Thursday, December 24, 2009

Senate Passes Health Care Reform Legislation!

Statement from AHA CEO Nancy Brown on Senate Passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
December 24, 2009

After decades of delays, heart disease and stroke patients can look forward to meaningful reforms in our health care system with today’s historic vote in the Senate for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We are gratified the Senate has given Americans a holiday to remember with approval of a bill which, while still imperfect, will benefit patients and their families as they struggle to cover the cost of medical care. Although much more work lies ahead to fix our broken health care system and ensure quality, affordable care for all Americans, this bill lays the groundwork to expand coverage to the uninsured, place an increased emphasis on preventing disease and improve the delivery of care – all measures that will enable us to reduce soaring health care costs and relieve the stress and anxiety of patients who have run out of options in securing quality and affordable health care.

Senate passage of a health care reform bill is an important and necessary milestone; however, we recognize there are more hurdles to overcome in the weeks ahead. Differences between the House and Senate bills must be ironed out in order to complete this monumental effort and produce the strongest bill possible for meeting the needs of heart disease and stroke patients. The American Heart Association looks forward to working with House and Senate leaders to improve the final bill and see health care reform over the finish line early in the new year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What the Senate Health Care Legislation Means for Patients

The American Heart Association supports those specific provisions in the Senate's health care reform legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that make health care coverage more accessible, affordable and adequate for the 80 million Americans living with heart disease and stroke, including:
  • Prohibiting insurance companies from denying or dropping coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition;

  • Prohibiting insurance companies from charging women and those with pre-existing conditions higher premiums and limits the amount more that insurance companies can charge older Americans for their coverage;

  • Abolishing lifetime caps and unreasonable annual limits in insurance coverage;

  • Protecting families from medical bankruptcy by limiting out-of-pocket costs to $5,800 for an individual or $11,600 for a family. Low and moderate-income families would have lower caps on the amount they would have to spend for their out-of-pocket costs;

  • Requiring that essential categories of services be covered, including hospital and doctors visits, emergency care, preventive services, prescription drugs, and rehabilitative care;Requiring all private health plans and Medicare to cover preventive services with no deductible or other cost-sharing;

  • Requiring that health plan networks include an adequate number and type of providers; and

  • Requiring that consumers be given uniform, understandable information about their health plan coverage, costs, and quality.

The AHA believes that the many patient-centered provisions of the Senate legislation are a significant step towards meaningful health reform and encourages all Senators to support the key procedural votes needed to allow the Senate to pass its bill so progress can continue.

Tell your Senators to put patients first by voting "YES" on the three critical upcoming procedural votes by visiting today!

CDC Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program Receives Additional Funds in FY 2010

American Heart Association advocates played a key role in urging their representatives to boost funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention program which helps states implement a Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program (HDSP), Paul Coverdell National Acute Stroke Registry, WISEWOMAN, and a broad surveillance system. In the FY 2010 Labor-HHS-Education omnibus bill, the HDSP program received $56 million or a 3.9 percent increase. CDC spends on average only 16 cents per person each year in the U.S. on heart disease and stroke prevention. Currently, CDC funds only 14 states for basic program implementation and 27 states and Washington, D.C. for capacity building (program planning). WISEWOMAN received $20 million or a 6.4 percent increase to provide increased resources to the 20 currently funded states. WISEWOMAN is a competitively awarded state-based heart disease and stroke screening and prevention program for uninsured and underinsured low-income women.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advocates Help Increase Heart and Stroke Research Funding

You’re the Cure advocates also helped to increase funding for the NIH for FY 2010. In the omnibus Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill signed into law on December 16, 2009, the NIH received $31 billion or a 2.3 percent increase. Within that amount for the NIH, the two institutes of particular interest to the AHA, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute received a 2.7 percent increase and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke received a 2.3 percent increase over their FY 2009 funding levels. NHLBI and NINDS conduct the majority of NIH-supported heart and stroke research, respectively.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

HEART for Women Amendment Introduced!

