Improving Health Care | Congressman Ami Bera

Congressman Ami Bera

Representing the 7th District of California
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Improving Health Care



As a doctor, I took an oath to care for the well-being of my patients. Core to that oath are three general principles: To do good, to do no harm, and to empower my patients with the best available information so they can make the decisions that work best for them and their personal circumstances. I’ve sat with my patients as they’ve faced some of the most difficult situations of their lives. Now that I have the honor and privilege of serving as your representative, I’m staying true to my oath to improve health care for Sacramento County families.

Today, more people are gaining access to basic health care and our country has some of the best nurses, physicians, and hospitals in the world. At the same time, too many mothers and fathers are still paying more and more for health care while getting less and less, working even harder to get by when the next health bill could set them even further back. I’ve met with numerous local residents who are facing rising premiums, deductibles, and bureaucratic obstacles from both the government and their insurance companies. Meanwhile, many seniors on fixed incomes are paying higher costs and are worried about the future of the Medicare guarantee.

We can meet these challenges, but both parties have to do a better job of taking the politics out of health care and start focusing on solutions. As the former Chief Medical Officer for Sacramento County, I did just that by fighting to deliver quality health care to thousands of residents. That’s why I’m working with my colleagues to prioritize patient care, lower health care costs, and protect Medicare for our seniors.

Here’s how I’m working to improve health care for Sacramento County:

 

Lowering Health Care Costs:


As a doctor, I’ve cared for many patients who struggle to pay high medical bills. Health care simply costs too much - we keep paying more and more for health care while we keep getting less and less. And in today’s economy when families are having a hard enough time saving for retirement and paying a mortgage, it can be difficult to set aside the money you need to prepare for unexpected medical emergencies. For some families, medical bills from a broken ankle or from an illness can force them to choose between making a car payment, not saving for their children’s college education, or even worse. We need to address rising health care costs that threaten the financial security of too many families.

As a former Chief Medical Officer of Sacramento County, I’ve dealt with these issues firsthand and fought to deliver quality health care to thousands of patients. We have to focus on lowering health costs by targeting waste and fraud, and by encouraging medical best practices such as preventive care so we can find and treat health care problems early.

  • Small Business and Family Relief Act: I introduced this bipartisan bill to roll back a flawed health insurance tax that’s part of the Affordable Care Act. Because of how this tax is designed, independent experts have determined that it would increase health care costs for middle class families, seniors, and small businesses.

    I’m pleased to say that a version of my proposal has now become law. By delaying the health insurance tax for 2017, the average individual will save more than $200 on health insurance costs and seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans will save $350.
     

    Listened to the folks at Brothers Boats in Folsom. I discussed how my bill, the Small Business and Family Relief Act, can help local small businesses like theirs.
  • Health Savings Protection Act: We shouldn’t punish families who are doing the right thing and saving for unforeseen health costs. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Health Savings Protection Act.

    This bill would help address the so-called “Cadillac” tax, which is intended to reign in excessive health spending, but in reality would shift more costs to patients and has led many employers to threaten to stop providing health savings accounts. My bill exempts health savings plan contributions from this tax so middle class families can continue to rely on their health savings accounts. I’m also supporting bipartisan legislation to repeal this harmful tax in its entirety.
  • Fighting for Affordable Prescription Drugs: We’ve unfortunately seen irresponsible price gouging when it comes to prescription drugs that places some vital medicines out of reach for too many families. In one dramatic instance, after Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli bought a lifesaving drug, he raised the price from $13.50 to $750 a pill – a more than 5,000 percent increase!

    As a doctor, I find this especially troubling. That’s why I successfully urged the Food and Drug Administration to take action. In response to an effort I led, the Food and Drug Administration agreed to begin speeding up generic drugs applications, which will increase the number of drugs on the market and help lower prices. We need to make sure families and seniors have more choices and access to generic drugs to lower costs.
  • Bipartisan Fixes to the Affordable Care Act: As a doctor, the Affordable Care Act is not how I would have gone about addressing health care. While it does allow more people to access health care, I’ve always said it doesn’t do enough to address health care costs. And unfortunately, we have seen there are issues with aspects of the law as it has been rolled out and implemented. Now that the Affordable Care Act is law, both parties have an obligation to put aside politics and focus on solutions to fix what isn’t working.

