- Health Care
Senator Merkley believes access to quality, affordable health care is not a privilege, but a human right. Senator Merkley’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, Senator Merkley has fought to expand access to quality, affordable health care coverage. As Speaker of the Oregon House, Senator Merkley lowered prescription drug prices by expanding the state’s bulk purchasing program and fought to expand and improve children’s health care coverage. Senator Merkley continues working to improve health care quality and coverage for all Americans in the U.S. Senate where he sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Affordable Care for Every American
To make our health care system work for American families and small businesses, Senator Merkley voted in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in March 2010. Millions of Americans stand to benefit from an improved health care system that provides critically needed insurance reforms and support for families and small businesses.
This historic legislation will bring to an end to insurance practices that victimize our families and extends health care coverage to 30 million Americans. It also helps contain costs for millions of families and small businesses and creates state insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, that will increase choice and competition.
These health insurance exchanges will allow individuals and small businesses to compare available health insurance options and purchase policies online. During the health care reform debate, Senator Merkley led the effort to expand small businesses’ access to these exchanges, allowing businesses with up to 100 employees to shop for affordable health insurance options.
Additionally, the law provides tax credits to small businesses with fewer than 25 employees and average annual wages of less than $50,000 that provide health insurance coverage to their employees.
Finally, the bill will stop insurance companies from denying people coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition or dropping coverage once someone actually gets sick.
Senator Merkley’s wife, Mary, has been a longtime nurse and volunteer at health care clinics. Thanks to her insights, Senator Merkley knows firsthand the care and compassion nurses provide patients and their families.
In March of 2010, Senator Merkley established the 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.
Standing with New Mothers
Breastfeeding is an effective, low-cost method of improving the health of infants, improving the health of 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, Senator Merkley included a provision in the 2010 health care reform law that ensures new mothers have the time and space to breastfeed at work. The law requires employers of 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 undertaken. Merkley 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. He also recognizes that an aging population will put increasing strains on Medicare’s funding and is dedicated to working to ensure Medicare remains solvent.
Senator Merkley worked hard to ensure that the new health reform law improves the Medicare reimbursement rates for Oregon and creates incentives to reward health care providers for the quality of care they deliver, not simply the quantity of services they provide.
Prescription Drug Coverage for Seniors
Our seniors should never have to pick and choose which medicines they can afford.
Senator Merkley voted for the 2010 health care reform law, which phases out the Medicare “donut hole” gap in coverage that forces seniors to pay full price for their prescription drugs in the gap between the initial coverage limit and the catastrophic coverage threshold. The health care reform law also provides a $250 rebate to seniors who enter the “donut hole” in 2010, and, starting in 2011, a 50 percent discount on any brand-name prescription drug in the “donut hole.”
Merkley supports requiring the Federal Government to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices with the drug companies. Merkley also supports bulk purchasing programs like the one instituted in Oregon, which is designed to secure discounted prescription drugs for seniors in need.
Children’s Health Care
For our children to do well in school and reach their full potential, they must be healthy. One of Senator Merkley’s first actions in Congress was to support increased health care coverage for millions of uninsured children by voting to renew and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). SCHIP is a program that works to provide quality coverage to our children and strengthen families.
The expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program will provide health care coverage for 4 million previously uninsured children in addition to the 6.7 million children already covered through the program. In Oregon alone, the passage of this legislation will provide an additional 42,000 children with health care coverage, more than one-third of all uninsured children in the state.
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 of children with pre-existing health conditions.
Addressing the Threat of Tobacco
Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in America. In 2009, Senator Merkley supported the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which places the tobacco industry under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is designed to protect children from deadly addiction.
During consideration of the bill in the HELP Committee, Senator Merkley fought to keep tobacco candy out of the hands of children. He authored a provision, included in the final law, that directs an FDA Scientific Advisory Committee to study the public health effects of tobacco candy and its impact on children.
Senator Merkley continues to fight for smoking prevention programs. The health care reform law expands coverage of smoking cessation programs through Medicaid.
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.
Senator Merkley 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. Merkley believes that improving nutritional guidelines and standards for the food children eat at school, as Oregon has successfully done, must be a national priority.