Health care is a basic human right. And, in this country, we fight for basic human rights. I won’t stop fighting until everyone is covered, no one goes broke paying a medical bill or filling a prescription, and families don’t have to bear the cost of heartbreaking medical disasters on their own.
The Affordable Care Act made tremendous strides. Thanks to this landmark achievement under President Obama, insurance companies can no longer turn people away just because they have a pre-existing condition like cancer or asthma, nor can they discriminate against women. Young people can stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. And caps on coverage are gone, so your insurance can’t run out right when you need it most – like in the middle of chemotherapy or during a hospital stay.
We must fight back against the repeated efforts of President Trump and Republicans in Congress to repeal, weaken, and undermine that progress and to gut the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Instead, we must build on the Affordable Care Act and strengthen Medicaid to make access to affordable, high-quality insurance a reality for every American. And we must do more to improve outcomes and lower costs – particularly the costs of prescription drugs, which have skyrocketed in recent years thanks in large part to greedy pharmaceutical companies.
Massachusetts has been a national leader in delivering near-universal coverage and finding innovative ways to lower health care costs, though we have more work to do. I believe we can do the same as a nation.
Health care as a basic right
When I was a girl, my family plunged deep into debt when my daddy had a heart attack. My parents paid down those bills for years. Years later, as a bankruptcy law professor, I studied why working families were going broke. Through interviews and court documents, my research partners and I showed that most people who file for bankruptcy looked a lot like my family. The overwhelming majority had once been solidly middle class – and about half had filed for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious medical problem. And here was the kicker: About three-quarters of them had health insurance – but it just wasn’t enough. Medical bankruptcy was crushing millions of American families.
We’ve made a lot of progress thanks to the Affordable Care Act. But millions of Americans are still uninsured, and even families with insurance are still getting slammed by the costs of medical care. There are lots of ways to lower health care costs for families. For example, I worked across the aisle to pass legislation to make hearing aids available over the counter, lowering costs for millions of Americans with hearing loss. We can put an end to health insurance price gouging, an end to surprise bills, an end to bickering with insurance companies over what procedures are covered or what kind of out-of-pocket costs you should have to pay. We can put an end to the complexity of this system and make it easy for everyone to get affordable health care.
In fact, we already have a program that works. It’s called Medicare. I’ve cosponsored Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, which would create a public health care program available to all Americans. Medicare for All is a way to give every single person in this country a guarantee of high-quality health care that is much easier to navigate and more affordable.
And for the more than 200 million Americans who currently depend on private insurance, there is no reason we cannot do far more to hold insurance companies accountable. Health care in America should be about the well-being of families, not the profits of giant insurance companies and their wealthy CEOs. That means ending the tricks that insurance companies pull to shift costs onto families, like drawing networks so narrow that people can’t see a doctor or slapping a bill on a patient who relied on an outdated list of in-network doctors. It means raising the standards for insurance under the Affordable Care Act so these plans play by the same rules as Medicare and Medicaid and more people are able to afford good coverage. And it means telling insurance companies that if they want to pull down billions in taxpayer dollars by selling Medicare and Medicaid plans, they have to participate in the Affordable Care Act markets, too.
Lowering the cost of prescription drugs
I hear from families in Massachusetts all the time about the impact pharmaceutical price hikes have on family budgets. No one should have to choose between putting a meal on the table and paying for medication.
It’s time to act – and there are a number of steps Congress can take to address this problem. One of the bills I’ve worked on would allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate prices with drug companies. Another would provide for the safe import of drugs from Canada, where medications are often available at far lower prices. I’ve also worked to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable when they break the law. Any company that defrauds taxpayers or lies about their drugs should pay the price. I’ve introduced legislation that would punish lawbreaking companies, with the proceeds going to fund medical research.
Community health centers
Visiting community health centers across Massachusetts is one of my favorite parts of this job. I love seeing how they treat every person who comes through the door – from little babies to grandparents and everyone in between – with respect and care. And I like to say that if you’ve seen one community health center in our Commonwealth – well, you’ve seen one community health center! Each is as unique as the community it serves.
Community health centers are on the front lines of battling the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. They are a model for how to deliver high-quality care while reducing costs. Congress must continue to fund and support community health centers in order to strengthen the health and well-being of all our families.