    That’s why I've voted for legislation to delay the harsh financial penalties after the rocky roll-out of the health care law. I voted to provide health care, and voted for the Keep Your Plan Act so Sacramento County families could have the individual choice to keep insurance plans that work for them. I’m also supporting bipartisan legislation to repeal a tax on medical devices that would make them more expensive.
     
  • Women’s Preventive Health Awareness Campaign Act: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and catching illnesses early is the best way to stay well and lower health care costs. That’s why I introduced the Women’s Preventive Health Awareness Act. This bill would help women navigate the health care system and ensure that care they may need, like yearly doctor’s visits, birth control, or breastfeeding support, is covered without additional costs.

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Supporting Healthy Women and Healthy Families:


As a doctor, I strongly believe that a woman’s health decisions should be between her and her doctor. The government shouldn’t interfere with a woman’s right to make her own health decisions. Individual rights liberties are a cornerstone of our constitution, and there is no right that is more sacred than what a woman can do with her own body.

This is all core to the oath that I took as physician: a respect for patient autonomy. As a doctor, my job is to sit in the exam room, answer a patient’s questions, and empower my patients to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their families. Washington politicians have no place in the exam room.

Instead of interfering in a woman’s personal health decisions, both parties should be working to improve care for women and families. Republicans and Democrats alike should be working together to lower costs, expand access to care like cancer screenings and contraception, and encourage preventive medicine to find and treat health problems earlier. We should be working together to ensure healthy women and healthy families.

  • Standing with Planned Parenthood: I’m disappointed by how some in Congress have launched political attacks against Planned Parenthood’s women and family health services. Planned Parenthood provides access to crucial health care such as cancer screenings, family planning services, and birth control. According to Planned Parenthood’s report data, they provided more than 97,000 breast exams and 93,000 pap tests to California women in 2013 alone.



    That’s why in 2015, I was honored to be the only member of the House of Representatives to receive Planned Parenthood’s Women’s Health Champion award for my work on behalf of women’s health care. I will continue to stand against reckless attacks on women’s health – including efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and a one-sided, taxpayer funded investigation into Planned Parenthood that hasn’t produced any results.

     
  • Women’s Preventive Health Awareness Campaign Act: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and catching illnesses early are the best ways to stay well and lower health care costs. That’s why I introduced the Women’s Preventive Health Awareness Act. This bill would help women navigate the health care system and ensure that care they may need, like yearly doctor’s visits, birth control, or breastfeeding support, is covered without additional costs.

     
  • Ensuring Greater Access to Contraception and Family Planning: In Congress, I’m fighting to put health care back in the hands of women by increasing funding for Title X, a dedicated family planning and preventive health program. This program supports crucial cancer screenings, access to contraception, and family planning services. I’ve strongly opposed efforts to end this funding, which helps organizations such as Planned Parenthood provide preventive health care for women and families.
  • Protecting Women’s Reproductive Rights: I have consistently and repeatedly opposed reckless legislation to limit a woman’s personal reproductive health care decisions.

    For instance, I fought against S. 304, which would let employers and health plans deny women access to health care that they object to. You can click to play the below video to watch me urge my colleagues to oppose this dangerous legislation:

     

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Protecting the Medicare Guarantee for Older Americans:


As a doctor, I cared for thousands of patients who have paid into and rely on Medicare. I know first-hand that we can reduce runaway health care costs without making dramatic cuts to Medicare that will hurt our seniors. By lowering drug costs, ending wasteful tests, and encouraging preventative care, we can safeguard Medicare for future generations. I took an oath to care for the well-being of my patients as doctor, and I’m continuing to take that the same approach as your Congressman.

