The United States spends more than $3 trillion dollars each year on health care – by far the most of any country in the world. Yet, despite these expenditures, Americans are dying younger, and have higher rates of infant mortality and preventable deaths, than people in many other economically prosperous and developing countries. Tragically, our nation’s premature deaths and preventable illnesses disproportionately impact our minority and economically vulnerable communities.
I believe that we have a moral imperative to ensure that all Americans have access to high quality, comprehensive, affordable, and accessible healthcare. That belief has guided my work on health policy in Congress.
I was proud to support the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was a historic step in improving our nation’s health. It expanded access to health care for over sixteen million Americans, invested in prevention and wellness initiatives, and improved the quality of care across health plans. I worked hard to ensure that public health and wellness provisions were included in this legislation, and will keep advocating for policies that strengthen and expand on the ACA.
Currently, as a member of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, I fight for robust investments in community health centers, funding to expand access to mental health care, and adequate support to expand the size and diversity of our health care workforce. I support increased funding for biomedical research, so that we can finally find cures for devastating illnesses like Alzheimer’s and cancer. I also advocate for critical investments in studies that ensure patient safety and cost-effective health care.
During my tenure as your congresswoman, I have proudly championed bills to protect the health of women, infants, children, and adolescents:
• My Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act ensures the highest quality standards in screening for treatable genetic disorders. It first became law in 2008, and it was reauthorized in 2014. My law has helped to save the lives of thousands of babies by testing them for cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and other serious diseases.
• My Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act, passed in 2006 and reauthorized in 2016, was the first comprehensive federal legislation to address the public health crisis of underage drinking in this country. It established an interagency coordinating committee to address underage drinking; a parent-focused media campaign; federal research on underage drinking prevention; and the creation of community grants to fight underage drinking. The STOP Act’s policies have been instrumental in reducing underage drinking and its consequences.
• My Folic Acid Promotion and Birth Defects Prevention Act, which became law as part of the Children’s Health Act of 2000, created folic acid education programs across the country to teach women about the importance of folic acid supplements in preventing neural tube birth defects like spina bifida. Unfortunately, Hispanic women were left at higher risk of these preventable birth defects, because corn masa flour, the staple grain in the diet of most individuals of Hispanic descent, was not fortified with folic acid. I advocated to change this practice, and I am proud to say that the food company Gruma, the largest producer of corn masa flour, finally introduced its first fortified corn masa products in 2016.
I also believe we must do more to ensure that no one’s life expectancy is determined by the color of their skin, or the zip code in which they are born. This belief guided my six years of work as Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Health Taskforce, including my drafting and introduction of the 113th Congress’ Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA). The HEAA bill offered a comprehensive blueprint to achieve health equity among minority and underserved populations, and all Americans.
As Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Public Health Caucus, I advocate for evidence-based community public health and wellness programs. According to the CDC, chronic diseases (including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and obesity) are responsible for 7 of 10 U.S. deaths each year, and treatments for these chronic diseases account for 86% of our nation’s health care costs. I support investments in prevention that save lives and money.
I am also Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Maternity Care, which addresses disturbing maternity care statistics in this country. The U.S. spends significantly more per capita on childbirth than any other industrialized nation, with cumulative costs estimated at well over $50 billion. However, despite this investment, America continues to rank far behind almost all other developed countries in birth outcomes for both mothers and babies, and the risk for poor outcomes is considerably worse in communities of color. The Maternity Care Caucus supports policy solutions to advance safe and effective maternity care for all mothers and babies in this country. I will keep fighting to make evidence-based maternity care a national priority so that we can give all babies the best chance for a healthy start in life and bend the cost curve of childbirth expenditures.