The Bay State is a world leader when it comes to innovative medical research. The best doctors, researchers, and innovators do their work in Massachusetts. Researchers at our companies, labs, and universities are achieving remarkable breakthroughs that cure diseases, lower costs, drive our economy – and save lives.
But the federal government has a role to play, too. Since the early 2000s, budget cuts, sequestration, and other pressures have shrunk the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget in real terms by failing to keep pace with inflation. That’s why, ever since I came to the Senate, I’ve fought to increase our medical research budget, introducing bills that would add billions each year in new funding to the NIH. And last year, I led a group of my colleagues in securing an extra $2 billion in medical research funding.
I’ve also worked to ensure that when Massachusetts companies achieve medical breakthroughs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the resources necessary to get their innovative drugs and devices on the market. I’ve introduced bills that would increase funding for the FDA and passed bipartisan legislation to advance therapies for rare diseases. I’ve also pressed to include women and minorities in clinical trials so that medical advances benefit everyone. And I worked across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation to strengthen privacy safeguards for participants in federal research projects and to ensure that their genetic information is protected.
Mental health care
We all know someone who has experienced mental health struggles – a family member, a friend, a coworker. Access to high-quality, affordable mental health care is a fundamental part of basic health care – anyone who needs help should be able to get it.
The law says that insurance companies have to cover mental health care on par with how they cover physical health concerns, like a broken bone or a concussion. But too often, people seeking mental health treatment are denied coverage for the services they need. This is a concern when it comes to the opioid epidemic because many people struggling with addiction are also dealing with a mental health issue.
I’ve fought to secure better treatment for mental health, including introducing legislation to improve enforcement of our nation’s mental health parity laws and strengthen oversight of insurance companies, and successfully securing new additional funding for mental health in Congress’s 2018 budget.
Ending attacks on reproductive rights and women’s health care
The Affordable Care Act took an important step toward eliminating discrimination in health care by preventing insurance companies from charging women higher premiums and by requiring employer-sponsored health insurance policies to cover birth control without additional costs. We must protect those gains and take additional steps to make sure that everyone – regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation – is getting the care they need.
Access to reproductive care isn’t only about health; it is about economic security as well. It provides women more chances to go to school, get jobs, create businesses, and grow our economy. With the power to control their reproductive lives, women can more reliably plan their economic futures. I will fight to preserve women’s ability to access contraception through providers like Planned Parenthood, to support federal funding for key programs that support women’s health like Medicaid and Title X, and to defend access to safe, legal abortions.
When I learned I was pregnant for the first time, I danced. But I know that for others, circumstances can be different. A woman should be able to make the decision to receive a safe, legal abortion without interference from the government.
The opioid epidemic
In every corner of our Commonwealth, the opioid crisis is taking its toll. Thousands are dying and even more are struggling with addiction – and we need to take action to stop this epidemic from crippling more families and communities.
The good news is that, thanks to our commitment to universal health coverage and the guarantees provided by the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, most of our citizens have health insurance. That means it’s easier to get help. But too many of our facilities still have waiting lists, and communities fighting this crisis don’t have the resources they need.
I’ve worked with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) to tackle this crisis head-on, passing legislation to reduce the amount of surplus pain medication in circulation so dangerous drugs can’t fall into the wrong hands. I’ve also continued to work with Senator Capito to make sure these new tools are actually being used. Together we contacted every governor in the country, as well as major medical and addiction groups, to ask about their progress in implementing these new authorities. I’ve also led a bipartisan effort to press the Drug Enforcement Administration to update its regulations so that pharmacists and doctors can take full advantage of this new law.
I sent a survey to behavioral health treatment providers around Massachusetts to gather input on how we can best fight this epidemic and then published a report on my findings. Their answers revealed that communities and health providers are fighting on the front lines of this crisis and making a real difference, but they need more help. I also led a group of Senators in an effort to secure substantial new funds in the 2017 spending bill to help fight the opioid epidemic. Our efforts paid off when leaders in Congress announced the bill would contain an extra $100 million in opioid funding.
I will continue to fight for federal resources to make sure that health care and social workers, counselors, and law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to fight this crisis – and that anyone struggling with addiction has access to the care they need in a timely fashion.