- Health Care
Jeff believes access to quality, affordable health care is not a privilege, but a human right. Jeff’s perspective on health care has been influenced by his wife, Mary, a registered nurse, who sees the world through the eyes of her patients: the people who should be at the heart of our health care system.
Throughout his career, Jeff has fought to expand access to quality, affordable health care coverage. As Speaker of the Oregon House, Jeff lowered prescription drug prices by expanding the state’s bulk purchasing program and fought to expand and improve children’s health care coverage. Jeff continues working to improve health care quality and coverage for all Americans in the U.S. Senate.
Affordable Care for Every American
To make our health care system work for American families and small businesses, Jeff voted in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in March 2010. This historic law has brought an end to many of the predatory insurance practices that victimized our families.
Although the implementation of the law has been deeply flawed in Oregon, the new system makes important changes that must be preserved. It stops insurance companies from denying people coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition or dropping coverage once someone actually gets sick. It requires that many preventive services be covered by insurance free of charge and stops insurance companies from charging women more than men for the same coverage. And under the law, young adults can now stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.
The law also makes health care affordable to many Oregonians for the first time, with new subsidies for many, expanded access to the Oregon Health Plan, and tax credits for small businesses that offer coverage to their employees. Recognizing that it is often challenging for small businesses to offer health insurance, Jeff led the effort during debate on the health care reform law to expand small businesses’ access to health insurances exchanges, allowing businesses with up to 100 employees to compare and shop for affordable health insurance options. Despite the problematic roll-out of Cover Oregon, the state’s health insurance exchange, over a quarter-million Oregonians have received health insurance coverage under the law. Jeff believes the roll-out has been unacceptably rocky and there are things that he has been working hard to fix, like ensuring people can keep plans they like and don’t lose out because of Cover Oregon’s problems, but Jeff will also fight attempts to take us back to the old system when insurance companies could kick people off their insurance when they got sick and could deny people coverage for preexisting conditions.
Jeff’s wife, Mary, has been a longtime nurse and volunteer at health care clinics. Thanks to her insights, Jeff knows firsthand the care and compassion nurses provide patients and their families.
In March of 2010, Jeff established the bipartisan Senate Nursing Caucus to provide a forum for Senators to address issues affecting the nursing community and recognize and advance the important role of nurses in the delivery of high quality health care. The health reform law makes significant investments in our health care workforce, ensuring access to nurses, physicians, and other health care professionals. In his position on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Jeff has led efforts to increase funding for the Title VIII Nursing Workforce and Development Programs to help recruit more nurse educators and address nursing workforce shortages.
Standing with New Mothers
Breastfeeding is an effective, low-cost method of improving the health of infants and their mothers and preventing diseases later in life. Recent studies have found that breastfed infants are less likely to be at risk of a host of illnesses, including asthma, diabetes, and obesity.
Unfortunately for too many working moms, it’s hard to get time to pump while they are on the job. To help nursing mothers, Jeff championed the “right to pump” as Speaker in the Oregon Legislature and succeeded in adding a bipartisan amendment to the 2010 health care reform law to ensure that new mothers have the time and space to express milk for their babies while at work. The law requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide reasonable space and privacy to new mothers to take unpaid breaks to pump or breastfeed.
Medicare provides health coverage for nearly 45 million Americans and is one of the most successful programs the federal government has ever undertaken. Jeff takes seriously the promise to working Americans that Medicare will be there when they retire, and will fight any efforts to weaken it or take it away. While opponents of Medicare suggest that the program is in crisis, Jeff knows that in fact, Medicare is among the most efficient elements of the entire health care system. He also recognizes that an aging population will put increasing strains on Medicare’s funding.
Jeff is dedicated to working to ensure Medicare remains solvent and will protect it against ideological crusades to dismantle it or turn it into a voucher program. Jeff has supported reforms that extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by more than 10 years -- without simply shifting health care costs onto the backs of seniors. This will provide security to current Medicare enrollees and their children by ensuring that Medicare will be there when they need it.
Jeff has also voted to ensure that preventive care is available to Medicare beneficiaries at no cost. Last year alone, more than 250,000 Oregon seniors benefited from free preventive care, including more than 30,000 annual wellness check-ups.
Jeff strongly supports improving Medicare reimbursement rates for Oregon and creating incentives to reward health care providers for the quality of care they deliver, not simply the quantity of services they provide.
Jeff would fight any efforts to raise the Medicare eligibility age, and believes if we are to make any changes to the eligibility age, we should lower it.
Prescription Drug Costs
Our seniors should never have to pick and choose which medicines they can afford. The rising cost of prescription drugs poses a huge problem for seniors struggling to afford the medicines they need.
Jeff voted to close the Medicare “donut hole” that forces seniors to pay full price for their prescription drugs in the gap between the initial coverage limit and the catastrophic coverage threshold. Since 2010, more than 7 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved almost $9 billion on prescription drugs because of the fix to the donut hole. In 2013, nearly 35,000 seniors in Oregon saved $92,000 in prescription drug costs, an average of $794 per beneficiary that was in the donut hole gap in coverage.
Jeff supports requiring the Federal Government to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices with the drug companies. Jeff also supports bulk purchasing programs like the one instituted in Oregon, which is designed to secure discounted prescription drugs for seniors in need.
Jeff also believes that it is important that we increase access to affordable generic drugs for American seniors while encouraging research and development of innovative pharmaceutical advances. On average, generic drugs cost 63 percent less than brand-name versions, and Americans with fixed incomes could greatly benefit from increased access to these cost-effective medicines.
Children’s Health Care
For our children to do well in school and reach their full potential, they must be healthy. One of Jeff’s first actions in Congress was to support increased health care coverage for millions of uninsured children by voting to renew and expand the successful State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). SCHIP is a program that works to provide quality coverage to our children and strengthen families.
The health care reform law expands on this promise by ensuring all families have access to affordable health care options, including allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26 years old. It also ends insurance company denial of coverage for children with pre-existing health conditions.
Addressing the Threat of Tobacco
Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in America. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Jeff helped to pass the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which places the tobacco industry under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and will help to protect children from deadly addiction.
Jeff has taken the lead in fighting the tobacco industry’s effort to hook the next generation of kids with new tobacco candy products. He authored a provision, included in the final law, that directed an FDA Scientific Advisory Committee to study the public health effects of tobacco candy – dissolvable products that resemble breath mints -- and its impact on children. Jeff has led the push to get the FDA to issue new rules that will enable it to assert oversight over all tobacco products, including tobacco candy.
Preventing Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity has become a public health crisis in our country. More than one in every six children in America is obese. The rising rate of childhood obesity leaves our children at risk of serious health problems, and leads to increasing health care costs for the country.
Jeff is committed to working to ensure children have healthy foods in schools, access to safe recreational activities, and physical activity programs during the school day. Jeff believes that improving nutritional guidelines and standards for the food children eat at school, as Oregon has done, must be a national priority.