  • Protecting Seniors’ Access to Medicare: I was proud to help pass the historic and bipartisan Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, which is now law. At its core, this bill fixes a broken payment system called the Sustainable Growth Rate that caused financial uncertainty in Medicare for more than a decade and forced doctors to see fewer Medicare patients. If left unaddressed, doctors would have struggled to afford to care for seniors on Medicare. Fixing this broken system was critical for protecting the Medicare guarantee for seniors.

    The bill also makes further reforms to lower costs Medicare for the .How doctors care for seniors no longer about how many tests and procedures they order or how much they charge. Instead, success is judged by fewer repeat hospital visits, higher patient satisfaction, and fewer medical errors.

    You can click below to watch me urge my colleagues support this bill:

  • Preventing Medicare Premium Spikes: We need to make sure our seniors aren’t burdened with high Medicare premiums they can’t afford. That’s why I voted for the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, a two year budget agreement that is now law. This budget prevented a 52 percent spike in premiums for millions of seniors on Medicare part B.


     
  • Opposing Reckless Plans to End the Medicare Guarantee: I’ve consistently voted against a partisan budget plan, offered by Congressman Paul Ryan, which would end the Medicare guarantee for older Americans. By turning Medicare into a voucher system, this plan would leave millions of seniors at the mercy of insurance companies and leave them unable to afford the health care they depend on. Turning Medicare into a voucher doesn’t lower costs - it just shifts the burden of paying for health care onto seniors. Our parents and grandparents did not work their whole lives, paying into a system, only to be handed a voucher that doesn't even cover the cost of their care.


     
  • Protecting Medicare Advantage: I’ve consistently worked with people in both parties to fight against cuts to Medicare Advantage. This program has a proven track record of improving the health of patients while also bringing down costs for nearly 100,000 seniors in our area.

    Keeping health care affordable for seniors on fixed incomes is one reason why I introduced the bipartisan Small Business and Family Relief Act to delay a new tax on health insurance that’s part of the Affordable Care Act. Because of how this tax is designed, independent budget experts have said that it will mean higher premiums for consumers and will disproportionately impact seniors on Medicare Advantage. I’m pleased to say that Congress passed a version of my proposal, delaying this tax for 2017, saving the average senior on Medicare $350.

    I’ve also consistently worked with people in both parties to fight against cuts to Medicare Advantage since I’ve had the privilege of serving you in Congress. In one major effort, I was proud to join with 239 Members of Congress in both parties to urge the Administration to stop proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage for 2016. I’m glad to say that we were successful in protecting seniors from benefit cuts or significant price increases. I will continue to work in a bipartisan way to honor this promise that we have made to our seniors.

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Fighting for First-Class Health Care for Veterans:

As a doctor, I’ve been honored to personally care for World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans. I’ve seen their sacrifices firsthand. As a nation, we have a solemn obligation to support them and make sure they get the best care possible.

Unfortunately, we know that the VA hasn’t always delivered the quality care that it should. Many veterans have had to wait far too long to get the medical care they’ve earned. In our area, a veteran tragically lost his life after a do-not-resuscitate band was mistakenly placed on his wrist.

This is inexcusable and we have a moral obligation to address it, regardless of party. We need to provide our heroes with the quality health care they deserve.

  • How I Can Help: My office is here to help local veterans who are having issues with their earned benefits or health care. My District Director, Matthew Ceccato, is a Wounded Warrior Iraq War Veteran and my whole team is dedicated to doing everything it can to serve our local heroes. If you need help, please call us at (916) 635-0505 or visit my Help for Veterans page to learn more. We’ve already helped area veterans recover more than $1.8 million they were owed and we’d be honored to help you, too.

