Friday, July 31, 2009

August Recess-Health Care FAQs

Congress broke camp today for the August recess without passing health care in either chamber. This gives us more time to examine the proposals, listen to constituents and build bi-partisan support for something everyone in Congress knows has to happen. We must reform health care to control costs for many reasons, but the most basic and practical is that if cost continue to climb as they have been we simply will not be able to pay for two of our cornerstone social programs — Medicare and Medicaid.

While I am home working in the District, during this break from the heated rhetoric of Washington, I will be spending a great deal of time listening to you on this critical issue. Next week I will be doing a tele-town hall with thousands of you to get feedback, and next Saturday health care will be the subject of our monthly Coffee with Cleaver.

I did want to address many of the calls and questions we are getting in our office about this subject and have put together this group of Frequently Asked Questions. It is far more important to get this right than to do it right now, and so I am looking forward to hearing from you as we continue to work on this legislation.

Health Care Frequently Asked Questions can be found here >>>

Funding for 54 new Police

It was my pleasure to announce this week that over $9 million in grants have been awarded to hire police in Missouri’s Fifth District. The grants come as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allocated $1 billion to fund the hiring and rehiring of law enforcement officers all across the country. Nationwide, the announcement will fund 4,699 officers for three years. Kansas City was awarded $8.3 million to hire 50 officers. Independence received $543,393 to hire 3 officers and Sugar Creek received $158,847 to hire one additional officer. Police departments receiving the grants will then be required to retain the grant-funded positions for a fourth year.

While I was mayor of Kansas City, I helped write the original Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grants program with President Bill Clinton. After its passage, our nation experienced a significant drop in crime rates.

Almost 12 years ago, I remember standing with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and President Bill Clinton as he described the very first COPS program. The program encouraged mayors and police chiefs from around the nation to build a partnership with the federal government. I can tell you first-hand, the partnership really worked. This week’s announcement adds 50 more police to Kansas City’s streets at a time when they are desperately needed. To put that in perspective, in the first 10 years Kansas City was eligible for the COPS program we were able to hire 100 police officers. In other words, this is five times the number of officers we were ever able to hire in a single year before. As is always the case, a downturn in the economy requires cities to cut their budgets just as those same economic troubles lead to an increase in crime. This week’s award, and the cadet class that can be saved because of it, will go a long way toward making our streets safer.

The Recovery Act grants, will be administered by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) through the federal agency’s COPS Hiring Recovery Program. These funds will provide much needed financial support to state, local and tribal governments, and will help the nation’s law enforcement agencies add and retain the workforce needed to fight crime more effectively through community policing. The Department of Justice received over 7,200 applications for more than 39,000 officer positions, representing a total of $8.3 billion in requested funding

Praise for Lee’s Summit’s first House Page

This summer, I was very proud to nominate and sponsor the first House Page from Lee’s Summit Missouri, Ms. Abigail Allen. Her selection is full of firsts in that she is also my very first nominee to have served as a Page since my election to Congress.

In early July, Ms. Allen donned the navy blazer of the House Pages and joined the ranks of a very special group of students. Pages run errands, deliver flags, transport messages, raise and lower our flag over the Capitol to begin and end our daily business and every four years, they are entrusted with transporting the Electoral College ballots from the Senate to the House Chamber to tally the votes for our President. These juniors in high school get a firsthand look at the inner workings of Congress.

The Page Program is invaluable to our nation. Without the House Pages, the Capitol simply would not function. The nearly 100 high school students, who serve as pages for both the House and Senate, are an integral part of a system that keeps Congress running. Originally, Pages filled ink boxes and sand shakers for Members. They stocked the Chamber lamps with oil and kept candles on Member’s desks lit for night sessions. They started fires and filled the wood boxes to keep the offices warm.

Today, while their errands have changed, their importance has only increased. These young, bright Americans, like Ms. Allen, are part of an illustrious, rarified group, many of whom have gone on to become Congressmen, Senators, Governors, Cabinet Secretaries and captains of industry. As we see the Pages moving quickly through the complex in their navy blazers, we all wonder which of these young scholars will go on to be the next Congressman John Dingell, Bill Gates, Bill Owen or even Tiger Woods — all of whom served as Pages.

Tomorrow, Ms. Allen will return home to prepare for her senior year at Blue Springs South High School. She will be able to share with her classmates an in-depth knowledge of Congress few others have been able to acquire.

Ms. Allen is a member of her school’s cross country team, track and field team, Young Democrats and most importantly a member of the National Honor Society. She is also a member of the St. James United Methodist Church Youth Group in Kansas City, Missouri.

