Quality and accessible health care is a very personal matter for me and my family. When my daughter was born she was very sick. But due to an insurance company rule, I was forced to leave the hospital just 24 hours after she was born. I went to the state legislature and got one of the first laws passed in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay. That experience led me to run for office and fight for common-sense health care solutions.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended America’s health care system in unprecedented ways. Heroic frontline health care workers have done an amazing job treating patients in very difficult circumstances. With coronavirus vaccines being distributed across the country, we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but we must continue to provide hospitals and medical providers with the federal support they need. I will continue to push to expand the availability of testing and ensure that Minnesota has the capacity to store, distribute, and administer vaccines—including to our rural and tribal areas. I am also calling for medical research to study the long-term consequences of the virus in Minnesota and across the country.
We must also continue to improve our health care system as a whole. Comprehensive health care reform legislation—the Affordable Care Act—was passed in 2010 and is a vital source of protection to Americans. The law prohibits such abusive practices as denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions, which had previously kept health care beyond the reach of millions of Americans. The law also provides coverage for preventative services, helps seniors pay for prescription drugs by closing the gap in prescription drug coverage known as the “donut hole,” and allows young people to stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26 years old.
I have always said that the health care reform law is a beginning, not an end, and that changes will need to be made at the state and federal level. We can lower costs to consumers by addressing skyrocketing prescription drug prices. To bring down these prices, I have introduced legislation to expand access to cost-saving generic drugs, deter pharmaceutical companies from blocking cheaper generic alternatives, allow personal importation of more affordable drugs from Canada, and lift the ban that prohibits Medicare from negotiating for the best possible price of prescription drugs on behalf of the 46 million seniors in Medicare Part D.
To achieve universal health care, we must expand access. One way to do that is through a public option. I support legislation that expands both Medicare and Medicaid. We must make sure these federal programs remain strong, and we must protect the Affordable Care Act. I will continue to fight for affordable, high-quality health care that families across our state and country deserve, including those in rural communities that face unique health care challenges.
- Information about the Affordable Care Act is available here.
- Information about the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace is available here.
- The latest information on COVID-19 is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Minnesota Department of Health. I have a list of coronavirus resources available here.
As Minnesota's U.S. senator, I will continue to focus on these health care priorities:
- Responding to the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2020, Congress helped Americans and our health care system confront this public health emergency by passing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Along with other legislation, the CARES Act provided significant funding for hospitals and health care providers, supported vaccine and treatment development, and ensured access to COVID-19 testing without charges to patients. Additional legislation that became law in April provided more funding for health care providers and testing, while also requiring the Trump Administration to develop a strategic testing plan and to release information on the virus’s impact on minority communities. However, it was evident that more relief was needed to help struggling families, and we passed another bipartisan relief package in December 2020 that included funding for vaccine distribution, coronavirus testing and contact tracing, and additional support for our hospitals. And in March 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan that includes funding to states, territories, tribes, and local governments that can be used to help carry out their plans for vaccine distribution and administration as well as assist Americans with economic recovery. [See more information on the Coronavirus Pandemic page]
- Making health care universal and more affordable. We need universal health care, and I support many proposals that would help us reach that goal, including a public option and the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid. We must also address factors that lead to increased health care costs by reducing consumer costs in the individual marketplace and continuing to implement delivery system reforms. We must provide cost-sharing reductions to lower out-of-pocket expenses like copays and deductibles and make it easier for states to enact reinsurance programs like Minnesota’s. Reinsurance protects against premiums going up for everyone due to a small number of patients with extremely high health care costs—especially in rural markets. Our goal should be simple: Every American deserves affordable, high-quality health care.
- Lowering prescription drug prices. When a family member gets sick, the family’s focus should be on getting their loved one well, not on being able to pay for prescriptions. Yet drug prices are an increasing burden across Minnesota and our country. According to a 2018 report from the Health Care Cost Institute, the price of brand-name prescription drugs increased 110 percent between 2012 and 2016, even though usage of these drugs went down. I will fight to make prescription drugs more affordable for all Americans by lifting the ban on Medicare negotiating prices directly with drug companies on behalf of the 46 million seniors in the Part D program, allowing for the importation of safe, less-expensive drugs from countries like Canada, and ending the “pay-for-delay” practice of brand-name drug manufacturers paying off their less-expensive generic competitors to stay out of the market. I will also work to stop anti-competitive tactics—like brand-name companies denying generic companies access to samples—that deny consumers access to less expensive generic alternatives in the pharmaceutical market, reduce incentives for branded pharmaceutical companies to file sham petitions with the Food and Drug Administration to interfere with the approval of generics and biosimilars, and reduce drug waste that costs taxpayers millions of dollars.