     
  • Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act: Like many Americans, I was outraged by reports in 2014 that so many of our veterans were waiting far too long for the health care they needed. That’s why I voted for the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. This bill is a direct response to the health crisis at the VA and was supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

    This bill takes a number of important steps to ensure veterans can receive the health care they need. For instance, it gives qualifying veterans the choice of receiving care at another hospital if they can’t get an appointment at a VA facility within 30 days. It also takes steps to deny undeserved bonuses at the VA and makes it easier to dismiss senior VA managers who aren’t doing their jobs. Furthermore, it provides funding so the VA can hire more doctors on an expedited basis.
  • 21st Century Health Care for Heroes: I was proud to introduce and pass the bipartisan 21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act. This bill, which is now law, requires the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration to streamline and update their electronic health records. This will both help reduce the backlog of veterans’ benefits at the VA and get our heroes the care they've earned.

    This law is now being implemented, and I’m encouraged that both departments are making progress towards updating their records and making necessary changes. In December 2015, I was proud to vote for a bipartisan government funding bill to provide resources to help make sure these goals are met.


    With my Republican colleague, Congressman Chris Gibson, during a meeting with the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs on the implementation of the 21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act.
  • Responding to a Local Tragedy: As a doctor, I know every second counts in an emergency - you can’t waste time when a person’s life is at stake. That’s why I was especially concerned after learning that an unfortunate error at the Mather VA led to the death of a local veteran. This man died after a "do-not-resuscitate" band was incorrectly put on his wrist.

    After learning about this incident, I called for a federal investigation by the independent Office of the Inspector General. They determined the hospital was responsible for a "delay in life-saving intervention." In response, I introduced the VA Quality Care Act to ensure stronger oversight so that any problems within the VA system are reported, communicated, and fixed. Play the clip below from KCRA to learn more:

  • Doctors Helping Heroes Act: One of the primary reasons for the long wait times for veterans to receive care is a serious shortage of doctors at VA hospitals across the country. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Doctors Helping Heroes Act. This bill would allow more American-trained, international doctors to practice in VA hospitals to ensure our heroes get the care they desperately need.

  • Preventing Veteran Suicides: Veterans have a significantly higher risk of suicide than those who haven’t served in the military. We have a responsibility to make sure that every veteran has the support he or she needs. That’s why I voted for the bipartisan Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which is now law. This law helps make mental health care services more accessible.

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Advancing Medical Research:


In May of 2016, I had the privilege of visiting the National Institutes of Health to receive a first-hand update on the development of a vaccine to prevent Zika infections and stop future outbreaks.

As a former associate dean at the U.C. Davis School of Medicine, I know that medical and disease research is critical for unlocking lifesaving cures.

Groundbreaking medical research has given hope to millions of American patients and their families. Medical research brought us miraculous new vaccines that eliminated devastating diseases like Polio and Small Pox. Over the course of the 20th century, research has helped significantly lower the maternal and infant mortality rates. Thanks to federally supported research, we’ve been able to make our foods healthier, more effectively monitor and limit outbreaks of deadly and infectious diseases, and improved the safety of our cars and workplaces.

We need to do all that we can to support the best and brightest scientists who are conducting this crucial research to unlock the next breakthrough. Supporting scientists and researchers as they pursue these discoveries is not only the smart thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do.

  • 21st Century Cures Act: I voted for the 21st Century Cures Act, which will ensure critical investments in the next generation of scientists and cures. I’m a strong supporter of this bill that will encourage the best and brightest scientists to find cures by dedicating nearly $2 billion to a new Innovation Fund every year over the next 5 years. In addition it will modernize the drug development process, promote personalized cures for patients, streamline clinical trials, and incentivize development of treatments for rare diseases.
  • Supporting the National Institutes of Health: I am strongly supporting the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – the premier federal agency in disease research – as they pursue medical breakthroughs that can positively impact millions of patients. I’m working to prioritize investments in NIH medical research to help us unlock the mysteries of diseases, and also boost local researchers at the University of California, Davis. This is one of the reasons why I was proud to vote for a bipartisan government funding bill in December 2015, because it boosts funding for the NIH by $2 billion for Fiscal Year 2016.
     
