FACT SHEET | September 9, 2008

Senate Democrats are Working to Improve the Health and Health Care of Latinos and All Americans

American families are struggling to find affordable health insurance coverage. Rising health care costs are straining family budgets as well as state budgets, forcing employers to drop or scale back health insurance coverage for their workers, increasing the number of uninsured Americans, and impeding access to needed health care services. Over the last eight years, little progress has been made in reducing many of the disparities experienced by racial and ethnic minorities in accessing health care, with lack of insurance coverage constituting a major barrier to reducing those disparities. 

Unfortunately, President Bush and Republicans in Congress have allowed the problem to worsen on their watch and made covering the uninsured a low priority. In fact, the health care proposals put forth by the President each year in his budget request, upon close examination, would do little or nothing to make health coverage more affordable and would actually leave many Americans worse off than they are today. The Republican nominee for President, Senator McCain, shares President Bush's misguided vision and promises four more years of the same harmful proposals. 

Democrats are committed to containing health care costs, reducing disparities, and securing guaranteed affordable health coverage for all Americans. While we have made a significant down payment towards achieving these ends, Senate Democrats are far from satisfied. All too often, Bush-McCain Republicans have stood in the way of progress and refused to work with Democrats in good faith to address the needs of the nation. The American people are tired of these partisan tactics, and Senate Democrats share their frustration. That is why Democrats will not rest until we have fully addressed the key priorities of our nation. Democrats will continue to lead the way for change that benefits all Americans. 

Congress voted overwhelmingly to override President Bush's veto of critical Medicare legislation. Both the House and the Senate approved H.R. 6331, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, by veto-proof majorities. Despite the overwhelming bi-partisan support for this bill, however, President Bush vetoed it. While the President and his Republican allies in Congress fought to protect the health insurance industry, Democrats fought to protect seniors. That is why under Democratic leadership, Congress voted overwhelmingly to override the President's irresponsible veto of this bill, and on July 15, 2008, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Actbecame law (P.L. 110-275). This legislation prevented a 10.6 percent cut in payments to physicians who care for the 44 million American seniors in the Medicare program and the estimated 8.9 million beneficiaries in the military's TRICARE program. Approximately 75 percent of Hispanic Seniors are enrolled in the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program.


The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act will also: 

•Ensure seniors' access to the doctors they know and trust by preventing the otherwise pending 10 percent payment cut for physicians in Medicare;

•Ensure active-duty military personnel and military retirees access to the doctors they know and trust in TRICARE, where payments to physicians are based on Medicare payment rates;

•Guarantee enhanced Medicare preventive and mental health benefits, including providing for mental health parity in the Medicare program;

•Guarantee improvements in and extension of programs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, including increasing the amount of assets that low-income beneficiaries can have and still qualify for financial assistance with Medicare costs; This provision is especially important to Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries, 59 percent of whom have annual incomes below the poverty level;

•Guarantee improvements in Medicare for both health care providers and beneficiaries in rural America, including improving payments for sole community hospitals, critical access hospitals and ambulances; and

•Improve choice and access to health care providers for seniors in Medicare Private Fee-for-Service plans by requiring those plans to contract with doctors and hospitals to form provider networks -just like all other Medicare Advantage plans that serve Medicare beneficiaries. 

Congress, under the leadership of Democrats, is working to ensure health care coverage for children in need.The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has played a crucial role in helping to reduce the rate of uninsured low-income children over the past ten years. By every measure, CHIP is cost-effective, and has been shown to work well in meeting the basic health care needs of our nation's children. Since its inception, CHIP has reduced the percentage of uninsured Hispanic children by nearly one third, and has helped to narrow racial and ethnic disparities in access to care among low-income children. Twice last year, Congress passed bipartisan CHIP reauthorization legislation that would invest $35 billion in new funding for CHIP, extending coverage to almost four million uninsured children. And twice, the President vetoed the legislation. 

As a result of the President's actions, Congress was forced to merely extend the current CHIP program though March 31, 2009, thereby protecting coverage for currently enrolled children, but not making any headway in covering the millions of our nation's children who remain uninsured. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3.4 million Latino children in our country (22.1 percent) are uninsured. And researchers have estimated that as many as 80 percent of uninsured Hispanic children appear to be eligible for public coverage. Despite the President's vetoes of this critical legislation, 69 Senators, 43 governors, hundreds of organizations, and the vast majority of the American people continue to support the bipartisan CHIP reauthorization legislation - to give our nation's uninsured children the doctors' visits and medicines they need when they're sick, and the checkups they need to stay well. 

Democrats were also disappointed that Congress was unable to incorporate the bipartisan Legal Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act (ICHIA) into the CHIP legislation. Prior to enactment of the 1996 welfare law, legal immigrants were eligible for Medicaid on the same basis as U.S. citizens. The welfare law currently prohibits states from providing Medicaid and CHIP coverage, except in certain emergency situations, to most legal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for fewer than five years. ICHIA would give states the flexibility to provide the same Medicaid and CHIP coverage to low-income legal immigrants who are pregnant or under age 18 as they do to U.S. citizens. Legal immigrants work hard and pay the same taxes as other Americans, and denying basic preventive care to legal-immigrant children and pregnant women doesn't make medical or economic sense. That is why Democrats will continue to fight to pass ICHIA. 

