a reflection of the needs and values of all Americans — not just those with the loudest voices or the strongest lobby. Often, religious voices are used to impose or support the most conservative policies, despite the diversity that exists among people of faith.

Our Catholic tradition places a premium on what the Declaration on Religious Freedom calls “the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom.” Though we come from different backgrounds, all of us share the belief that women should have the right to make their own choice about abortion, in particular, and reproductive health choices in general. All of these choices are under fire in Congress. In fact, the U.S. bishops have been the greatest obstacle to women exercising these choices – even though Catholics disagree fundamentally with positions that the bishops have taken on these matters.


Modernize Medicaid to better support people with disabilities

This month marks the 12th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead V. L.C., ruling that the needless institutionalization of people with disabilities is illegal discrimination.  Despite that decision, misguided Medicaid rules continue to force millions of people with disabilities to remain in nursing homes, against their wishes and at a much greater cost to taxpayers than many home and community-based alternatives.  

Today, as we seek ways to reduce budget deficits, we must seize on the opportunity to make our Medicaid dollars go farther while finally giving millions of individuals with disabilities one of the most fundamental of rights: the choice to live independently. 


Medicine has changed, but the need for Medicare has not

Sen. Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor on Medicare.

Often very good ideas – no matter how important – take time to ripen. And even when they are ripe, they need dedicated advocates to make them reality. Let me give you an example.

President Harry Truman once said this:

“Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. And the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection.”

But in 1945, when Truman spoke those words to Congress, the time had not yet truly arrived. In fact, it would be another 20 years before Truman’s good idea was realized. It was 20 years before Truman became the first of 19 million Americans to receive a Medicare card.


Medicare’s low-hanging fruit

Discussions around Medicare reform are not easy and can cause uproar among those who may object to drastic changes to the valued federal program. Yet, we all know that taking to the sidelines isn’t going to solve what many say is the most significant impediment to a sound future for our health care system and our nation’s economy.

I agree that our current system has significant challenges, and that proposals for sweeping changes are likely to cause turbulence. We’ve already seen the backlash that such proposals incite. But, while we work to develop a more efficient and effective long-term view of Medicare, we should take immediate action on issues that are tucked less discernibly within the Medicare maze—issues that can reduce spending and improve the quality of care provided to millions of beneficiaries.


Ending the epidemic of tobacco-related disease and death

It has been two years since Congress and the president made the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act a reality. I am pleased to say the Food and Drug Administration executed an important milestone of that legislation last week.

On Tuesday we unveiled the nine graphic health warnings that will appear on every pack of cigarettes in the country by September 2012.

This action underscores the role FDA plays in protecting the health of the American public: providing accurate, trusted information about the millions of products Americans consume every day.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly the case with these nine images. They represent the first major changes to cigarette packs in 25 years and will provide anyone who sees them with a clear, honest look at the very serious health consequences of smoking.


The growing threat in our food

The devastating E. coli outbreak in Germany that has killed at least 37 and sickened more than 3,000 people over the past month is a stark reminder of the threat posed by food-borne illnesses to our children, families, and even healthy adults.

It is also shining a light on a looming public crisis that the scientific community has been warning of for years: the emergence of deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, like the strain spreading through Germany.