- Preserving access to health care in rural areas. Our rural communities face unique health care challenges. Rural health care facilities often operate on extremely small margins and have a much harder time recruiting and retaining highly skilled medical staff. The coronavirus pandemic has created additional challenges for rural health care facilities that have fewer ICU beds and resources to respond to a surge of patients. Preserving and strengthening access to quality health care in rural areas is crucial to the success and prosperity of our state.
- Tackling racial disparities in health care. This pandemic has shined an even brighter light on the systemic inequalities in our health care system and our economy, with data clearly showing that the virus is disproportionately impacting communities of color. In addition to getting high-quality demographic data to help target resources, we need to address the underlying causes of these disparities including pervasive inequalities in access to health care, discrimination and unequal opportunities in housing, underinvestment in public transportation in minority communities, and the existence of food deserts where people do not have sufficient access to grocery stores. In the interim relief bill that Congress passed in May of 2020, I supported including funding specifically for small lenders and community-based financial institutions that serve the needs of unbanked and underserved small businesses—including minority- and women-owned businesses. These programs were also given priority in the comprehensive relief package passed by Congress in December of 2020. As Congress considers future legislation, we must do more to overcome historic disenfranchisement by considering the particular needs of minority communities, including minority entrepreneurs who have had difficulty accessing traditional sources of lending.
- Supporting and protecting our seniors and people with disabilities. More than half of Americans turning 65 today are projected to need some type of long-term care in their lives. While nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and home care providers serve our elderly in some situations, the vast majority of elder care comes from informal caregivers—more than half of whom are adult children taking care of their parents. Millions of families already find themselves coping with the challenges and costs of caring for elderly parents—and the numbers will continue to grow as our senior population is set to double over the next 30 years. We must address the needs of these family caregivers, especially caregivers of patients living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. In 2019, more than 16 million caregivers provided more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care to patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias at an estimated cost of nearly $244 billion. We must also make sure we’re doing everything we can to support people taking care of loved ones with disabilities; this includes providing tax credits and training. [See Seniors]
- Strengthening mental health and substance abuse services. Expanding access to mental health and substance use care, including support for clinics and community-based services, as well as technical support and telehealth services, remains one of my top priorities. In Minnesota, drug overdose deaths increased by 31 percent during the first half of 2020 as compared to the first half of 2019. In addition to ensuring that communities have the resources they need for prevention and treatment, we must focus on recruiting, retaining, and training mental health and substance use workers in rural areas and our hardest hit communities.
- Cracking down on health care fraud and protecting personal health data. Law enforcement authorities estimate that health care fraud costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year. These criminals scheme the system to rob American taxpayers of money that should be used to provide health care to those who need it most. One way we can crack down on fraud is by continually modernizing our health care system and investing in health information technology that keeps personal health data private and secure.
- Increasing research funding to seek new cures. In Minnesota, we value science and the progress it represents. We must continue to invest in ground-breaking research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), our nation’s primary entity for biomedical research, so that our scientists can concentrate on finding life-saving cures for Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases and not on finding the money to do their work. We must also invest in the cutting-edge research underway on individualized, or precision, medicine. By understanding the link between genes and diseases, doctors will be able to tailor care to individual patients’ needs and treat them more effectively
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I am fighting for better, more affordable health care by:
- Responding to the coronavirus pandemic. I continue to work on behalf of patients, health care workers, hospitals, and our health care system by:
- Supporting vaccine distribution. With three coronavirus vaccines being distributed across the country, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is critically important that Minnesota has the resources it needs to store, distribute, and administer these vaccines—including to our rural and tribal areas. The American Rescue Plan included $20 billion for improving vaccine administration and distribution, as well as additional support for making sure communities have the critical supplies and staffing needed to administer the vaccines and stop the spread of the virus. From the very beginning, I called on the federal government to work with states to ensure that these vaccines were distributed efficiently, and led an effort to make sure seniors can access vaccine appointment systems after some seniors struggled to access vaccines due to lack of broadband or other technology needed to access online scheduling portals. I’ve also worked to combat the spread of false and misleading information related to the vaccines by introducing legislation to establish a task force to counter misinformation about the pandemic and urging the CEOs of social media platforms to help ensure that Americans receive accurate, verified information about the vaccines.
