Mr. President, I rise today in support of H.R. 3043, the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.
Some call this legislation the most significant appropriations bill we will consider as it touches the lives of every single American.
Each American citizen has the right to basic education, adequate healthcare, and access to employment opportunities.
In providing funding across three major agencies, we are ensuring that our citizens have every opportunity to reach their maximum potential.
I appreciate the opportunity to highlight a few of the bill’s major provisions.
Mr. President, American workers deserve every opportunity to provide for their families.
Investment in training, education, and employment services leads to good jobs that provide self-sustainability for workers and their families.
This was the purpose of the Workforce Investment Act and is what the funding provided for in this bill accomplishes through various job training programs.
This bill acknowledges the value of training and employment services by continuing to fund adult employment and training, youth training and dislocated worker assistance programs.
This bill also provides critical funding for the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.
NIH funds significant health research at over 3,000 institutions throughout the U.S. and around the world.
While increased funding provided in this bill is a good start, we can, and must, do more.
NIH funding supports research to develop and find cures for a myriad of health issues, including cancer, diabetes, stroke, and mental illness.
These are significant health concerns facing Americans today.
As you are aware, Mr. President, NIH is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland where more than 18,000 are employed.
So, it is especially important to me, a Senator from Maryland, that we give all of these individuals the resources they need to improve and save lives through health research.
I commend the Appropriations Committee for supporting this agency with a 3.3% increase to the overall NIH budget.
However, if we expect America to remain a leader in medical advancements and technologies, we must be committed to providing researchers the resources they need to move forward.
I am committed to that goal and urge my colleagues to remain vigilant, as well.
This bill provides a $125 million increase above the Administration’s budget request for the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) administrative expenses and for that I am grateful.
However, that increase does not adequately address SSA’s serious backlog issue.
It is no secret that the Social Security Administration’s resources are stretched thin.
Disability claims are arising at an alarming rate.
Currently, over three-quarters of a million individuals are waiting for a hearing decision as pending hearings have increased to a record 752,103.
Further, the time that an applicant must wait for a hearing continues to rise, currently averaging 523 days.
Compounding the crisis, Medicare reform legislation passed by Congress has increased SSA’s responsibilities.
Field offices average over 850,000 visitors a week.
Meanwhile, SSA continues to downsize its labor force. Further, Mr. President, we hear a lot of talk about fraud, waste, and abuses within the SSA.
I submit that we will never get a handle on the problem unless we provide adequate resources to address it.
We in Maryland are fortunate to have the Social Security Administration Headquarters in Baltimore.
By not adequately addressing the SSA backlogs, not only are we doing harm to the hundreds of thousands of individuals that, due to health circumstances beyond their control, can no longer support themselves, we are also tying the hands of the hard-working individuals assisting them.
Again, I commend the Appropriations Committee for providing additional funding SSA administrative expenses but note that the agency needs additional funding to avoid further staff reductions and an increasing disability backlog.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues for their support of my amendment establishing the sense of the Senate that the Secretary of Health and Human Services should maintain “deemed status” coverage under the Medicare program for clinical trials that are federally funded or reviewed.
Under current policy, trials that are federally funded or reviewed by institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, received “deemed status” and were not subjected to additional review to be eligible for reimbursement.
This policy has worked well for seven years.
Prior to 2000, too few seniors participated in clinical trials.
One reason for this disparity was Medicare’s reimbursement policy. Because Medicare was modeled on the indemnity health insurance policies, it did not pay for treatment considered “experimental” in nature, and so often denied reimbursement for the routine patient care costs associated with clinical trials.
Many seniors could not afford to pay these costs themselves, and so they were by and large excluded from these trials. CMS has recently considered changing this policy, requiring trial sponsors to undergo a process certifying that they have met 13 separate criteria to qualify for Medicare coverage.
This new policy has the potential to reverse the progress that has been made over the past seven years by making it much more difficult for trials to qualify.
Seniors’ participation in clinical trials serves two vital functions. First it affords many seniors with serious illnesses their only hope for lifesaving treatment. Second, it is key to researchers’ efforts to determine the effectiveness of therapies for seniors.
Since this issue has come to light, I’ve heard from hundreds of patients and providers across the country who agree that we must continue to remove access barriers to innovative healthcare treatments for our seniors.
Again, I thank my colleagues for their support on this important matter.
Mr. President, the Appropriations Committee is committed to funding significant programs that address real issues that touch the heart and home of Americans.
This includes some innovative programs in my home state of Maryland, such as;
Funding provided through this bill will allow the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), in collaboration with Living Classrooms Foundation (LCF), to continue providing students with rich, meaningful field and classroom programs focusing on the natural and cultural history of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Funding will allow CBF and LCF to reach approximately 700 teachers, and 87,000 underserved students.
The bill funds KIPP Ujima Village Academy in Baltimore through its parent organization.
KIPP Ujima opened its doors in the summer of 2002 with its first class of fifth graders, and now serves 300 fifth through eighth grades. Over 99 percent of its students are African American, and 87 percent qualify for the federal free or reduced-price meals program.
KIPP Ujima is the highest performing public school serving middle grades in Baltimore City, as measured by the 2006 Maryland State Assessment. On that exam, 100 percent of seventh and eighth graders scored proficient or advanced in mathematics, achieving the highest math scores in the state of Maryland
Carroll County Youth Service Bureau (CCYSB) provides a continuum of community-based mental health services for children, adults, and families throughout Carroll County.
CCYSB uses a multi-disciplinary approach to deliver prevention, intervention and treatment services in the least restrictive and most cost-effective manner.
Funding provided in the bill will allow CCYSB to reach more underserved patients in need of mental health services.
The bill also provides funding for equipment and technology in a number of Maryland healthcare facilities, including; St. Agnes Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, Northwest Hospital, Kennedy-Krieger, Lifebridge, and Holy Cross.
The technology and equipment provided will allow these facilities to better detect, diagnose, and treat patients who suffer traumatic illnesses and injuries.
Mr. President, I thank Senator Harkin, Senator Specter, and their staffs for all of their hard work to develop a bill that addresses many of the basic rights that all Americans deserve:
education, employment, and healthcare.