On Thursday, December 6, 2012, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) considered six policy resolutions relating to Health and Human Services, ranging from Medicare access to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Here are a few of the highlights of each resolution.
Concerned about how spending cuts would affect Medicare, namely Part D, Illinois Senator Donne Trotter proposed a resolution that while acknowledging the national budget debt is a threat to U.S. viability, they must not result in the “changing or dismantling of highly effective health care programs and must not come at the expense of patient access to care.” Medicare and Medicare D provide seniors and disabled Americans with access to affordable treatments and medicine. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the “implementation of Medicare Part D enhanced access and adherence to medication and reduced hospital, nursing home and other costs for seniors who previously lacked comprehensive drug coverage.” Therefore, these essential social programs should not be tampered with in the next round of budget cuts.
Senator Trotter also addressed the high cost of specialty drugs. Specialty drugs are often charged at a different rate than other drugs because they are for serious chronic diseases like cancer. Co-pays typically don’t cover the high-cost, exposing users to excessive out-of-pocket costs, which can be discriminatory and restrict a patient’s access to care. Senator Trotter notes that the Affordable Care Act does not specifically address these high costs. Therefore, “it is critical to promote, support, and encourage addressing excessive out-of-pocket costs for specialty medication by state legislative or regulatory action.”
Representative Karen Yarborough, also of Illinois, brought three initiatives, two of which seek to increase the awareness of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Alzheimer’s Disease. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates that one person dies from COPD every four minutes and that it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States. There’s no cure for COPD, but increasing awareness and early diagnosis of this deadly disease, common to smokers, can help improve quality of life and further exacerbation of the symptoms. Therefore, the NBCSL proclaimed the month of November COPD Awareness Month.
The NBCSL recognizes that Alzheimer’s is a disease that needs awareness increased in the Black community. Therefore, the NBCSL is in full support of the Alzheimer’s Association’s efforts to educate African Americans. Research has shown that African Americans aged 71 and older were almost two times more likely than whites to have Alzheimer’s or dementia. Every 68 seconds, a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and the sixth leading cause of the death in the United States.
Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter of South Carolina proposed “Improving the Quality of and access to voluntary early childhood home visiting programs.” This resolution hopes to get into the homes of at-risk children earlier, so that they might have a chance to succeed later. Most of our nation’s costliest social problems- child abuse and neglect, school failure, poverty, and crime- are rooted in early childhood. Research has shown that high quality home visitation programs have had positive reductions in all of the aforementioned problems. Therefore, the NBCSL members support programs that aim to improve the quality of expanding access to voluntary state home visiting programs.
Each of these resolutions carries a broad social message, not just to African-Americans, but all Americans. Health is an important part of our lives that should not be taken lightly. Increasing awareness of how to take care of ourselves should be at the forefront of any social policies. The NBCSL has done an excellent job of addressing the needs of all Americans in regards to health and wellness.