Congressman Bilirakis proudly serves as a Member on the Health Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act – better known as Obamacare – and the rest of the American health care system. Congressman Bilirakis believes all Americans deserve access to high quality, affordable healthcare, which is why he is a staunch opponent of Obamacare. He opposed the legislation when it passed in 2009, and has worked to repeal and replace the law as it has not provided the affordable coverage that was promised. Bilirakis supports the infusion of free market principles and cost transparency into the health care system, which he believes is the best way to lower costs and increase access to affordable care. He has always opposed a government takeover of health care, and has long been an advocate for Health Savings Accounts, access to catastrophic care, and protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Congressman Bilirakis believes Obamacare is broken and that Democrats and Republicans must work together to develop solutions that actually deliver on the promise of affordable options for quality care.
One of the Congressman’s highest priorities is the sustainability of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, provides healthcare for approximately 9 million children. With his help, it was reauthorized during the 115th Congress for 10 years, the longest period since the program’s inception. Additionally, legislation he authored, which was also signed into law, allows families who make too much to qualify for CHIP to purchase the same plan directly from the state at a discounted rate.
Opioid addiction is a complicated and serious public health crisis. The Congressman believes we must ensure law enforcement has the tools they need to prosecute bad actors within the system, while providing better access to effective treatments for those who are suffering. Florida has received over $126 million in State Opioid Response Grants to address the ongoing crisis. (updated 2/18/20) The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act was signed into law along with several provisions authored by Congressman Bilirakis. The legislation promotes treatment and recovery, encourages prevention, protects communities and fights fentanyl. It is the most comprehensive effort to battle opioid addiction to date. Additionally, the bill encourages the development of and access to non-addictive opioid alternatives to treat pain, improves data to identify and help at risk patients and families and addresses high prescribing rates while enhancing prescription drug monitoring programs—something that our local experts told me was desperately needed. The INTERDICT Act, which Congressman Bilirakis supported was also signed into law. It requires U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to increase the number of chemical screening devices used to intercept Fentanyl and other illicit drugs which are being illegally imported to the United States. Large amounts of Fentanyl have been coming into our country from China and the Congressman believes we must stop the spread of this potent and deadly drug.
The opioid crisis has had a dramatic impact on Floridians. While there was a brief decline in opioid deaths in Florida from 2010-2013 after legislation to shut down pill mills, the deaths have spiraled out of control since 2013. According to a recently released study from the National Safety Council, more Americans are more likely to die today from accidental opioid overdoses than from car accidents. In Florida, 14 people a day, or 10,784 people a year, died in 2016, and estimates indicate that opioid deaths in Florida are on target to continue to increase. Florida has also seen a significant rise in the number of babies born addicted to opioids. It is more important than ever for leaders at the federal, state and local levels to be working together to coordinate resources and strategy.
The Ensuring Access to Quality Sober Living Act, which Congressman Bilirakis authored, was signed into law. It established quality standards for providers offering treatment during this important phase of recovery. Prior to its passage, regulations for addiction recovery providers varied from state-to-state and were virtually non-existent in some states. As a result, patients and families were unable to confidently identify quality sober living environments.
Anyone who exploits those suffering from Substance Use Disorder for personal gain or profit deserves to be held accountable for their immoral and unethical behavior. The Ensuring Access to Quality Sober Living Act is a critical step to making sure that can happen.
Building on the work of the SUPPORT Act, Congressman Bilirakis introduced the EASE Behavioral Health Act. This bill expands reimbursement under Medicare and Medicaid for mental and behavioral health services delivered via telehealth - making it easier, and more accessible for patients to receive the critical treatment they need. These provisions were signed into law at the end of 2020.
Congressman Bilirakis’s bill, the Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act, was signed into law at the end of the 115th Congress. It renews critical surveillance and research programs to better treat and understand congenital heart defects (CHDs). About 40,000 babies will be born over the next year with a congenital heart defect, and 5% will not live to see their first birthday. The road ahead may be scary and uncertain for any parent of a newborn who has CHD, but this bill gives hope to those coping with the diagnosis.
Congress also gave patients hope by passing S. 292, the Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research (or STAR) Act, the most comprehensive childhood cancer legislation ever taken up by Congress 2 Congresses ago. Congressman Bilirakis was a strong supporter of this initiative. Additionally, he supported the Right to Try Act of 2017 which provides greater access to experimental and potentially life-saving drugs to terminally ill patients. This bill was signed into law as well.
Community Health Centers
Additionally, Congressman Bilirakis’s Community CARE Act which reauthorized community health centers nationally for two years was included as part of the CHAMPIONING HEALTHY KIDS Act and passed under the Bipartisan Budget Act 2 Congresses ago. Last Congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee, of which Bilirakis is a member, passed the Reauthorizing and Extending America's Community Health (or REACH) Act which included a 4-year reauthorization of Community Health Centers - the longest in program history. Community Health Centers offer access to care for the insured, uninsured and underinsured providing high quality health, mental health, substance abuse and dental on a sliding scale basis. Congressman Bilirakis has proven himself to be a champion for expanding this healthcare resource for Americans.