- Increasing testing capacity. To fully reopen our economy and start feeling safe going about our daily lives, we must significantly increase our testing capacity. That’s why I supported access to COVID-19 testing with no cost to patients, worked to help the development of safe and accurate serology “blood” tests to identify if someone has the antibodies that might lead to immunity against the virus, and supported additional funding in the March 2021 American Rescue Plan to scale up both nationwide testing and the capacity to detect coronavirus variants. I also worked directly with Minnesota hospitals and labs to help expedite the approval of their COVID-19 tests and test processing facilities.
- Ensuring that our hospitals and health workers have the resources they need. I pushed the Trump Administration to ensure that Minnesota had access to coronavirus testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other medical materials required to manage patient care during the pandemic. I also worked to secure funding for hospitals and health care providers in the coronavirus relief packages passed in March, April, and December of 2020.
- Strengthening our health care workforce. The pandemic has put incredible pressure on our health care workforce, and in many places we need more workers to care for patients. That is why I encouraged the previous Administration to streamline the process for doctors seeking employment-based visas to help increase access to health care in underserved areas, especially rural areas, which are served by doctors in the Conrad 30 program. I also urged the previous Administration to waive restrictions preventing medical professionals on employment-based visas from practicing in areas where they are needed most during the pandemic.
- Using technology to improve care for seniors. I have introduced legislation to expand telehealth support for seniors and increase access to technology for “virtual visits” during the pandemic. These efforts would help protect seniors from exposure to the virus when accessing remote health care and also help them to stay connected with loved ones.
- Prioritizing mental health. No one is immune to the stress that has accompanied the pandemic. That is why in May 2020 I introduced legislation with Senator Todd Young to address the country’s growing mental health and addiction crisis. The Coronavirus Mental Health and Addiction Assistance Act would help people connect with the services and care they need to manage mental health and substance use disorders during the pandemic. I also called on the National Institute of Mental Health to prioritize research on how the pandemic is impacting the mental health of children and young adults to better help policymakers respond to this issue, and introduced the COVID-19 Mental Health Research Act to provide targeted funding to support this research. The relief bill passed in December 2020 dedicated nearly $4.25 billion to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for increased mental health and substance use disorder services while the American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021 included an additional $3.8 billion for these purposes.
- Addressing disparities. Preliminary data indicates that this pandemic is disproportionately affecting minority communities. That’s why I called on the Trump Administration to provide complete, high-quality, national demographic data so we can understand how this virus is impacting all communities and prioritize getting resources to those who need them most.
- Protecting access to medical equipment. Disruptions to supply chains and unscrupulous businesses trying to take advantage of the crisis by charging inflated prices have made it difficult for some people to get supplies they need. I urged the Trump Administration to protect consumers’ access to medical products from supply-chain disruptions created by the pandemic and called on the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to ensure that they are doing everything in their power under existing law to stop unconscionable price gouging. I introduced a bill with Senators Blumenthal, Hirono, and Cortez Masto to prohibit these practices and help ensure that people are not taken advantage of during emergencies.
- Making health care universal and more affordable. I am working on reforms so that all Minnesotans can get the affordable, high-quality health care they deserve by:
- Providing a public option and expanding Medicare and Medicaid. We must make health care universal and affordable, and that includes providing a public option and expanding Medicare and Medicaid. I have cosponsored the State Public Option Act, which would give states the option of allowing all of their residents to buy Medicaid coverage, and the Medicare-X Choice Act, which would allow Americans to buy a Medicare-based public insurance plan on the exchanges.
