My goal is to preserve the best of American health care while closing the unacceptable gaps in availability, affordability, access and quality. It is critical to get this right for current and future generations, and I believe we need a renewed national debate, including within Congress, on how best to do so. That is why it is critical for Congress to remain focused on protecting and improving the Affordable Care Act, lowering prescription drug prices and increasing investments in biomedical research.
Protecting and Improving the Affordable Care Act
In the big picture, I am committed to achieving access to affordable, quality health care for all Americans. Despite the advances that have been made under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and, in Hawai‘i, under the Prepaid Health Care Act, there are still tens of millions of Americans who are uncovered and tens of millions more who are insufficiently or unaffordably covered. And there remain unacceptably high costs throughout much of current health care, especially prescription drugs, as well as attempts to reverse the ACA’s prohibition on discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have consistently voted for the legislation that will increase affordability and reduce premium costs for consumers. In March 2021, I supported passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) because it included a broad expansion of ACA premium subsidies for people enrolled in Marketplace health plans. Since its enactment, ARPA’s enhanced premium tax credits have made health insurance more accessible for millions of low- and middle-income Americans. This is why on August 12, 2022, I supported a three-year extension to the enhanced premium tax credits by voting to pass the Inflation Reduction Act. Today, we are seeing in real-time the impacts of these tax credits on our healthcare system. In January 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), announced a record-breaking enrollment 16.3 million people signed up for health care coverage in the ACA Marketplaces during the 2022-2023 Open Enrollment Season, including 3.6 million new enrollees. Over the past two years, the number of people who have signed up for affordable health care plans through HealthCare.gov has increased by nearly 50 percent. In addition, four out of five HealthCare.gov enrollees can now find a health plan for $10 or less per month. These tax credits have and will continue to help millions of Americans gain health insurance and millions more find affordable health plans that work for them.
Lowering Prescription Drug Prices
I believe that prescription drug prices in the United States are too high and that we must act to control them so people don’t have to choose between health care and food, housing and other necessary expenses.
That is also one of the reasons why I voted for the Inflation Reduction Act because it will give Medicare the authority to directly negotiate prices on the costliest drugs for the first time. In addition, the measure will penalize pharmaceutical companies that raise the price they charge Medicare patients faster than inflation. Negotiating drug prices isn’t just good for lowering the cost of drugs for patients, but it can save the Medicare program billions and help us reinvest those savings in other healthcare needs. Lastly, the Inflation Reduction Act will also make vaccines free for all Medicare beneficiaries and cap seniors’ out-of-pocket costs on insulin products to $35 per month and prescription drug spending to $2,000 a year, enabling Medicare’s 64 million enrollees to spend less out of pocket for their medications. I am working closely with my colleagues in Congress and federal agencies on the implementation of these critical Medicare reforms to ensure they result in real cost-savings for patients across our Hawai‘i.
Investments in Biomedical Research
I believe full funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other related agencies is necessary to invest in critical healthcare research and for our country to stay at the forefront of medical and scientific innovation. Such advancements will help improve our understanding of disease and accelerate the development of new treatments and cures. Today, we are seeing in real time the impact of this important research through the development of vaccines and diagnostic breakthroughs to combat SARS-CoV-2, more commonly referred to as COVID-19. If medical innovation advances at the current pace, we could discover more effective treatments and cures to cancer and other diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s in our lifetimes.
As a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, I worked to secure $47.5 billion for NIH in Fiscal Year 2023, representing a 57 percent increase over the past eight years. Funding highlights include targeted investments in research to address Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, opioid abuse and health disparities, among other conditions. These funds will also support the continued establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a new biomedical research agency to provide NIH with the additional capacity needed to accelerate the pace of biomedical breakthroughs and execute our national priorities. I will continue to champion the NIH so that we can support scientific discoveries to improve health outcomes and save lives.