Senate Democrats

The 111th Congress is Investing in America’s Priorities: Health Care

Senate Democrats are committed to repairing the economy through long-term investments, including in health care. In the 111th Congress, Senate Democrats have already passed significant legislation that will create American jobs, invest in America’s future, and address the skyrocketing costs of health care. These Democratic initiatives address inherited problems neglected over the past eight years.

Earlier this year, Senate Democrats passed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIPRA), which reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance program to continue and expand access to health insurance for lower-income children. The legislation was signed into law by President Obama (P.L. 111-3) on February 4, 2009.

In February, Congress enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act)(P.L . 111-5) to help our nation recover from the current recession and make long-term investments to strengthen our economy. The Recovery Act provides crucial funding to states facing budget shortfalls due to the severe economic downturn. Prior to the passage of this legislation, at least 34 states had begun to close their budget gaps by eliminating or reducing critical social services to citizens, including health care services.[1] The funding provided by the Recovery Act has allowed states to maintain their programs, saved jobs, and created new opportunities for work.

In March, Senate Democrats passed the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (Omnibus), (P.L. 111-8), which provided the funding necessary to continue government services throughout Fiscal Year 2009, including for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Taken together, these legislative initiatives ensure continuity of care, expand health care coverage to Americans in need, and take steps towards making health care more affordable. Given the strain that health care costs place on American families and businesses, making critical investments in our nation’s health care system will strengthen the economy and help lead to long-term economic prosperity.

Access to health care.The cost of family health insurance has skyrocketed nearly 80 percent since 2001,[2] compared with a 24 percent increase in overall inflation.Studies show that each one percent increase in employment will result in an additional 1.1 million uninsured.[3]In February 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate reached 8.1 percent, and is expected to grow in the coming months.[4]Senate Democrats have tried to meet the growing need for affordable health insurance with increased funding to provide health care to a wide-range of Americans, including:

·         Children. The CHIP legislation will allow 6.7 million children to continue to receive health care coverage and extends coverage to 4.1 million children who are currently uninsured. The legislation also provides a new option for states to remove the 5-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women, providing those who qualify with immediate access to Medicaid and CHIP.

·         The elderly. Medicare was created in 1965 to provide health insurance for people age 65 and older. The Omnibus provides $45 million for outreach to seniors to help these newly eligible individuals understand which Medicare benefits are available to them.

·         The recently unemployed. Sixty-one percent of the non-elderly population receives health insurance through an employer.[5] The Recovery Act provides temporary subsidies to individuals recently laid off so that they can maintain their health coverage. Some recently unemployed individuals will be eligible for a nine-month subsidy that will cover 65 percent of the cost of maintaining their employer-sponsored coverage (also known as COBRA).

·         High-risk individuals. Some individuals are denied affordable health care coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions. The Omnibus provides $75 million for state high-risk insurance pools to provide affordable health insurance to nearly 200,000 individuals with high-risk medical conditions.

·         Rural communities. The Omnibus provides $289 million for programs designed to help rural communities address their unique health care challenges. These funds will support more than 1,200 small, rural hospitals which will serve more than 700,000 rural residents in underserved communities.

·         Vulnerable communities. The Omnibus provides $2.2 billion for the Community Health Centers program, which includes community health centers, migrant health centers, and health care centers for the homeless. These organizations provide primary health care and social services for those without other access to care. The Recovery Act included an additional $500 million for the operation of the nation’s Community Health Centers, and an additional $1.5 billion for construction and equipment at these vital centers.

Health information technology.Investments in health information technology (IT) have the potential to save billions of dollars by reducing health care costs and improving the quality of care for all Americans. The Recovery Act includes $19 billion for the modernization and implementation of health IT. This investment will provide long-term dividends including more efficient and effective care as additional health care providers utilize interoperable electronic health records.

Investments in critical research. The Recovery Act and Omnibus directed a total of more than $40 billion to the National Institutes of Health for funding biomedical research in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes and stem cells.  These investments could lead to new cures and treatments, and will address debilitating health conditions that prevent our workforce from reaching optimal productivity. 

Training for health professionals.Medical professionals are in high demand and short supply. This problem is likely to grow as medical personnel reach retirement age, and the aging population demands increased care. The Recovery Act provides $500 million to address the workforce shortages in health professions. The Omnibus directs $842 million to train doctors and other medical personnel providing improved access to critical health care services.

Preventive care to protect individuals from chronic disease.The Recovery Act includes over $650 million for prevention and wellness programs to keep our communities healthy and productive. The Omnibus includes an additional $882 million, including $25 million to provide colorectal cancer screening and follow-up care. An additional $63.4 million was included for efforts to prevent autism and support those families affected by autism.



[1] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, An Update on State Budget Cuts, March 13, 2009, available here.

[2] The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust, September 2008, available here.

[3] Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, State Fiscal Conditions and Medicaid, January 2009, available here.

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, March 6, 2009, available here.

[5] Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, The COBRA Subsidy and Health Insurance for the Unemployed, March 2009, available here.

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