- Bringing down rates and out-of-pocket costs and reforming the delivery system. I cosponsored the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act to provide cost-sharing reductions to lower out-of-pocket expenses like copays and deductibles and to make it easier for states to enact reinsurance programs like Minnesota’s. Reinsurance protects against premiums going up for everyone due to a small number of patients with extremely high health care costs, especially in rural markets. I also authored legislation—passed as part of the Affordable Care Act—that created a “value index” for Medicare reimbursement rates, so that we reward the type of high-quality, efficient care that Minnesota and other states deliver instead of the volume of services. I have fought to protect safeguards put in place by the Affordable Care Act so people can no longer be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition and children can stay on their parent’s plans through the age of 26. I have worked to close the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program “donut hole” to lower prescription drug costs for seniors. This includes increasing the share of costs that brand-name drug companies must cover for beneficiaries as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act signed into law in February of 2018. As of 2020, 46 million seniors enrolled in the Medicare Prescription Drug Program no longer face a coverage gap when it comes to accessing their prescription drugs at an affordable rate, and nearly all of the more than 1 million Medicare beneficiaries in Minnesota can now receive certain preventive services for free.
- Ensuring access to vital drugs, treatments, and medical equipment. I authored and passed the bipartisan Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act to require prescription drug manufacturers to get at the dangerous issue of drug shortages by giving early notification to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of any incident that would likely result in a shortage. Early notification helped the FDA prevent 154 drug shortages in 2019. I also introduced the Steve Gleason Act of 2017—which was signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act in February 2018—to ensure that Medicare pays for speech-generating devices for people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s, and other degenerative diseases. Speech-generating devices are a lifeline for these patients, but a Medicare policy change had put coverage at risk.
- Expanding health care coverage for children. I supported the Medicare Access and Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law in April 2015, to support health coverage for approximately 8.9 million children who do not qualify for Medicaid and whose families cannot afford private insurance. In February of 2018, we successfully extended funding of CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, through 2027.
- Empowering patients. As co-chair of the bipartisan Rare Disease Congressional Caucus, I am working to increase the number of safe, effective, and affordable treatments that are available for people with rare diseases and to give patients a stronger voice during the drug development process. I led the bipartisan Paul D. Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Community Assistance, Research, and Education (MD-CARE) Amendments that were signed into law in 2014. Provisions from the Patient-Focused Impact Assessment Act—which I introduced with Senator Wicker from Mississippi—also became law as part of the 21st Century CURES Act, increasing transparency in the drug approval process by ensuring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) takes patients’ perspective into account when considering a drug for approval. Senator Wicker and I also introduced the Better Empowerment Now to Enhance Framework and Improve Treatments (BENEFIT) Act—which passed the Senate in 2017—to require a larger role for patients and patient data when the FDA weighs the risks and benefits of new treatments. In 2021, I also introduced the Speeding Therapy Access Today (STAT) Act with Senator Wicker to improve access to therapies for the rare disease community by promoting coordination within the government to advance science-based policies and ensure patients ultimately receive access to approved therapies. Finally, I have opposed efforts to roll back the Obama Administration policy that the federal government would not interfere with state laws legalizing marijuana, and I cosponsored the STATES Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner to protect the ability of states to regulate marijuana. I have also cosponsored legislation to make it easier for researchers to study the medical effectiveness and safety of marijuana and cannabidiol, which is used to treat conditions such as epilepsy.
- Promoting innovation. I fought to get a change to the burdensome 1099 reporting requirement for small businesses that was originally in the Affordable Care Act signed into law. I also worked to reduce delays in delivering lifesaving medical devices to the patients who need them after approvals for many life-savings devices had languished for years. That’s why I worked with other senators on the bipartisan Medical Device Regulatory Improvement Act, key provisions of which were included in legislation that passed the Senate by a vote of 92-4 and was signed into law by President Obama in July 2012. The 21st Century CURES Act and the FDA Reauthorization Act that were enacted in 2016 and 2017 will also help to foster innovation for drugs and medical devices that can provide breakthrough treatments. I have also introduced legislation to repeal the medical device tax so that manufacturers can continue to provide cutting-edge, life-saving products for consumers. We secured suspensions of this additional tax on manufacturing, innovation, and research for 2016 and 2017, and again for 2018 and 2019, and it was permanently repealed in legislation that became law in December 2019.