It has been my pleasure to have Ms. Allen as a House Page. I can say with zero hesitation that she has represented the Fifth District and her hometown well.

Relgious Freedom Luncheon

Pictured left to right: Ambassador of Iraq, Samir Sumaida'ie; Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II; Ambassador of Sudan, Akec Khoc; Ambassador of Bahrain, Ms. Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo; Ambassador of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov

Yesterday afternoon, I was very glad to Co-Chair the International Religious Freedom Caucus’s Luncheon in the Library of Congress. In the midst of a hectic week, Representative Trent Franks (AZ-02) and I were honored to have a very well attended luncheon. The lunch included many Ambassadors from nations around the world, Members of Congress, and staff who joined us to bring attention to, and to promote, the essential need for religious tolerance not only in the United States, but throughout the world.

The foundation of our democratic nation rests on the establishment of the freedom to practice one’s religion, express one’s beliefs, or abstain from involvement in religion if one so chooses. It is telling that the very first amendment drafted by our founders addressed religious freedom, emphasizing the fact that religious freedom is indeed a fundamental right. I think the worldwide interest in our work, represented by the crowd of foreign dignitaries who gathered for this luncheon, shows the eager and earnest way the world is looking to us to advocate for those rights around the globe.

Friday, July 24, 2009

We cannot afford to wait

Wednesday night, the President came before the American people to talk about the plan we are working on to reform health care. This is no small task. In fact, we as a nation have been working on it since Harry Truman first proposed a plan 60 years ago. I wanted to share President Obama’s remarks with you to perhaps clarify some of what we are debating in Congress. But, let me be clear. There is no debate between the parties that something desperately needs to be done. Doing nothing is no longer an option. While we may not choose these economic conditions and this time to take on this task, the urgency of now has been thrust on us by 60 years of inaction. As the President put it, “if somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health care costs over the next 10 years, that's guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit. I think most people would be opposed to that. Well, that's the status quo. That's what we have right now.” We literally cannot afford to wait any longer.

Here is an excerpt of the President’s remarks as delivered. Full text, including the question and answer portion of the press conference can be found here>>

“…we spend much more on health care than any other nation but aren't any healthier for it.

That's why I've said that even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health insurance reform is central to that effort.

This is not just about the 47 million Americans who don't have any health insurance at all. Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it's about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

So let me be clear: If we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we don't act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate that we're having right now.

I realize that with all the charges and criticisms that are being thrown around in Washington, a lot of Americans may be wondering, "What's in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?"

So tonight I want to answer those questions. Because even though Congress is still working through a few key issues, we already have rough agreement on the following areas:

If you have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more security and more stability. It will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you're happy with it. It will prevent insurance companies from dropping your coverage if you get too sick. It will give you the security of knowing that if you lose your job, if you move, or if you change your job, you'll still be able to have coverage. It will limit the amount your insurance company can force you to pay for your medical costs out of your own pocket. And it will cover preventive care like check-ups and mammograms that save lives and money.

Now, if you don't have health insurance, or you're a small business looking to cover your employees, you'll be able to choose a quality, affordable health plan through a health insurance exchange -- a marketplace that promotes choice and competition. Finally, no insurance company will be allowed to deny you coverage because of a preexisting medical condition. I've also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade. And I mean it. In the past eight years, we saw the enactment of two tax cuts, primarily for the wealthiest Americans, and a Medicare prescription program -- none of which were paid for. And that's partly why I inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit.

That will not happen with health insurance reform. It will be paid for. Already we've estimated that two-thirds of the cost of reform can be paid for by reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health care programs. This includes over $100 billion of unwarranted subsidies that go to insurance companies as part of Medicare -- subsidies that do nothing to improve care for our seniors. And I'm pleased that Congress has already embraced these proposals. While they're currently working through proposals to finance the remaining costs, I continue to insist that health reform not be paid for on the backs of middle-class families.

In addition to making sure that this plan doesn't add to the deficit in the short term, the bill I sign must also slow the growth of health care costs in the long run. Our proposals would change incentives so that doctors and nurses are free to give patients the best care, just not the most expensive care. That's why the nation's largest organizations representing doctors and nurses have embraced our plan.

We also want to create an independent group of doctors and medical experts who are empowered to eliminate waste and inefficiency in Medicare on an annual basis -- a proposal that could save even more money and ensure long-term financial health for Medicare. Overall, our proposals will improve the quality of care for our seniors and save them thousands of dollars on prescription drugs, which is why the AARP has endorsed our reform efforts.