Legislation to help prevent childhood cancer has become law. Each year, over 12,000 American children are diagnosed with cancer,

and more than 2,000 of them end up succumbing to this devastating disease. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death among Hispanic children. In 2006, an estimated 1,850 Hispanic children in the U.S. were diagnosed with cancer. That is why Congress has approved the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2008, which expands research programs aimed at preventing childhood cancer. The legislation also creates a national registry to track pediatric cancer, thereby allowing researchers to contact patients quickly, enroll them in research studies, and follow up with them over time. This legislation will deliver much needed hope and support to children and their families who are battling cancer, and more resources for crucial pediatric cancer research programs. The President signed this legislation into law on July 29, 2008. 

Congress has approved legislation to improve health screenings for newborn children.While some newborn screening occurs in every state, fewer than half of all states screen for all 29 of the medical conditions recommended by the American College of Medical Genetics and the Department of Health and Human Services. On December 13, 2007, the Senate unanimously approved S. 1858, the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007, which will educate parents and health care providers about newborn health screening; improve follow-up care for infants with an illness detected through newborn screening; and help states expand and improve their newborn screening programs. This legislation was signed into law on April 24, 2008 (P.L. 110-204). 

The 110thCongress worked in a bipartisan manner to ensure the availability of breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women. In April, 2007, the President signed into law (P.L.110-18), theNational Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007, which reauthorized and increased funding for the program to subsidize mammography exams, pap tests, and other screening exams. The law will also allow some states to spend grant money on outreach programs to underserved women who may not otherwise know about the program. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic women, who are about 20 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women diagnosed at similar age and stage. Hispanic women are also about twice as likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than non-Hispanic white women. 

The Senate unanimously approved mental health parity legislation.Mental illness is a pervasive and often devastating health problem that, fortunately, is often treatable. Yet many Americans do not receive necessary mental health services due to financial constraints, stigma, and other factors. To help reduce these barriers to care, the Democratic-led Senate has approved S. 558, the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007. This bipartisan legislation prohibits a group health plan that offers mental health coverage from imposing financial requirements or treatment limitations on mental health benefits that are more restrictive than the financial requirements or treatment limitations applied to the plan's medical and surgical benefits. While the legislation does not mandate that group health plans provide mental health coverage, it does not preempt states laws that require mental health benefits.

The Senate has approved legislation to strengthen the health care safety net that millions of Americans depend on.On July 21, 2008, the Senate unanimously approved S. 901, the Health Care Safety Net Act of 2007, legislation to reauthorize and strengthen three programs which, together, provide a safety net that helps millions of Americans each year access needed health care services: the Community Health Centers program, the National Health Service Corps, and Rural Health Care Programs. This legislation would improve and increase resources for these programs, which enable safety net providers located in rural and urban areas throughout the country to offer health care services to millions of underserved and uninsured people. A recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 24 percent of Americans, and 39 percent of Hispanics report serious problems paying for health care -- making it all the more important to shore up our nation's health care safety net. 

The Senate has approved legislation to help our nation's most disadvantaged children get a healthy start in life. The United States' infant mortality rate ranks 32nd out of 33 of the world's industrialized nations. To combat this problem, the Healthy Start program provides services to improve access to, and the quality of, health care for at-risk mothers and infants. That is why on April 30, the Senate approvedS. 1760, the Healthy Start Reauthorization Act of 2007, which will reauthorize the Healthy Start program for five years. This legislation is essential to helping our nation's most disadvantaged children survive infancy and start life healthy. Hispanic women of childbearing age give birth to nearly one quarter of the babies born in the United States. Nearly one out of every eight Hispanic babies is born prematurely. While the pre-term birth rate for Hispanics is similar to the rate for the general population, it has grown substantially in the last decade. 

Congress has increased funding for key labor, health, and education programs. The Democratic-led Congress worked hard last year to restore critical domestic funding priorities that the President's budget had shortchanged. Despite a strong bipartisan vote for an appropriations bill to increase funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, President Bush vetoed the bill. As a result, Congress ultimately approved another bill that rejected the President's misguided budget cuts in key areas, but did not go as far as Democrats would have hoped in investing critical domestic priorities, such as life-saving medical research, K-12 education, and college financial aid. In the health care arena, the bill called for key investments in research on cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; provided increased access to health care for rural America; strengthened the skills of America's workers and worker safety. This bill also funded the Office of Minority Health, which has been vital in improving the well-being of Latinos. Democrats will continue work to reinvest in the American people's priorities in a fiscally responsible way.




  • Elizabeth Engel (224-3232)


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