- Helping small businesses improve health plans. Since the start of 2011, small businesses have been eligible for tax credits worth up to 50 percent of their contribution to their employees' health insurance plans. I have sponsored the Health Care for Small Business Act to expand these tax credits and make it easier for small businesses to use them. I fought to include the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Act in the Affordable Care Act so that small businesses can increase the choices of health care plans for their employees.
- Addressing prescription drug prices and access. I have introduced multiple pieces of legislation to reduce the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs and ensure appropriate access, including:
- Requiring Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for our seniors. There are 46 million seniors in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. I am leading legislation with over 30 cosponsors—the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act—to eliminate the current ban that prevents Medicare from negotiating directly with drug companies for lower prices on behalf of these seniors, who are paying excessive prices for prescription drugs.
- Allowing the importation of safe, less expensive prescription medicines from Canada and other approved countries. Americans pay double what Canadians do for retail prescription drugs. That is why I introduced the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act with Senator Chuck Grassley to allow people to import prescription drugs for personal use from safe, proven Canadian pharmacies. I also introduced a bill with Senator Mike Lee that would allow temporary importation of drugs from countries with strong safety standards—like Australia and those in the European Union—when there is limited competition or a drug shortage in the United States.
- Boosting competition to improve access to less expensive generic drugs. I have fought to make sure competition, not unfair conduct, determines the price of prescription drugs. With Senator Grassley, I have introduced legislation to help end the “pay-for-delay” practice of brand-name drug manufacturers paying off their less-expensive generic competitors to stay out of the market. With a bipartisan group of senators, I also introduced the CREATES Act, which became law in December 2019. This legislation ends tactics that some brand-name companies have used to prevent generic manufacturers from receiving approval for their products—tactics such as denying access to samples. I also introduced the Stop Significant and Time-Wasting Abuse Limiting Legitimate Innovation of New Generics (Stop STALLING) Act with Senator Chuck Grassley to reduce incentives for branded pharmaceutical companies to file sham petitions with the Food and Drug Administration to delay or prevent the approval of generics and biosimilars. Our legislation passed in the Judiciary Committee in June 2019.
- Calling out drug companies for high prices. After I raised concerns, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that Mylan had incorrectly classified its brand-name product, EpiPen, as a generic drug under Medicaid and therefore was paying smaller rebates to states. When I called for a nationwide investigation to determine how many other drugs are misclassified and how much these misclassifications have cost taxpayers, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General found that drug misclassification may have cost Medicaid $1.3 billion from 2012 to 2016. Mylan now sells a generic EpiPen for half the price of their brand-name version, but questions remain about skyrocketing prices across the board. I have called on Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk to take action to help people with diabetes afford insulin and explain why prices have tripled over the past decade. I joined Senators Susan Collins from Maine and Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin to demand answers from Strongbridge Biopharma after the price of a drug that treats glaucoma and a type of rare genetic disease that causes muscle weakness or loss was hiked from $50 to $15,000.
- Reducing drug waste that costs taxpayers millions of dollars. When I asked the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General about waste generated by the size of single-use drug vials, the investigation found that Medicare was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on drugs that get thrown out. I introduced the bipartisan Reducing Drug Waste Act with Senator Grassley to require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to address the costs of this drug waste that results from the size of single-use drug vials and other drug-delivery systems like eye drops.
- Fighting price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. There is evidence that pharmaceutical companies target outrageous price increases for selected drugs used by vulnerable populations or for rare diseases. During my time in the Senate, I’ve called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate pharmaceutical companies for anticompetitive practices and price manipulation. I’ve also called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of rebate traps on pharmaceutical prices and competition. Rebate traps have been used by drug manufacturers to stifle competition and limit patients’ access to lower-cost generic drugs as well as new innovative drugs.
- Allowing for safe disposal of prescription drugs. I authored the bipartisan Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in October 2010, to provide consumers with safe and responsible ways to dispose of unused controlled substances. This law allows individuals and long-term-care facilities to deliver the most dangerous prescription drugs to law enforcement officials for safe disposal and also promotes the development and expansion of drug take-back programs.
