December 21, 2009

Senate Takes Next Step Toward Historic Health Care Reform

“Manager’s Package” Includes Provisions to Benefit New Mexicans

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, reported today that the Senate took another historic step toward health care reform by voting to end debate on an amendment package that includes numerous provisions advocated by Udall to benefit New Mexicans. The Senate is expected to vote on final approval Tuesday morning.

The so-called "manager's package" includes proposals to increase coverage options for Americans, improve preventive care, expand access to care for rural residents, and reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. It also includes a set of proposals developed by the Senate's freshman class, of which Udall is a member, which would encourage innovation and lower costs for consumers across the U.S. health care system.

"Today the U.S. Senate took another historic step toward health care reform that dramatically expands coverage for tens of millions of Americans. While this legislation isn't perfect, this manager's package takes great steps toward increasing New Mexicans' access to quality, affordable health care, and I look forward to voting in favor of its passage tomorrow," Udall said.

The manager's package includes:

  • National non-profit insurance plan. Patterned after the federal employee health care plan, this new plan would provide another option for individuals who are unable to access coverage through their employers and will seek insurance through the health exchange. It would have at least one non-profit option among its coverage choices.
  • Improved Access to Preventive Care. Proposed by Udall as part of the Freshman Package, this provision would reauthorize the program that trains physicians for careers in primary care and public health. This provision also doubles the current number of preventive medicine residency spots nationally from 307 to more than 600. New Mexico, like states across the country, is experiencing a dramatic shortage in physicians, particularly in the fields of primary care and public health.
  • Expanded Health Care Options for Rural Residents. Also proposed by Udall as part of the Freshman Package, this amendment would analyze clinical health outcomes and cost-effectiveness of telehealth systems in medically underserved areas. Telehealth programs, including several highly-regarded projects in New Mexico, allow rural residents to receive specialist treatment not otherwise available in their local areas. This may include treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. This package also includes a provision to analyze and make specific recommendations about why doctors are not choosing primary care as their career specialty, especially in rural and underserved areas. Currently in New Mexico, 30 of 33 counties are classified as "medically underserved."
  • Reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. This law, which provides the framework for health care delivery for the nation's 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, has not been reauthorized in more than a decade. Currently, it is underfunded and outdated. The manager's package would permanently reauthorize this critical law, allowing the United States to meet its treaty obligations to provide quality health care to Native Americans.
  • Additional Support for Small Businesses to provide prevention and wellness coverage for their employees along with large business plans, and expanded eligibility for tax credits.

Udall also noted that the manager's package is fiscally responsible. With the revisions in the package, the overall bill now cuts the deficit by $132 billion over the next decade, while providing health care coverage to an additional 31 million Americans.

"This amendment is the next step in providing quality, affordable health care to all Americans by giving them additional choices for their health care needs and driving down costs for families, businesses, and government," Udall said.