Not all of the cost savings measures I just mentioned were contained in Congress's draft legislation, but we're now seeing broad agreement thanks to the work that has done over the last few days. So even though we still have a few issues to work out, what's remarkable at this point is not how far we have left to go -- it's how far we've already come.

I understand how easy it is for this town to become consumed in the game of politics -- to turn every issue into a running tally of who's up and who's down. I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it's better politics to "go for the kill"; another Republican senator that defeating health care reform is about "breaking" me.

So let me be clear: This isn't about me. I have great health insurance, and so does every member of Congress. This debate is about the letters I read when I sit in the Oval Office every day, and the stories I hear at town hall meetings. This is about the woman in Colorado who paid $700 a month to her insurance company only to find out that they wouldn't pay a dime for her cancer treatment -- who had to use up her retirement funds to save her own life. This is about the middle-class college graduate from Maryland whose health insurance expired when he changed jobs and woke up from the emergency surgery that he required with $10,000 worth of debt. This is about every family, every business, and every taxpayer who continues to shoulder the burden of a problem that Washington has failed to solve for decades.

This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they can't afford to wait any longer for reform. They're counting on us to get this done. They're looking to us for leadership. And we can't let them down. We will pass reform that lowers cost, promotes choice, and provides coverage that every American can count on. And we will do it this year.”

President Barack Obama
News Conference
White House, East Room
July 22,2009

New Green Impact Zone Director comes to to U.S. Capitol

Tuesday, in my role as First Vice-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and Co-Chair of the Caucus’ Energy and Environment Task Force I was pleased to welcome Anita Maltbia, the newly hired director of the Green Impact Zone, to the U.S. Capitol Building. Anita was asked to participate in the CBC’s Inaugural Green Roundtable which I am proud to chair.

The purpose of the meeting was to develop a “green Agenda” for African American communities by gathering minority business, energy industry, faith, labor, research and elected leaders to discuss this critical issue. I am pleased to introduce my colleagues to Anita in her role as Director of the Green Impact Zone. She is an exceptional leader, and along with neighborhood and civic leaders in the Green Impact Zone I am confident she will demonstrate to the rest of the nation how green community revitalization is accomplished with a tide that raises all ships. Her insight and experience have been critical at today’s Roundtable and my colleagues from across the nation are excited to learn from the Green Impact Zone.

Anita will officially begin work Aug. 3. She will oversee a staff responsible for implementing and coordinating initiatives in the Green Impact Zone. She will work with neighborhood leaders to coordinate programs and outreach in the zone as well as build partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders.

A long time resident of the City’s eastside, Anita brings to the position many years of management and community experience, including eight years as Assistant City Manager for the City of Kansas City, Mo.

During her nearly 27 years working for the City of Kansas City, she worked closely with me in several roles. In 1993, I asked her to step in as interim director of the Convention and Entertainment Centers Department and to oversee the planning and execution of the grand opening of the 500,000 square foot expansion of Bartle Hall.

Anita is past president of the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration, and served on the national board and as vice-chair of the Strategic Planning Committee of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators.

More local Funding Secured

The Labor HHS Appropriations bill was approved by the House of Representatives today, and I am pleased to report that I was able to direct funding to several local education programs.

1.) $150,000 for Graceland University in Independence

The Graceland University School of Nursing in Independence graduates 40 to 50 new nurses every year in the medical profession, currently experiencing worker shortages. This funding will help build a simulation lab on the Independence campus to assist students in providing holistic care for their patients.

2.) $200,000 for Guadalupe Centers Culinary Arts Institute Job Training Center

Founded in 1919, the Guadalupe Centers, Inc. was established to assist underprivileged Mexican immigrants who had settled in the Westside community of Kansas City, Missouri. The Guadalupe Center was one of the nation’s first social service agencies for Latinos. Currently, the Guadalupe Centers is “the longest continually operating organization serving Latinos in the United States.”

The Culinary Arts Institute is a 12 week job training/employment program that provides everything from culinary instruction to case management services and job placement career services including a follow-up component. The purpose for establishing this program is to help individuals become financially stable. They are given tools to become successful in their chosen career path

3.) $500,000 for Metropolitan Community College Sustainability Training Center

Centered on the Green Impact Zone, Metropolitan Community Colleges is starting a program to train individuals in the Kansas City area to become technical experts in the green industry. This project will develop the Sustainability Training Center (STC). During the initial three years, the center will create a clearinghouse of resources related to sustainability and measurement and reduction of carbon footprints for small businesses. Faculty, research associates and student researchers will provide assistance in conducting sustainability audits for small businesses and help them find cost-effective solutions for reducing their carbon footprint.