- Preserving access to health care in rural areas. I understand that health care is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, especially for rural communities that face unique challenges in making high-quality health care accessible to all residents. I have led the successful effort to extend the Conrad State 30 program that allows international doctors trained in the United States to extend their stay in the country if they agree to practice in underserved communities, and I have introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the program. I successfully fought to renew funding for community health centers—which are critical sources of care in rural areas—as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act. I have also cosponsored multiple pieces of legislation—the Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital (REACH) Act, the Improving Access to Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Act, the Critical Access Hospital Relief Act that became law in February 2018, the Protecting Access to Rural Therapy Services Act, and the Rural Health Connectivity Act—to strengthen and expand access to care in rural areas. The Improving Access to Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Act—which expands access to care by allowing physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and clinical nurse specialists to supervise cardiac, intensive cardiac, and pulmonary rehabilitation programs—and the CHRONIC Care Act—which expands the use of telehealth and makes additional reforms to the health care delivery system—were signed into law in February 2018. I have also worked to ensure that rural health care providers that have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic get the support that they need, including working to secure emergency funding for community health centers—over half of which are located in rural areas.
- Supporting and protecting our seniors and people with disabilities. We must ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society have the care and support they need, which includes protecting them from abuse and exploitation, promoting their financial stability and security, and supporting their families and caregivers.
- Assisting seniors and their families. I introduced the Americans Giving Care to Elders Act, which would establish a federal tax credit to assist with the costs of caring for an aging family member. I also introduced with Senator Collins from Maine the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Act, which would expand training and support services for families and caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s and related dementia. In addition, I introduced a bill with Senator Grassley—signed into law in March 2018—to help families locate missing loved ones with developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s, or other forms of dementia and to provide training and technology to first responders and law enforcement to help them find these vulnerable individuals. I have also introduced and cosponsored multiple bipartisan bills to improve the quality of life for seniors and encourage the use of remote monitoring technology and telehealth services in Medicare and other programs, including the CHRONIC Care Act, the Fostering Independence Through Technology Act, the Independence at Home Act, and the CONNECT for Health Act. Because seniors are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, I have introduced legislation to expand telehealth services for seniors and increase access to technology for “virtual visits” at nursing facilities so that seniors can connect with their loved ones during the pandemic while staying safe.
- Protecting our seniors from abuse in care facilities. Our seniors are among the most vulnerable populations, and we must work to protect them from abuse. I was appalled by the reports revealing that thousands of allegations of neglect, abuse, and theft in facilities for seniors in Minnesota were not being investigated on site. Our state is taking action to better protect these seniors, but elder abuse is a national issue we’re facing across the country as our senior population is set to double over the next 30 years. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General has found that Medicare does not have adequate procedures for identifying and reporting potential incidents of abuse or neglect in nursing home facilities, and the Government Accountability Office has found that we need better oversight of critical incidents in facilities that get Medicaid funding as well. I called on the previous Administration to reverse its decision to roll back enforcement of protections for our seniors across the country and I am working with Senator Susan Collins, Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and the Government Accountability Office to identify additional safeguards we can implement to better protect seniors from abuse or mistreatment.
- Protecting seniors from financial exploitation. While most court-appointed guardians are professional, caring, and law-abiding, there are some bad actors who use their position of power for their own gain. I introduced a bipartisan bill—signed into law in 2017—that protects seniors from financial exploitation by court-appointed guardians who abuse their position. I am also leading a bill to help fight scams designed to strip seniors of their assets by improving monitoring and response to fraud complaints and helping educate seniors about fraud schemes.
- Supporting people with disabilities. I worked to get the Achieving a Better Life Experience—or ABLE—Act signed into law, which allows people with disabilities to use tax-advantaged savings accounts to cover expenses like education, transportation, and housing without putting other support they count on at risk. I am also a cosponsor of bipartisan legislation to expand these ABLE accounts to people who develop a disability before they turn 46 rather than 26 under current law. This allows families to transfer funds saved in a 529 education savings account into an ABLE account without incurring a tax penalty and increases the amount that people with disabilities can save in an ABLE account if they are working and earning an income. I have also fought to protect against cuts to the Medicaid program, which covers 40 percent of people with disabilities in our country, and to prevent people with preexisting conditions from losing access to their health insurance coverage.
