I am so pleased to have been invited to take part in Ventura County's invaluable Women's Health Symposium. This is one of my very first public meetings as the New Representative of Oxnard and much of Ventura County. I am looking forward to working closely with all of you on these and other issues of importance to us all.
I am astounded by the comprehensive list of courses offered throughout the day. And I commend the Symposium's organizers and educators for their enormous efforts on behalf of women and the community.
A woman's health and wellbeing is obviously a topic near and dear to the hearts of many American women. We are obviously blessed to be living in a technologically advanced era, in a country that is home to superior research, medical facilities, doctors, and nurses.
However, it is unconscionable that given these circumstances so many Americans do not have access to the affordable, adequate, and quality care they need and deserve.
For this reason it is essential that the 108th Congress enact the Patients' Bill of Rights. The Patients' Bill of Rights would act as a counter-force on the side of quality care, and on the side of patients. Specifically, the legislation would ensure that medical decisions are made by health professionals and their patients, and not by accountants.
As a nurse, a member of the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Co-Chair of the Democratic Caucus Health and Medicare Task Force, my first objective is ensuring that an adequate health infrastructure exists to care for all Americans.
As many of you know, with an aging nursing workforce and a dwindling supply of new nurses, hospitals and health facilities are facing an incredible shortfall of well trained, experienced nurses. I introduced the Nurse Reinvestment Act to help recruit prospective nurses and provide them with the resources, education, and training needed. I am pleased to report that last year the President signed my legislation into law. I am now working to ensure that ample federal resources are provided to fulfill the goals set forth by the legislation.
To this end, I have also founded the new Congressional Nursing Caucus. The Caucus will educate Congress on issues of importance to nurses and highlight the critical role these women and men play in the delivery of medical care—now more than ever given our efforts to fortify homeland security. Well-trained nurses are needed to respond to any situation from flu epidemics, to smallpox and other forms of bio-terrorism.
I will also soon be re-introducing the National Cancer Act, to combat our nation's number two killer, which claimed over 500,000 lives last year. This all-inclusive bill seeks to increase funding for cancer research and caregivers and establish strategic national and state plans to fight cancer.
Another critical issue for women's health is heart disease and stroke. I will be re-introducing the STOP Stroke Act, which passed the Senate last Congress, but was not considered in the House. The STOP Stroke Act would raise public awareness, by educating citizens on how to recognize warning signs and prevent stroke. The bill also provides grants to states to ensure that all stroke patients receive access to quality care.
These are important bills, but there are scores of women's health issues in need of attention.
The recent controversy surrounding the efficacy of mammography is worrisome for many women, including myself. But the Department of Health and Human Services urges all women age 40 and over to continue to have mammograms every one to two years. I believe this recommendation is sound public policy. As the latest results from long-running studies indicated the risk of dying of breast cancer was about 21 percent lower among those who received regular mammograms than among those who did not.
Last year, I supported reauthorization of the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA), which has enhanced the quality of radiology equipment and personal training. MQSA has enhanced the effectiveness and oversight of mammography screening services and led to the early detection and successful treatment of breast cancer in thousands of women.
I have also worked to expand the Medicare reimbursement rate for positron emission tomography (PET), critical to women's health. PET is a powerful clinical tool that can assist health care providers in making lifesaving diagnoses and determining the most effective treatment for women with breast, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers.
At a glance, the 107th Congress produced a number of legislative victories for women's health.
Congress reauthorized funding for the Defense Department's ovarian cancer research and peer-reviewed breast cancer research programs, and also gave Native American women access to optional Medicaid treatment for breast or cervical cancer.
Despite opposition from the Administration, Congress restored contraceptive coverage to federal employees with the passage of the Treasury Postal Appropriations bill.
In addition, the 107th Congress established a permanent Violence Against Women Office within the Department of Justice.
As some of you may know, I have been working to combat violence against women for some time now. And I know my fellow panelist Judge (Toy) White has also done extensive work on this front.
I am pleased to report that with the help of advocates locally and in Washington, I found a practical way to target the problem before it becomes life threatening. Though women account for 85 percent of the victims of domestic violence, only half of all female victims of violence report an injury, and of these only 20 percent seek medical assistance. What's more, family violence, including domestic violence, elder maltreatment, and child abuse, is an epidemic affecting 25 percent of the population.
This epidemic is indeed a serious public health concern, yet we have not yet developed a uniform protocol for intervention. I will shortly reintroduce the Domestic Violence Screening and Treatment Act and the Family Violence Prevention Act. These bipartisan bills target domestic and family violence as a health care problem. Too often this epidemic is regarded solely as a matter for law enforcement.
The Domestic Violence Screening and Treatment Act would provide women over 18 with domestic violence screening and treatment services. It is my hope that routine screening by a physician or nurse would unlock options a woman may not otherwise pursue. By allowing her to see that shelter and advocacy services may be useful to her.
Both bills set aside funds to train health professional on how to assess victims for signs of abuse and prepare them for the delicacy of the situation if intervention is needed. In addition, the Family Violence Prevention Act would establish a task force to facilitate coordination between the health sector, the justice system, and social services in the prevention of family violence.
Lastly, but certainly not least, January 22nd marked the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that recognized a woman's right to choose. For some this anniversary was bittersweet, as I know many of you are aware of the current Administration's endless efforts to limit women's rights and access to reproductive health care. Sadly, the Administration's withholding of funds for international family planning programs has already hurt young girls and women in developing countries. And in our country some teens are receiving misleading information as part of an abstinence-only curriculum that censors vital information about contraception and HIV/AIDS prevention.
As a lawmaker, my chief objective is to make abortion less necessary by reducing the incidence of unintended pregnancies. For decades women have fought to gain access to the reproductive health services they uniquely need.
Programs like Title X and Medicaid have risen up around these efforts. Last year alone, Title X services enabled women to avoid one million unintended pregnancies, nearly, half of which would have ended in abortion. Instead of reversing these proven success rates, it is essential that Congress and the Administration further efforts to improve access to contraception, the most basic of preventive health care.
Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to share with you my work in Congress. Many of you already realize the importance of information sharing, exemplified by your presence here today. As women one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is the power to spread knowledge and awareness, and equally the ability to stay informed.