Barbara Mikulski

Promote Women's Health - June 23, 2006

Barbara Mikulski
June 23, 2006— U.S. Senate, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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I rise to introduce the Women's Health Office Act with my colleague, Senator Olympia Snowe. The Women's Health Office Act authorizes and strengthens women's health offices or officers at federal health agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services. This legislation will make sure that men and women get equal benefit from federal investments in medical research and health care services.

Today, doctors, scientists, members of Congress, and the American public know that women and men have different bodies and different health care needs. Diseases like ovarian cancer and endometriosis affect only women. High blood pressure is two to three times more common in women than men. Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. The number of uninsured women has grown three times faster than the number of uninsured men over the past five years. Women make three quarters of all health care spending decisions for themselves and their families.

For decades, despite these differences, men's health needs set the standard for our health care system and our health care research agenda. Women were systematically excluded from medical research because decision-makers said that our hormone cycles complicated the results. One study on heart disease risk factors was conducted on 13,000 men - and not one woman. But the results of studies like these were applied to both men and women. This neglect put women's health and lives at risk.

That's why my colleagues and I took action. More than a decade ago, I worked with Olympia Snowe, Ted Kennedy, Tom Harkin, and other women in the House to get an Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 1993, I worked with these same women and Galahads in Congress to make sure that the women's health office would stay at NIH by putting it into law.

This office at NIH has made a real difference in how women are treated for certain illnesses. We now know that men and women often have different symptoms before a heart attack. Women's symptoms are more subtle, like nausea and back pain. Knowing these symptoms means women can get to the hospital sooner and can be treated earlier. That's turning women's health research into life-saving information.

I am proud that there are now women's health offices or officers at nearly every federal health agency at the Department of Health and Human Services. Like the one at NIH, women's health offices mean that women's health needs are always at the table. These offices at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) make sure women are included in clinical drug trials, reach out to low-income and minority women to make sure they are getting vaccines and cancer screenings, and work with health care providers to put research on women's health into practice. Recent questions about the risks and benefits of mammography and hormone replacement therapy remind us that women's health offices are as important as ever.

Right now, many of these offices - and the important work they do - could be eliminated or cut back without the consent of Congress. That is why this bill is so important. This bill would put women's health offices into our nation's lawbooks.

The Women's Health Office Act does more than protect the status quo. It keeps us moving forward on women's health. It gives women's health offices a clear, consistent framework throughout the Department. By writing them into law, it gives women's health offices the stature they need to be strong, effective advocates for women's health within the federal government. This legislation coordinates women's health activities within each agency, to identify needs and set goals. The Women's Health Office Act centralizes overall coordination throughout the Department of Health and Human Services, to clarify lines of accountability and chart a clear course on women's health. Finally, it authorizes funding for these women's health offices or officers, to make sure that we put our nation's priorities in the federal checkbook as well as the federal lawbooks.

This bill has strong bipartisan support. During the 107th Congress, the Women's Health Office Act passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously as part of a comprehensive women's health bill that would have expanded women's health research and improved women's access to health care. It also passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly during the 107th Congress. I am disappointed that Congress was not able to pass this bipartisan legislation, but I am hopeful that last year's momentum will help us get the Women's Health Office Act signed into law this year.

I would like to thank Senator Olympia Snowe for leading the way on this important legislation. As Dean of the Senate women, I will continue to fight to get this bill signed into law and to make progress to improve the health of American women.