Preserving and expanding access to quality health care is a top priority for me. In March of 2010 we finally achieved comprehensive health care reform with passage of H.R. 3590: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and H.R. 4872: the Reconciliation Act of 2010.
During the lengthy negotiations on the health care bill, it became clear that reform would fall short of true universal access to health care. However, the perfect should never be the enemy of the good and there is much to celebrate in the health care reform package. It extends coverage to millions more Americans, prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and creates health insurance exchanges so people can purchase affordable coverage. It also increases funding for Community Health Centers, and invests in the training of doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers. Furthermore, the bill protects approximately $4 billion in funding for Massachusetts.
Many in Congress remain strongly opposed to this landmark legislation. In fact, in January of 2011, in one of the first bills considered, the Republican-controlled House voted to repeal healthcare reform. Although repeal failed in the Senate, this effort underscores the challenges that we face as implementation of health reform continues.
I remain committed to universal health care coverage and that is why I co-sponsored H.R. 676: the United States National Health Insurance Act. This legislation would establish a national single-payer healthcare system. Additionally, I have co-sponsored legislation that would allow any citizen to buy into the Medicare program, which is, after all, a long-established “public option,” although now limited to seniors. I will continue to support legislation aimed at creating a national public option as well.
As a founder and co-chair of the Congressional Community Health Centers Caucus, I am fighting to expand funding for our nation's health centers, which provide cost-effective health care in neighborhoods that are traditionally underserved by the health care system. I am pleased that they will receive additional funding through health care reform.
We remain too far from the goal of "universal access, zero disparities." I have led the fight to restore funding that had been cut from the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program. REACH provides grants to localities so they can develop systems responsive to their particular local needs. It remains one of the best tools for reducing and ultimately eliminating disparities in health outcomes.
I have consistently opposed Republican-led efforts to undermine the fundamental nature of the Medicare program. Along with the entire Massachusetts Delegation, I voted against the so-called "Medicare Modernization Act" in 2003 that created the inadequate and overly complicated Medicare prescription drug benefit. Additionally, for the first time in Medicare's history, the bill required seniors seeking access to a Medicare benefit to enroll in a private plan. Further, and more troubling, enacted without additional revenue and without any attempt to control rising prescription drug costs, the bill set Medicare on a path to insolvency.
During my first term in Congress, I learned through personal experience that Medicare did not cover vision rehabilitation services, essential for helping vision-impaired seniors maintain their independence and prevent future injuries. I filed legislation to establish this benefit through the Medicare program. In 2006, after years of work, the Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Demonstration was launched. Although the previous Administration did not implement this program as we had hoped, this represents an important first step towards gaining full coverage of this benefit. We will continue working to improve the program.
I am privileged to represent some of our nation's and the world's greatest universities, research institutes and teaching hospitals, and I am determined to preserve our preeminence in biomedical sciences and in academic medicine. Breakthroughs in our understanding of disease, in prevention, diagnosis, and clinical care remain to be achieved.