New Year, Renewed Healthcare Challenges
By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
A new year is upon us, and with it comes the expectation and promise of new beginnings. Nowhere is this more evident than in our nation’s capital. As Barack Obama takes office, he and his advisers are sure to face a host of challenges, not the least of which is reforming our nation’s healthcare system.
Our healthcare system has clear strengths, but faces sobering challenges. Rising healthcare costs and premiums are making health insurance coverage unaffordable for an increasing number of businesses and families. In fact, more than 20 percent of African Americans are living without health insurance, according to a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The serious economic downturn is also taking a toll: A one percent rise in the nation's unemployment rate is projected to increase the number of uninsured by 1.1 million people, according to Kaiser. During the last year, the unemployment rate has risen by nearly two percent. As these numbers climb, more and more Americans are losing their employer-based insurance and are joining the ranks of the uninsured.
America’s pharmaceutical research companies strongly support efforts to assure that all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable health insurance coverage. We support building on the employer-based system while expanding health insurance coverage through a public-private approach. To that end, we support a number of initiatives to expand private health insurance as a way to reduce the number of uninsured and expand access to private insurance – such as tax credits aimed at low-wage, small businesses, subsidies for low- and moderate-income families to obtain private coverage, and creating new pooling arrangements and insurance reforms that will enable those with pre-existing conditions to have access to more affordable group coverage. We believe providing individuals and families with a choice among competing private plans holds promise toward delivering a healthcare system that improves both affordability and access for uninsured and under-insured Americans.
Moreover, we also recognize the important role that public programs – like Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) - play as a safety net for the most vulnerable and strongly believe these programs can play an important role in reducing the number of uninsured by filling gaps in coverage.
PhRMA is also proud to support reauthorization of the SCHIP - with a focus on covering more uninsured children and improving outreach and enrollment in the program.
Improving our healthcare system will require more than enhanced access to insurance. Comprehensive health system reforms – such as improving chronic disease prevention – are also necessary to improving affordability, quality and value.
Chronic diseases are the number one cause of death and disability in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly half of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, and many of these diseases – such as cancer and diabetes – disproportionally impact the African American community. We need to eliminate this disparity not just through improved access to care, but also through prevention initiatives, reduction of communication barriers and expansion of support for African Americans seeking to become doctors, nurses or other healthcare providers.
Now more than ever, healthcare services like the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) are an important lifeline to patients coping with chronic disease and financial hardship. The PPA is a nationwide effort, sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies, to raise awareness of patient assistance programs and the need to halt the alarming rise in chronic disease rates.
The PPA has helped more than 5 million patients nationwide since its launch in April 2005. A one-stop clearinghouse, the PPA provides information on more than 475 patient assistance programs, including nearly 200 programs sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. Patients can visit PPA’s easy-to-use website (www.pparx.org) or call the toll-free phone number (1-888-4PPA-NOW), where trained operators field calls in 150 languages.
America’s pharmaceutical research companies look forward to working with Barack Obama and his Administration, as well as leaders in Congress, to tackle our nation’s healthcare challenges in 2009 and beyond.