• Getting Medicare and Medicaid to 100 years

    Today is Medicare and Medicaid’s 50th anniversary.

    It’s the 50th anniversary of the start of high-quality health care being affordable for all Americans, of making sure our seniors weren’t living in poverty and of health care being accessible to our nation’s most vulnerable. More than 100 million Americans have access to high-quality health care because of Medicare and/or Medicaid.

    And I’m pushing for Medicare and Medicaid to be at the forefront of health care innovation to make sure that the 100th anniversary of these irreplaceable, life-saving programs is just as celebratory as this one.

    Protecting the Medicare Guarantee

    In the last month alone, Medicare has seen two big developments that improve the program for seniors and their families.

    Independence at Home

    The first is news that Independence at Home (IAH), a Medicare demonstration that provides chronically ill beneficiaries with primary care services in the home setting, reported strong results in both quality of care for seniors and savings for Medicare. That means patients can get the high-quality care they need without worrying about getting to the doctor. IAH also offers incentives for providing patients with care options that offer greater independence and quality of life while reducing costs.

    Housecall Providers, based in Portland, Oregon, is one of the program’s early participants. Housecall Providers has been doing tremendous work in Oregon for a long time, and they were the reason why I fought to include the program in the Affordable Care Act and to secure an important two-year extension for the demonstration in July.

    In June, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced strong results for the first year of the demonstration, and Housecall Providers reported the highest level of cost savings among the 17 practices in the demonstration. Learn more about this cost-saving program here.

    I will continue to fight to expand Independence at Home and make it permanent so more seniors have access to this critical benefit.

    Care Choices

    This month we also celebrated the launch of the Medicare Care Choices Model, which enables beneficiaries to continue receiving curative care while enrolling in hospice care at the same time. I authored the provision in the Affordable Care Act that served as the basis for Care Choices and am extremely proud to see it get off the ground.

    Care Choices has the potential to fundamentally shift how we approach end-of-life care. Electing to enroll in hospice no longer has to be a crossroads for seniors considering this type of care.

    Currently, Medicare Hospice Benefit enrollees currently must forgo curative treatment – which oftentimes discourages patients from seeking hospice care that may help them cope with their advanced terminal illness. The key in Care Choices is to give patients and their families options at the end of life.

    Because of such high interest, CMS expanded the model from an originally anticipated 30 Medicare-certified hospices to over 140 Medicare-certified hospices and extended the duration of the model from 3 to 5 years. You can learn more here.

    Providence Health & Services in Portland was one of the five hospices chosen in Region 10, which encompasses all of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

    Medicaid for another 50 years

    Medicaid makes sure that all Americans can afford health coverage, that families won’t have to choose between medicine for their kids and keeping the lights on. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide coverage for more than 71 million Americans, including nearly 30 million kids.

    Like Medicare, to keep Medicaid healthy for another 50 years, we need to focus on providing high-quality care while lowering costs. And that’s where Oregon has been leading the way. Our unique Coordinated Care Organizations (think of this like a team of folks focusing on all aspects of health) are already making huge strides to improve the health of Oregonians while bending the cost curve. CCO’s have the flexibility to visit patients’ homes and pay to fix broken floorboards or dangerous rugs that cause people to fall. Instead of treating a patient’s dehydration every there's a heat wave, they can give them a conditioner. This flexibility also allows them to check for mold or teach good nutrition and connect them with community resources.

    Happy 50th Medicare and Medicaid! Here’s to fighting for 50 more.

  • Oregon Fire Briefings Show Need for Ron's WIldfire Funding Reform

    Ron received two fire briefings last week in Oregon that highlighted the importance of his bipartisan wildfire funding reform bill.

    Federal and state fire officials told the Senator at briefings in Portland and Bend that months of low precipitation and high temperatures throughout Oregon add up to a fire season that began earlier and could end much later than usual, perhaps into October.

    Oregon is less than a month into summer and we already are facing the potential of a terrible trifecta of drought, high temperatures and fuel buildup on the forest floor,” Ron said.

    Praising the work of firefighters on the ground battling the blazes, Ron told fire officials that his wildfire funding reform bill with Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is a must to end the dysfunctional cycle of “fire borrowing.” Right now, the Forest Service is forced to siphon money away from fire prevention work to pay to put out fires because the cost of fighting wildfires often goes over budget. The Wyden-Crapo bill would end the dangerous cycle of raiding fire prevention accounts to fight fires by funding the largest wildfires like other natural disasters.

    The need to reform the currently broken system so that the largest infernos are funded by a separate account is especially evident, he said, as the state confronts the potential for a longer and tougher fire season.

    To see more about the Portland briefing, watch here. And to see more about the Bend briefing, watch here.

    View in full screen

    After the fire briefings in Portland and Bend, Ron held town halls in Harney, Lake and Jackson counties. At these three most recent town halls, Oregonians spoke with Ron about Iran, the global economy and the environment.

    He pledged when he was elected to the Senate in 1996 that he would hold an annual town hall in each of Oregon’s 36 counties. He has now held 740 such meetings.

    To hear more about the importance of all these town halls to Ron, watch here.

  • Giving Every Child a Chance to Succeed

    Every kid in Oregon and in America deserves every opportunity for success and that starts with access to a good public education. That’s why I voted for the Every Child Achieves Act, which the Senate passed this week on a bipartisan vote of 81-17. 

    Every Child Achieves fixes major problems with No Child Left Behind and redefines the role of the federal government in a way that helps – not hinders – our kids.

    In Oregon, and across the country, graduation rates are a major concern. This bill lays a better foundation for success, so kids are more likely to graduate, and it includes my plan to give more schools access to grants that can help students who are at risk of dropping out.  It’s my hope that governments and school districts will keep working together to make sure all students have the chance to succeed and the tools they need to follow their dreams. 

    Together with Sen. Boxer, I fought to expand opportunities for kids to enroll in after-school and summer learning programs – because learning isn’t just a 9 month gig. And Sen. Booker and I succeeded in adding an amendment to make sure that our foster and homeless youth are counted in graduation rates. With this important data, educators and policymakers can better support these at-risk students.

    There were two provisions that I am very disappointed weren’t included. The first was Sen. Franken’s amendment to provide support and protections to LGBTQ kids in school. School is hard enough. These students deserve more support at school to prevent bullying and report it when it does happen. The second was an amendment to help all kids have the strongest start possible by helping low-income families send their kids to Pre-K.

    I will keep fighting for these two provisions because every kid should feel safe at school and have access to early education - no matter who they are or how much their parents make.

    There’s clearly much more work to be done. But, as a whole, the Every Child Achieves Act is a good step forward to expanding opportunity through education for all kids – no matter where they come from or how much their parents earn.