- Strengthening mental health and substance abuse services. I understand the toll that mental health issues and substance use disorders can take on families and communities, and that’s why I’ve continued to fight for legislation that expands access to services and ensures communities have the resources they need for prevention and treatment.
- Providing access to mental health services. Substance use and mental health disorders do not discriminate, and if we are going to combat addiction we must prioritize prevention, early intervention, expanding access to treatment, and giving people a path to recovery. I introduced the bipartisan Anna Westin Act—which was included in the 21st Century CURES Act signed into law in December 2016—to help the millions of Americans suffering from eating disorders get the help they need. The law increases awareness and early detection of eating disorders, requires insurers to cover residential treatment, and clarifies the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act to ensure health insurance companies cover all mental health and substance use disorder benefits in the same way they do physical illnesses. I also support the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act to allow more states to conduct demonstration programs—like Minnesota has—to improve access to community mental health services. We successfully increased funding for these community mental health programs in March 2018.
- Combating the opioid crisis and increased use of methamphetamine. I’m also working to combat the opioid crisis and the recent increase that we have seen in the use of methamphetamine and ensure that communities have the resources they need for prevention and treatment. I led three bipartisan bills that were signed into law as part of legislation to address the opioid epidemic in October of 2018: the SALTS Act, which I led with Senator Lindsey Graham to make it easier to prosecute the sale and distribution of “analogue” drugs, which are synthetic substances that are substantially similar to illegal drugs; the STOP Act, which I introduced with Senator Rob Portman to help stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl from being shipped through our postal system from overseas; and the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act, which I introduced with Senator Marco Rubio to help crack down on health care facilities or providers that try to game the system to take advantage of vulnerable patients.
In addition, along with three other senators, I introduced the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which became law in July 2016. This bipartisan legislation encourages states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies in the fight against addiction. In 2020, I introduced the CARA 2.0 Act with a bipartisan group of senators to build on the momentum of CARA by increasing funding and putting in place additional policy reforms to combat the opioid epidemic. One important provision in the CARA 2.0 Act is based on my bipartisan bill, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, to require states that receive certain federal funding to have prescription drug monitoring programs that use best practices to stop the kind of “doctor shopping” that facilitates addiction and to share their data with other states. We know that opioid addiction too often begins with the abuse of legal prescription painkillers, and with this bill, we can do something about that. Finally, I have introduced the LifeBOAT Act with Senator Joe Manchin that simply places a one-cent fee on each milligram of active opioid ingredient in a prescription pain pill to create a permanent stream of funding for substance abuse treatment, and I’m continuing to fight for additional funds and resources for communities that have been impacted by addiction.
- Combating health care fraud and increasing transparency. To help deter health care fraud, I cosponsored bipartisan legislation signed into law to help save billions of dollars each year by requiring direct depositing of all Medicare and Medicaid payments made to providers to prevent fraudulent billing practices. The legislation offers law enforcement officials one more tool to combat health care fraud. I also led the Physician Payments Sunshine Act with Senator Grassley to make both medical device and pharmaceutical financial arrangements public. The legislation became law in 2010, and I have continued to fight against any attempt to weaken it. I have introduced legislation with Senator Lisa Murkowski to protect consumers’ private health data by requiring that regulations be issued for new health technologies—like wearable fitness trackers, direct-to-consumer genetic testing services, and mobile applications not regulated by existing laws. In December 2020, I also wrote to Health and Human Services about the need for additional regulations that protect personal health data after a new wearable with concerning data-collection practices entered the market.
- Increasing research funding to seek new cures. I have consistently fought for strong funding for research at our federal research agencies, including the NIH, so that researchers don’t have their hands tied by the whims of Washington. I supported the 21st Century CURES Act, which contained nearly $5 billion in funding for NIH research into cures for Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases. The 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 spending bills signed into law included significant increases in NIH funding. I introduced a bipartisan resolution with Senator Collins from Maine declaring that the goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025 is an “urgent national priority.” Finally, as co-chair of the bipartisan Rare Disease Congressional Caucus, I am working to increase the number of safe, effective, and affordable treatments that are available for people with rare diseases. During the government shutdown in October 2013, I donated my pay to the NIH since lifesaving medical research was slashed during the shutdown.