As C0-Chairman of the Rare Disease Caucus, Congressman Bilirakis understands that rare diseases are not a rare problem; more than 30 million Americans are living with one or more rare disease. Sadly, between 93% and 95% of the more than 7,000 known rare diseases have no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved therapy. Traditional regulatory processes have become more complex involving combinations of therapies, genomics, novel diagnostic tests, multi-systemic diseases, small patient populations, and precision medicine. As a result, numerous parts of the regulatory system need to cohesively work together. The development process for a rare disease drug currently takes an average of 15 years, which leaves rare disease patients and their families waiting without access to life-changing or even life-saving treatments. Further complicating the situation is that when new therapies for rare diseases are finally approved under the current structure, patients often face unnecessary delays and barriers to access, resulting in avoidable health deterioration.
In response, Congressman Bilirakis introduced the Speeding Therapy Access Today (STAT) Act of 2021. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation was developed with the input of the rare disease community, and is aimed at improving the development of and access to therapies for the rare disease community. The STAT Act will tackle these issues by enacting targeted, impactful, and attainable policy reforms at the FDA to accelerate development of therapies across the spectrum of rare diseases and disorders and facilitate patient access to such therapies. Specifically, the STAT Act will improve rare disease coordination, stakeholder engagement, and policy development within FDA by expanding existing authority to create a Rare Disease Center of Excellence, which is a model that has proven effective in stimulating development for cancer drugs.
Cost of Medication
Congressman Bilirakis knows the cost of medication is too high and unaffordable for many Americans. Additionally, he understands the financial ruin that can stem from a surprise medical bill. In his opinion, all options for lowering drug costs need to be on the table. For surprise bills, patients should be held harmless in payment negotiations between providers and insurers and should never receive a surprise bill. Last Congress, we passed and President Trump signed the No Surprises Act into law to address unfair medical billing practices. Provisions of the bill are slated to take effect next year. (updated 03/09/21)
Additionally, two Congresses ago, the FDA Reauthorization Act (or FDARA) passed. It will help lower the cost of important medication and devices and expedite the process for approving new treatments and cures for patients. A provision authored by Congressman Bilirakis was signed into law as part of the package. It created competition within the generic market, and ultimately lowered costs by expediting the review process for drugs in which there are no generics currently on the market. It has already led to the development of a generic competitor for the EpiPen, which was desperately needed as the manufacturer spiked the rate of that life-saving medicine due to lack of competition. To date, Bilirakis’s provision has led to the development of 75 various therapies for which there wasn’t previously a generic competitor.
Additionally, Congressman Bilirakis joined his colleagues last Congress in introducing H.R. 19, the Lower Cost, More Cures Act which represents more than 40 bipartisan, bicameral provisions to lower prescription drug costs without sacrificing innovation. H.R. 19 encourages innovation of groundbreaking new cures, promotes more low-cost options for patients, and curbs how drug companies can game the system. H.R. 19 provided the first-ever out-of-pocket cap for seniors in the Medicare Part D program; capped the cost of insulin for seniors in the Medicare Part D program; increased transparency and removed uncertainty at the pharmacy counter; cut the cost of drug administration, including cancer treatment, for Medicare beneficiaries by as much as half; and stopped subsidizing other developed countries’ health care through stronger trade agreements.
Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi pushed HR 3 instead of allowing bipartisan negotiations on HR 19. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the highly costly and partisan Pelosi drug price bill last Congress - H.R.3 - could lead to as many as 100 fewer drugs entering the U.S. market over the next decade, which represents fewer lives bettered and saved. Additionally, Pelosi’s own California Life Science’s Association admitted that policies under H.R. 3 would reduce the number of drugs brought to market by small and emerging companies by 88% in California alone. As the Co-Chair of the Congressional Rare Disease Caucus, Congressman Bilirakis believes one less cure is one too many.
Congressman Bilirakis was very encouraged to see the last Administration’s dedication to lowering drug costs - exploring all options including registered drug importation from Canada. As we look ahead with the new Administration, Congressman Bilirakis believes we need to continue to do more on a bipartisan basis when it comes to lowering the price of prescription drugs without sacrificing access to the latest treatments and cures, and he is committed to continuing to work on this issue with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and this current Administration to deliver for American patients.
Additionally, Congressman Bilirakis is a member of numerous health care-related caucuses through which he advocates for many important causes, including the:
- Rare Disease Caucus (Co-Chairman)
- Congenital Heart Disease Caucus (Co-Chairman)
- Parkinson’s Disease Caucus (Co-Chairman)
- Peripheral Artery Disease Caucus (C0-Chairman)
- Community Health Center Caucus
- Brain Injury Task Force
- Health Care Caucus;
- Prescription Drug Caucus;
- Congenital Heart Caucus;
- Cystic Fibrosis Caucus;
- Diabetes Caucus;
- Down Syndrome Caucus;
- Health Hearing Caucus;
- Vision Caucus;
- House Cancer Caucus; and
- Pediatric Cancer Caucus.
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