Health care reform is one of the greatest and most important legislative decisions of our lifetime, and we cannot afford to get it wrong. With that in mind, I was proud to cast my vote, in favor of H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act.
Access to Quality, Affordable Health Care
On March 21, 2010, I cast the most important vote in my career in favor of H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, we enshrined into law the promise that all Americans have the right to accessible, affordable health insurance coverage in this country.
The ACA strengthened the individual health insurance market, protected people with pre-existing conditions, and expanded Medicaid, among other things. It gave roughly 20 million uninsured Americans access to health insurance. Because of the ACA, individuals and families across the country have greater peace of mind regarding their health needs and do not have to live with the daily fear of financial disaster should an illness arise.
The ACA also had very positive effects for Maryland. In our state, the uninsured population is at an all-time low of 6.1 percent. As more people have gotten coverage, the cost of uncompensated care in Maryland hospitals has also gone down by $400 million from 2013 to 2017. These are just some of the ways the law has helped residents and the health care community.
However, we must ensure that the ACA continues to thrive and build upon the advances we have made in coverage and affordability. That is why I recently cosponsored the Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions & Making Health Care More Affordable Act of 2019. This very important bill was introduced by my colleagues, Chairmen Frank Pallone, Jr., Richard Neal, and Bobby Scott, and would help continue protections for people with pre-existing conditions and increase access to financial assistance for marketplace health plans.
Health Reform Impact On Maryland
Millions of Maryland residents, including minorities and underserved communities, have seen the positive effects of the ACA in their daily lives in a marked, measurable way.
As a result of the ACA:
- More than 400,000 individuals in Maryland now have health insurance coverage;
- Maryland’s uninsured rate dropped to 6.1 percent in 2016, compared to 11.3 percent in 2010;
- Health insurance coverage among African-American residents in Maryland increased from 89.4 percent in 2012 to 94.3 percent in 2016;
- Health insurance coverage among Hispanic residents in Maryland increased from 66.8 percent in 2012 to 78.8 percent in 2016.
Health Care for Underserved Populations
While the ACA improved access to and the affordability of health care for people across the country, many individuals still lack access to the appropriate care and treatment they need to stay healthy, and health disparities continue to exist in many communities. Many factors play a role in this, and this Congress I have taken steps to address issues concerning access to care and health disparities.
During Women’s History Month, I introduced H.R. 1966, the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act, which is legislation that honors the extraordinary life and legacy of Henrietta Lacks. The bill would direct the Government Accountability Office to study and publish a report on the barriers to participation faced by those traditionally underrepresented in federally funded clinical trials.
Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, died of cervical cancer in 1951. During her cancer treatment, doctors took samples of her tumor, and from this the HeLa cell line was created. Without her or her family’s knowledge, her cells were used in medical research and helped lead to some of medicine’s most important breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine, along with treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, leukemia and Parkinson’s disease.
Despite the progress that Lacks’ cells helped to achieve, many communities still face glaring health disparities. For example, while cancer incidence rates are highest among Non-Hispanic White females, Non-Hispanic African American females have the highest death rates. Clinical trials are a key component to advancing cancer research and treatment. Currently, about 20 percent of cancer clinical trials fail because of lack of patient enrollment, with racial and ethnic minorities, and older, rural, and lower-income Americans generally underrepresented in such trials.
This Congress, I was also a founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, which will work to address and improve maternal health for African American women. African American mothers are often the center of their families and of our communities. It is heart wrenching that African American mothers are more likely than women of other races to die of preventable, pregnancy-related complications. From 2011 to 2015, Maryland experienced 26 maternal deaths per 100,000 births—within this group, African American mothers were tragically almost three times more likely to die than White mothers.
Too often maternal deaths could have been prevented with appropriate medical care, and I commit to doing everything in my power to prevent maternal deaths and to create environments where healthy mothers and babies can thrive.
Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs
The rise of prescription drug prices is a serious concern that warrants immediate attention. Drug companies have long charged record prices that deny millions of Americans affordable access to lifesaving medications. Individuals across Maryland—and the country—have shared their stories with me regarding the high cost of drugs for themselves or their family, and the strain it places on their finances and health.
In response to this concern, I have introduced two bills this Congress to lower the cost of prescription drugs. H.R. 448, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act, would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. H.R. 447, the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, would allow qualifying prescription drugs manufactured at FDA-inspected facilities from licensed Canadian sellers to be imported into the United States.
As Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, I also recently launched a comprehensive investigation into the prescription drug industry’s pricing practices. I remain committed to determining the causes of rising drug prices and identifying potential solutions to reduce costs for American families.
The most prevalent chronic infectious disease among children in the United States today is tooth decay. This disease is responsible for countless health problems in children and more than 51 million hours lost at school every year; however, this disease is preventable with basic dental care. Sadly, even with improvements in recent years, too many children are not able to access the quality dental care they need to stay healthy.
We see this in the case of Deamonte Driver—a 12-year-old boy from Maryland whose life was cut short when an untreated tooth infection spread to his brain. Deamonte’s tragic death haunts me to this day. Eighty dollars’ worth of dental care might have saved his life, but he never got that care because he lacked access to a dentist.
I have long been an advocate for increased access to dental care for all, particularly our nation’s young people. Passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act and the ACA have filled in gaps in dental care for children who are eligible for these programs. This has given many children across the nation access to dental care and many families greater peace of mind regarding their children’s health.
Maryland has also made significant progress in access to dental health care over the last several years and now stands as a national model. Through the work of many groups and organizations, more Maryland children are visiting a dentist and dental health is a priority in our state. In 2017, almost 70 percent of the Maryland children enrolled in Medicaid received at least one dental care service. The Maryland Department of Health also funds specific programs such as the Oral Disease and Injury Prevention Program and Dental Sealants Program that cares for and educates thousands of children, including at their schools.