One of the staples of the American Heart Association's advocacy efforts has always centered on women and heart disease. We recognize that heart disease is the number one killer of women, but it is amazing to see how few people actually realize that and it is even more shocking to realize the right tools and supports are not in place to address this deadly killer. In the past our support has taken the form of an independent bill that we called the Heart Disease Education, Analysis Research, and Treatment (HEART) for Women Act. Many of you may know the bill and have supported its passage. As the healthcare reform debate continues to spark debate in Congress, we have learned that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has taken the HEART for Women Act and adapted it be an amendment to the Senate's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590).

The AHA has joined with the Society for Women's Health Research and Women Heart, to support Senator Stabenow's amendment. In a letter to the Senator, our organizations recognized that "health care reform provides an opportunity for Congress to reduce the cardiovascular health disparities that women face" and we thanked the Senator for stepping forward for all American women. The amendment would expand to all 50 states the CDC's WISEWOMAN program and require the FDA to report safety and effectiveness data by gender, race, and ethnicity in order to shed new light on how drugs work among specific populations. These are exactly the kinds of advancements we need and we are urging the full Senate to support Sen. Stabenow's amendment. You can do your part by sending a message to your Senators today!

Regardless of our Senator's views on the overall Senate bill, we must let them know that we are counting on them to find common ground and support provisions that will have a real impact on the health of patients, such as the HEART for Women amendment.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Facts of Reform- Part One: Medicare

The American Heart Association is continuing to review the Senate health care reform legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, we know you’re hearing many confusing and contradictory claims about this legislation, and we’d like to serve as a resource to you in understanding the facts about health care reform.

Question: I’ve heard that the bill will cut Medicare benefits and deprive seniors of the care they need. Is this true?

Answer: Nearly half of all people who have heart disease or stroke are over age 60 so the American Heart Association clearly understands and believes in the need to protect Medicare. Our assessment of the Senate bill, relying on the various sources of objective analysis of its provisions, is that it would not cut Medicare benefits and would instead improve coverage for Medicare beneficiaries. For instance, the Senate bill would eliminate cost-sharing for preventive services for Medicare beneficiaries, provide a new annual “wellness visit” for seniors, and reduce the coverage gap (or “donut hole”) in prescription drug coverage that many Medicare beneficiaries currently face. We’ve advocated for each of these improvements in the Medicare program.

Unfortunately, however, Medicare is growing at an unsustainable rate, and without any action, the Medicare trust fund is projected to become insolvent in 2017. The Senate bill therefore attempts to slow down the rate of growth of Medicare by reducing Medicare spending by about $500 billion over 10 years. According to the Medicare actuary, this will extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by up to 5 years. In addition, even with these savings, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that Medicare spending per beneficiary will still increase by 6% every year under the Senate bill.

1. The Senate bill accomplishes the Medicare savings in three major ways:
It reduces Medicare’s current overpayments to the private health insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans. According to the independent commission that advises Congress on Medicare payment policy, Medicare Advantage plans are overpaid, on average, by 14 percent, compared to traditional Medicare fee-for-service. By paying Medicare Advantage plans rates that are closer to what is paid for fee-for-service, Medicare will save $118 billion over the next 10 years.

2. The bill saves nearly $200 billion over 10 years by reducing the annual pay increases that hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care providers receive. But even with this savings, Medicare providers will still receive a slight increase in their reimbursement rates each year.

3. The bill saves about $100 billion over 10 years by reducing waste and inefficiency in Medicare and improving the quality of care that Medicare beneficiaries receive. Medicare currently pays based on the quantity of care delivered, rather than rewarding the quality of care. For example, the independent commission that advises Congress on Medicare policy has estimated that nearly 18 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who are hospitalized need to be re-hospitalized within 30 days. By encouraging the provision of better follow-up care and helping to prevent the need for re-admissions, the Senate bill would save $7 billion over 10 years.