Strengthening Health Care for Delaware

One of my top priorities is to find ways to get better health outcomes while lowering health care costs. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked with my colleagues in both parties to develop and pass a comprehensive health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. This law is improving the quality of our health care system, curbing health care costs, and providing health insurance coverage to more Americans.

Since the Affordable Care Act became law, I’ve traveled up and down the First State talking about many of our new law’s provisions. From Wilmington, to Dover, to Georgetown, I’ve often heard the same questions, particularly from seniors who share concerns about how the law may affect their Medicare benefits.

In March, I wrote an op-ed for The News Journal that explained how the Affordable Care Act has actually delivered new benefits in Medicare. For example, in 2013 20,975 Delawareans on Medicare were able to save more than $46 million on prescription medications in the "doughnut hole" coverage gap through the Affordable Care Act. Delaware's 140,000 Medicare beneficiaries will also receive preventive services, such as screenings for diabetes, cancer, heart disease, cognitive screenings, and an annual wellness visit without having to pay copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles.

These enhancements to Medicare exemplify only a fraction of how the Affordable Care Act directly benefits Delawareans. Since this law passed on March 23, 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Delaware $9.2 million to help the state establish a new health care exchange, protect consumers from high insurance premiums and harmful industry practices, and promote community public health prevention programs.

I continue to work to strengthen the health reform law and to introduce new measures to make Delaware a healthier state.

To view all of the ways the Affordable Care Act is impacting Delaware, click here.

Help for Those with Pre-Existing Conditions

On July 1, 2011, lower premium rates went into effect in the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) program, a provision under the Affordable Care Act. This program gives eligible Delawareans who have been denied coverage by a private insurance company due to a pre-existing condition —including the 19,500 children in Delaware estimated to be uninsured because of pre-existing conditions prior to the Affordable Care Act’s passage—the opportunity to purchase health insurance coverage at significantly lower rates. (To find the new monthly premiums for Delaware under the new plan, please click here. To apply for the PCIP plan, please click here.)

These improvements are great news for Delawareans who find it hard to obtain affordable health insurance coverage because of pre-existing health conditions, and I continue to encourage eligible Delawareans to explore whether this quality, affordable health insurance coverage might now be within reach for them.

In addition, after hearing Delawareans’ concerns about the need to go for six months without health insurance before becoming eligible for the PCIP program, I am working to find ways to shorten the waiting period to three months and to give the Obama Administration more flexibility in their management of this program.

Reducing Obesity and Strengthening Prevention and Wellness

Our country faces an enormous challenge from rising rates of obesity and associated chronic diseases. More than half of American adults eat out at least 3 times a week, and over 1 in 10 Americans eat in a restaurant almost every day. One way to combat this growing obesity epidemic is to give these Americans the tools and information they need to make healthier choices when dining out. That’s why I worked hard to ensure that a menu-labeling program was included in the Affordable Care Act.

This menu-labeling program requires restaurants, vending machines, and other retail food outlets with 20 or more locations nationwide to disclose nutritional information about their standard menu items. The purpose of this program is to help Americans make well-informed food choices and to ultimately establish a healthier national community. It was supported by a bipartisan group of House and Senate members, as well as by health and consumer advocates and industry groups like the National Restaurant Association, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, and the International Franchise Association.

Read my release on the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act here.

Protecting Delaware's Seniors, Poor, and Disabled

The federal government faces debt and budget deficits that threaten not only the future of the country but also the long-term strength of many important safety-net programs that help some of the most vulnerable members of our society – seniors, the poor, and the disabled. As we work to find solutions to our debt crisis by balancing both spending reductions and revenue increases, we must also find ways to fortify these vital government health care programs. Making programs like Medicare and Medicaid more efficient and less wasteful will strengthen them for future generations, saving taxpayer dollars and helping millions of Americans live healthier lives.

To help get us one step closer to that goal, on June 22, 2011, I introduced the Medicare and Medicaid Fighting Fraud and Abuse to Save Taxpayer Dollars Act (S.1251), also known as the FAST Act, with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). These two programs alone lose tens of billions of dollars annually to waste, fraud, and abuse; and this bill would ensure that both Medicare and Medicaid begin operating more efficiently and with much less waste.

Among its provisions, the FAST Act would:

  • enact stronger penalties for Medicare fraud;
  • curb improper payments and establish stronger fraud and waste prevention strategies to help phase out the practice of "pay and chase";
  • curb the theft of physician identities;
  • expand the fraud identification and reporting work of the Senior Medicare Patrol;
  • take steps to help states identify and prevent Medicaid overpayments;
  • improve the sharing of fraud data across agencies and programs; and
  • deploy cutting-edge technology to better identify and prevent fraud.

Strengthening Delaware's Health Programs

Billions of dollars are lost every year to waste and fraud within Medicare, and the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) is a national organization, with chapters in states across the country including Delaware, that empowers seniors to spot and stop those abuses. Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded a grant to the Delaware Partners of the Senior Medicare Patrol to help that organization in their efforts to educate and empower Delaware seniors through encouraging increased awareness and understanding of how to protect themselves from the economic and health-related consequences of Medicare and Medicaid fraud, error and abuse. This grant brings great recognition to the excellent work that they do for the First State, and I encourage other Delaware organizations to apply for appropriate federal grants. And, as always, my office is available to help Delaware organizations apply for federal grants.

In June, I also highlighted the Partnership for Patients program—a new public-private partnership that will help improve the quality, safety, and affordability of health care for all Americans. The Department of Health and Human Services announced that up to $500 million in Partnership for Patients funding, made available by the Affordable Care Act, will be awarded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center through a solicitation and other procurements for federal contracts to health care facilities throughout the nation. This partnership—a provision of the Affordable Care Act—allows the State of Delaware, Delaware hospitals, and many Delaware health providers to apply for funding as Hospital Engagement Contractors; and by working hand-in-hand with the Department of Health and Human Services, these organizations will improve the safety of patients across Delaware.

Clearing Delaware's Air to Protect Public Health

Millions of kids ride a bus to school, play on a playground, or live in a community that exposes them to high levels of ozone, particle pollution, or air toxics – exposure that can lead to asthma and other respiratory ailments. As a parent, I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about my children’s health. And as a U.S. Senator, I worry about every child’s health. Since coming to the Senate, I’ve worked with two presidents and my colleagues in Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike – to ensure that all our children have clean air to breathe. We have made remarkable progress in cleaning up our air, but we have a long way to go. In June, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and I held a joint subcommittee hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to highlight the impacts of air pollution and other environmental contaminants on children's health. (You can read my full remarks here.)

Every year, the Clean Air Act is expected to save this country trillions of dollars in health care costs. The effects polluted air can have on the respiratory systems of children and adults in Delaware are severe, and I’ll continue to be an advocate for renewing EPA pollution standards and reaffirming the Clean Air Act to protect the health of generations of Delawareans to come.

Senator Carper on the Issue

On the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, I wrote a blog post discussing the lessons learned during the first year of implementing the law's key provisions and how we can strengthen our reforms going forward. You can read the full piece here.

In a June edition of "Carper's Corner," my video blog, I answered commonly asked questions and shared my views on how the Affordable Care Act impacts Delawareans and helps us strengthen programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

In June, I spoke about the impact of polluted air on children's health during a joint subcommittee hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

On the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, I shared my thoughts on where we've come and the lessons we've learned since the passage of this important health care reform law.