  • Combating the Zika Virus: The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a global health emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms are usually mild, such as a fever, but the virus can cause serious birth defects.

    Thankfully, the risk of the disease spreading widely within the United States is low, but warm summer temperatures that are more hospitable to disease-carrying mosquitoes have already led to cases in Florida and could spread to more states in that region. We must do more to address this health crisis. This is why I led a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing addressing the Zika virus to question Secretary of State John Kerry on the latest developments. You can watch my remarks and questions from the hearing by clicking below:



    It is absolutely critical for Congress to put the health and safety of Americans above partisan political games. That’s why I’m supporting a bill to provide strong emergency funding to combat Zika and I will keep pushing for a vote until we address this issue. Furthermore, given the risk for birth defects, it’s especially important to ensure that women in the most at-risk regions can access the tools they need to keep their families healthy. This should include access to birth control so women can delay their pregnancies if they choose to.

  • Getting Ahead of Future Outbreaks: In 2014, it was the Ebola virus. In 2016, it is the Zika virus.  Next year it may be a new virus or infectious disease. We can't tell. But here is what we know: the world is becoming a much smaller and interconnected place. With global travel and easier movement of goods and services, we will increasingly see epidemics emerge at a more rapid rate. We need to do a better job of supporting medical research and our public health workers so we are better prepared for future emergencies. That’s why this year I introduced an amendment that passed as part of a government funding bill, to increase funding for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is at the forefront of preparing and responding to public health crises.

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Addressing the Prescription Drug Abuse and Opioid Epidemic:


We’ve seen a sharp spike in deaths from highly addictive painkillers known as opioids across the country. Thousands have lost their lives by abusing these drugs, which often require a prescription. As a doctor, I’ve seen firsthand how families have been torn apart by this epidemic.

Deborah, a mom from Sacramento County, is just one example. Deborah’s son became addicted to prescription pain medication he found in his family’s medicine cabinet. He began using prescription drugs and later escalated to heroin and methamphetamine. Deborah later shared: “I cannot tell you the suffering my family went through over five years because of prescription drug abuse.”

Thankfully, Deborah’s son is now recovering. But many families aren’t as lucky. According to the Centers for Disease for Control and Prevention, more people died in 2014 from drug overdoses than in any year before. We have to work together in a bipartisan way to address this serious public health crisis.

  • Passing the bipartisan Disposing Responsibly of Pills Act (or the DROP Act): If you can find old or expired drugs in your medicine cabinet, chances are a child, friend, or family member can stumble onto them just as easily. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of people who abuse painkillers get them from a friend or family member. Safely disposing of any unused prescriptions in your medicine cabinet could help save a life.

    That’s why I introduced and passed the bipartisan Disposing Responsibly of Pills Act (or the DROP Act), which is now law. Part of a comprehensive, bipartisan legislative response to combat opioid abuse and to prevent addiction, my bill will help local law enforcement, clinics, pharmacies, and other authorized collectors provide permanent drop off sites for people to safely get rid of their medications. This would help keep prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands and prevent addiction.


     
  • Do your part - Drop Off Unused or Expired Prescription Drugs: My staff and I have also worked to inform the local families about how they can dispose of their unused or expired prescriptions. We compiled a list of area locations where local families can drop off their unused or expired prescription drugs to help prevent these medications from falling into the wrong hands:

    Please click here to learn more and see how you can dispose of any unused prescriptions in your medicine cabinet.

      

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Supporting Nurses, Doctors, and Health Care Providers:


Today, more Americans are gaining access to health care than ever before. This is a welcome and positive development, but we also have to make sure that we have enough well trained and qualified nurses, doctors, and health care providers in our country to properly care for everyone. We need to be able to provide quality care not only for today’s patients, but the new ones to come and the millions of baby boomers who will increasingly need health care as they age.