Yet, even with these improvements in access and education, there is more that must be done to protect dental health and honor Deamonte. That is why I plan to reintroduce my Comprehensive Dental Reform Act this Congress, which, among other things, would provide comprehensive dental coverage to all Medicare, Medicaid, and VA beneficiaries and make dental care an essential health benefit for adults under the ACA.
Comrprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act
Life expectancy in the United States has now dropped for three years in a row—and drug overdoses are the single biggest reason why. In 2017, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses—the highest rate of drug overdose deaths ever in the United States. Maryland ranked seventh in the nation in the rate of drug deaths, with more than 2,000 deaths from drug overdoses, including 761 in Baltimore. However, across the nation, only 10 percent of those in need of specialty treatment for substance use disorders are able to access it.
This is not the first time our nation has faced a large-scale public health crisis. During the 1980s and 1990s, deaths from HIV/AIDS grew rapidly, and the country’s medical system was ill-equipped to provide effective, evidence-based care. In 1990, Congress passed the bipartisan Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act to provide significant new funding to help state and local governments combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and I re-introduced the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act soon to treat the opioid crisis like the critical public health emergency it is. We previously introduced the CARE Act during the 115th Congress. Last year, this bill was co-sponsored by 81 Members of the House of Representatives, including the entire Democratic leadership of the House and all Democratic Members of Congress from the State of Maryland.
The CARE Act is modeled directly on the Ryan White Act and would support local decision-making and federal research and programs to prevent drug use while expanding access to evidence-based treatments and recovery support services. President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers estimated that the opioid crisis cost the nation more than $500 billion in 2015 alone. The CARE Act would provide $100 billion in federal funding over 10 years, including:
$4 billion per year to states, territories, and tribal governments, including $2 billion to states with the highest levels of overdoses, $1.6 billion through competitive grants, and $400 million for tribal grants;
$2.7 billion per year to the hardest hit counties and cities, including $1.43 billion to counties and cities with the highest levels of overdoses, $1 billion through competitive grants, and $270 million for tribal grants; and
$500 million per year to expand access to overdose reversal drugs and provide this life-saving medicine to states to distribute to first responders, public health departments, and the public.
Additional funding would also be provided for public health surveillance, biomedical research, and improved training for health professionals, including at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The New York Times editorial board also endorsed the CARE Act, warning:
“Congress has taken what can be considered only baby steps by appropriating a total of a few billion dollars of discretionary opioid funding in recent years. This funding amounts to a pittance relative to what is needed: substantial long-term funding for prevention, addiction treatment, social services and research.”
More on Healthcare
Washington, D.C. (October 8, 2019) - Today, Congressmen Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD-07), Eliot L. Engel (D-NY-16), Fred Upton (R-MI-06), and Pete King (R-NY-02), all members of the House Asthma and Allergy Caucus, introduced the Family Asthma Act, legislation that would expand federal, state, and local efforts to improve care for individuals with asthma. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) intends to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
In the November 2018 election, the American people demanded that their representatives in Washington fight for them and for what affects their lives on a day-to-day basis. They entrusted us to draft and pass legislation to do such vital things as protecting their healthcare, lowering their drug prices, guarding their right to vote, and making government accountable to them. Leaders in the House have introduced important legislation on these issues and more.
Washington, D.C. (July 25, 2019) – Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07) and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) introduced the Opportunity Zone Lead Remediation Impact Act of 2019 to eradicate lead poisoning in Census tracks designated as an Opportunity Zone.
Opportunity Zones were created as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to provide tax incentives for investment in underserved areas. Currently, there is no mandate for investments to be made to improve the health and wellbeing of the residents within the Opportunity Zone.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Representatives Elijah E. Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, and John Sarbanes (all D-Md.) today announced that Johns Hopkins University Technology Ventures (JHTV) division has been awarded more than $633,500 through the competitive i6 Challenge of the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA). The funding will be used to create the Chesapeake Regional Digital Health Exchange (CReDHx), a strategic economic development effort.
Washington, DC (July 16, 2019) – Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) released the following statement regarding the announcement that Dr. Leana Wen is stepping down as president of Planned Parenthood:
Catonsville, MD (April 24, 2019) – Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, released a Committee Staff Report on the prices of diabetes drugs for seniors and the uninsured in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. More than 30 million people in the United States, including more than one in four seniors, have diabetes. Patients with diabetes rely on prescription drugs, including insulin, to help manage their conditions.
Washington, D.C. (March 28, 2019) - Today, during Women’s History Month, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07), U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02), and Congressman John Sarbanes (MD-03) introduced the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act, legislation honoring the extraordinary life and legacy of Henrietta Lacks. The bill will examine access to government-funded cancer clinical trials for traditionally underrepresented groups.
Washington, DC (February 5, 2019)—Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07) issued the following statement in response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address:
“Tonight, President Trump tried to strike a reconciliatory note that has not been supported by his actions. He called on Democrats and Republicans to work together in a bipartisan manner, but over the past two years, he has sown division and demanded that he get exactly what he wants.
Know why big pharmaceutical companies in the United States raise the prices of some prescription drugs to outrageous levels? Because they can. There are few obstacles to jacking up prices so the companies that sell brand-name drugs — and spend millions to advertise them ad nauseam — do pretty much what they please, and shamelessly.
Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07) joined Yolanda Vazquez of Comcast Newsmakers to discuss the 2018 ACA Open Enrollment period, and the opportunities Marylanders have to sign up for quality and affordable healthcare.