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Senate Committee Approves Several Health Bills

On November 14, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee approved, by voice vote, the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act (S. 911), the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act (S. 1858), the Addressing the Disaster Needs of Children Act (S. 1970), and the Health Centers Renewal Act of 2007 (S. 901).

Chair Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said, “I won’t take the committee’s time to describe all the bills in detail, but I do want to mention briefly the legislation that Senator [Orrin] Hatch [R-UT] and I introduced. Many members of the committee have contributed to it a bill [S. 901] to reauthorize and strengthen the Community Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps. Both of these programs provide indispensable assistance to low-income patients and underserved communities throughout the nation. From Indian reservations to inner-city clinics, these two programs make a large difference in the lives of millions of Americans. Under the legislation, community health centers will be able to serve about 8 million additional patients, from the current 16 million to 24 million by 2012. I thank Senator Hatch, Senator Enzi, Senator [Bernie] Sanders [D-VT], and many other members of our committee for their strong commitment to this important proposal.”

“As I was reminded with the birth of my granddaughter recently, within 48 hours of a child’s birth, a sample of blood is obtained from a ‘heel stick,’ and the blood is analyzed for treatable diseases,” said Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY), speaking in support of S. 1858. He continued, “Accurate screening ensures that affected babies are identified quickly, potential cases of disease are not missed, and early treatment begins to prevent negative health outcomes for affected newborns. Thousands of children are living healthy and productive lives as a result of newborn screening. However, we can always do more, which is what the new bill before us strives to do.”

S. 911 would authorize $30 million each year for FY2008-2012 for the secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to childhood cancer organizations to raise public awareness, for the operation of a population-based national childhood cancer database, and to establish centers of research excellence and research fellowships in pediatric cancer.

The Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act would authorize $5 million for FY2008 and “such sums as may be necessary” for FY2009-2012 for the secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to states and tribal governments to provide continuing medical education, raise public awareness of, and to provide technical assistance on, screening newborns for congenital or heritable diseases. The bill also would allocate $15 million for FY2008 and “such sums as may be necessary” for FY2009-2012 for states and tribal governments to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children; $5 million for FY2008 and “such sums as may be necessary” for FY2009-2012 to evaluate the effectiveness of newborn screening programs; $1 million for FY2008 and “such sums as may be necessary” for FY2009-2012 for the Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children; $2.5 million for FY2008 and “such sums as may be necessary” for FY2009-2012 to develop an Internet-based information clearinghouse on newborn screening; and $5 million for FY2008 and “such sums as may be necessary” for FY2009-2012 for quality assurance in laboratories providing newborn screening.

S. 1970 would establish a National Commission on Children and Disasters and a National Resource Center on Children and Disasters. The bill would authorize $2 million per year for FY2008 and 2009 for the commission, whose 10 members would report to Congress on the needs of children in preparation for, and in response to, major disasters and emergencies. The House passed an identical version of the bill on November 6 (see The Source, 11/9/07).

The Health Centers Renewal Act of 2007 (S. 901) would reauthorize community health centers at $2.189 billion in FY2008, $2.451 billion for FY2009, $2.758 billion for FY2010, $3.116 billion for FY2011, and $3.537 billion for FY2012. Community health centers provide care to one of every eight uninsured Americans, one of every four Americans in poverty, and one of every nine rural Americans. They also serve the homeless, migrant farm workers, and reduce health disparities by providing cost-effective preventative care, such as mammograms and Pap smears.

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