Senior America's Information Magazine



Senator John Edwards
(D) North Carolina


Making Health Care a Priority Again

The upcoming session of the 107th Congress promises to be a challenging time for domestic and international health policy. The Senate and House will continue debating policies affecting access to care, patient protection, and health care quality. 

Twelve million elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries lack affordable access to prescription drugs for all or part of the year. Those who are near poor, very old, and living in rural areas are most likely to be without drug coverage. Despite strong public support for a Medicare prescription drug benefit, another session could pass without action. It is time to put partisanship aside and pass a strong prescription drug benefit, within Medicare. 

As we begin the new year, we should also focus our efforts and resources on the most vulnerable Americans. Thirty-nine million men and women remain uninsured in our country today, and the tough economic times ahead will inevitably cause many more to lose coverage. 

Our first priority should be to make certain that families who lose a job don't also lose access to affordable, quality health care. I support efforts to ensure that temporarily displaced workers will be able to take a sick child to the doctor while they look for a job or otherwise get back on their feet. 

For families who still have employer-sponsored health insurance, we should ensure that strong patient protections are enacted into law. The Senate passed a well-crafted Bipartisan Patient Protection Act last summer. Regrettably, the House did not. We should redouble our efforts to reach agreement on patient protection, and give Americans the relief from HMO and insurer abuse that they demand.

To further assist hardworking families, we should quickly enact the FamilyCare initiative that a bipartisan coalition introduced earlier this year. We know that the State Children's Health Insurance Program has made a profound difference in the lives of millions of American children, providing 3.3 million children with health insurance since 1997. Expanding the program to cover parents will make affordable, reliable health care coverage a reality in the lives of many more uninsured adults. 

Another important health insurance coverage expansion that Congress shouldn't forget is the Family Opportunity Act. This legislation gives parents with chronically ill or disabled children a health care lifeline by allowing them to enroll their children in Medicaid. With 73 cosponsors in the Senate and 204 cosponsors in the House, we could easily pass the bipartisan Family Opportunity Act in next year's session. 

Congress also will deal next year with welfare reauthorization. It is critical that we reauthorize Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in a way that reduces poverty and supports working families. A tough economy makes it all the more likely that families still on welfare will need our help to successfully make the transition to work. 

In revisiting welfare reform, Congress should strongly support reauthorization of Transitional Medicaid Assistance. This program gives welfare recipients facing the labor market temporary, 12-month enrollment in their State Medicaid program. The loss of Medicaid is a barrier for welfare recipients to accept work and leave the benefit rolls, so ensuring transitional health care coverage can make all the difference. 

Finally, we should make every effort to ensure that our veterans have access to affordable, high quality health care and a strengthened Veterans' Administration. In this time of national trial, no one should doubt our commitment to the armed forces who defend our liberty.


(John Edwards is U.S. Senator from North Carolina. He was a chief sponsor of the Patients' Bill of Rights, which passed the Senate in 2001.)  Website








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