According to one study by the the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2016, the United States may face a shortage of up to nearly 95,000 physicians by the year 2025. We need to start making the necessary investments to ensure we have a robust pipeline of nurses, doctors, and other health care providers.

  • Graduate Medical Education: Under the Graduate Medical Education initiative, Medicare supports training hospitals to educate and prepare the next generation of physicians. I’ve consistently supported strong funding for this program to make sure we keep training new physicians that American families need.
  • Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act: Graduate Medical Education is a valuable investment that will help us ensure we have enough doctors to care for America’s patients. Unfortunately, the number of training positions available under this program has remained stagnant while the demand for health care keeps going up.

    That’s why I’m supporting the bipartisan Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act. This bill would steadily increase the number of Graduate Medical Education positions over a period of several years to keep up with the increasing demand for doctors.
     
  • Addressing the Nursing Shortage: As a doctor I’ve had the privilege of working alongside many nurses and know their hard work is what keeps hospitals running. We have an obligation to support them and ensure we have enough well-trained nurses available as the demand for health care increases. That’s why I’m supporting the National Nursing Shortage Reform and Patient Advocacy Act. This legislation would create standards to ensure that hospitals have a minimum number of nurses on their staff to make sure that their patients are well cared for. It would also provide more support for nurse training opportunities to make sure we continue to bring more nurses into the health care workforce.

  • Doctors Helping Heroes: I introduced this bipartisan legislation to address a shortage of doctors at VA hospitals and underserved areas. It would allow more American-trained, international doctors to practice in VA hospitals, as well as rural areas, to ensure our heroes get the care they desperately need.

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More on Improving Health Care

Sep 1, 2016 Ami's Updates

I sent an email update on Thursday on how I'm working to address the spike in EpiPen prices and more. Join my email updates now so you don't miss any in the future!

Aug 25, 2016 Press Release

Sacramento – Today, Congressman Ami Bera, M.D. (CA-7) called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take immediate action to make lower cost alternatives available in response to exorbitantly priced EpiPens from the drug manufacturer Mylan. Currently, EpiPens have a virtual monopoly on the market for emergency allergy attack treatment. In the letter, Congressman Bera asks the FDA to address processes that may limit competition and allow some companies to drastically increase prices.

Jul 13, 2016 Ami's Updates

I sent an email update on Wednesday on my latest work to make government work for Sacramento County. Join my email updates now so don't miss any in the future!

Jul 8, 2016 Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Ami Bera, M.D. (CA-7) announced that his bipartisan legislation to fund prescription drug disposal across the country, the Dispose Responsibly Of Pills (DROP) Act, has passed the House toady 407-6 as part of the Comprehensive Opioid Reduction Act of 2016. The bill will move on to the Senate and then be signed into law. Congressman Bera first introduced this bill in May 2015 and has been working across the aisle with colleagues like Dr. Phil Roe (TN-1) to enact a solution to curb opioid abuse.

Jun 15, 2016 Ami's Updates

I sent an email update on Wednesday with a report on what I'm doing to build a brighter future for Sacramento County. Join my email updates now so you don't miss any in the future!

May 21, 2016 Ami's Updates

I sent an email update on Friday on my latest work to help our veterans and to make government work for Sacramento County. Join my email updates now so you don't miss any in the future!

May 12, 2016 Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Ami Bera, M.D. (CA-7) and Phil Roe, M.D. (TN-1), both physicians, announced that the House has included their bipartisan legislation to fund prescription drug disposal across the country, the Dispose Responsibly Of Pills (DROP) Act, in the Comprehensive Opioid Reduction Act that passed the House today 413-5.

Apr 28, 2016 Ami's Updates

I sent an email update on Thursday about how you can help do your part to address the prescription drug and opioid abuse epidemic. Join my email updates now so you don't miss any in the future!

Apr 28, 2016 Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Ami Bera, M.D. (CA-7) and Lois Capps (CA-24) led a group of 14 California representatives in calling for an immediate fix for pregnant women who have been dropped from their health insurance due to a computer glitch.