4.) $100,000 for the Polycyclic Kidney Disease Foundation

The PKD Foundation is the only organization, worldwide, dedicated to fighting polycystic kidney disease (PKD). The mission of the PKD Foundation is to: "Promote programs of research, advocacy, education, support and awareness in order to discover treatments and a cure for Polycystic Kidney Disease and improve the lives of all it affects."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Over 10.5 million for local projects

This afternoon the U.S. House of Representatives approved The Energy and Water Appropriations Act (H.R. 3183) appropriating funding for a series of regional flood control projects I requested. The bill also invests in new technologies that will create the next generation of vehicles with improved fuel efficiency, better and cleaner engines and longer-lasting batteries. It also helps modernize our electric grid by investing in “smart grid” technology which we are seeking to pilot with Kansas City Power & Light as part of the Green Impact Zone project.

The bill increases funds for weatherization grants to help struggling families improve their homes’ energy efficiency and save hundreds of dollars annually in electricity and heating costs. It also invests in the water infrastructure needs of our communities to improve water quality and spur economic development after years of neglect. These funds will be particularly valuable in accomplishing the goal of weatherizing every home in the Green Impact Zone.

I am proud of the funding I was able to secure for Missouri’s Fifth District in this bill. Not only does the bill make significant investments in a new green economy and support our work locally in the Green Impact Zone, it also funds important flood control projects. I was Mayor of Kansas City during the Flood of 1993 and understand very well that funding our area’s flood control plans and systems is key to protecting life and property. These are earmarks that save lives, and build on projects I have secured funding for in previous years. I think it is clear these levee, basin and channel improvement projects will continue to significantly reduce our major flood events in the District.

H.R. 3183 provides:

Authorization to the U.S. Corps of engineers to fund the Blue Valley Wetlands Restoration - Jackson County (amount to be determined after study)

$2,500,000 for the Turkey Creek Basin - City of Kansas City ($15.2 million in Recovery Act dollars also allocated)

$5,600,000 for the Blue River Channel - City of Kansas City/Independence ($13.5 in Recovery Act dollars also allocated)

$750,000 for the Blue River Basin - City of Kansas City

$700,000 for the Kansas Citys, MO & KS (Seven River Levees) - City of Kansas City

$300,000 for the Brush Creek Basin, MO & KS – City of Kansas City

$700,000 Missouri River Degradation, MO & KS – City of Kansas City

The Energy and Water Appropriations Act builds on the investments in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to move toward American energy independence and rebuild our infrastructure – major tenets of the long term economic plan that President Obama laid out and this Congress approved.

H.R. 3183, which was approved in the House by a vote of 320 to 97, now moves to the Senate for approval.

President Obama dispatches his Cabinet to Green Impact Zone

In a sign that the hard work of neighborhood leaders is getting noticed at the highest levels, President Obama has directed his Cabinet to visit Kansas City as part of a three city national tour. Denver and Philadelphia will also be visited. I am proud to say David Warm, Executive Director of the Mid-America Regional Council was at the White House at the invitation of the Office of Urban Policy to promote Kansas City’s urban needs including the Green Impact Zone. Warm was on hand for the announcement delivered by the President.

“Instead of waiting for Washington, a lot of cities have already gone ahead and become their own laboratories for change and innovation, some leading the world in coming up with new ways to solve the problems of our time.

So you take an example like Denver. Their metropolitan area is projected to grow by 1 million residents over the next 15 years or so. But rather than wait for a congestion crisis, they're already at work on plans to build and operate a public transit system up to the challenge, and to surround that system with smart new housing, retail, and office development near each stop.

Philadelphia is an example of what's been called ‘urban agriculture.’ It may sound like an oxymoron, but one proposal is trying to make a situation where fresh, local food supplies are within a short walk for most city residents, which will have a direct impact not only on the economy and on the environment, but also make an immeasurable difference in the health of Americans.

Or Kansas City. One idea there focuses on transforming a low-income community into a national model of sustainability by weatherizing homes and building a green local transit system.

Three different cities with three unique ideas for the future. And that's why they're three of the cities that are members of my -- that members of my Cabinet and Office of Urban Affairs will visit this summer as part of a ongoing national conversation to lift up best practices from around the country, to look at innovations for the metropolitan areas of tomorrow. Forward-looking cities shouldn't be succeeding despite Washington; they should be succeeding with a hand from Washington. We want to hear directly from them, and we want to hear directly from all of you, on fresh ideas and successful solutions that you've devised, and then figure out what the federal government should do or shouldn't do to help reinvent cities and metropolitan areas for the 21st century.”

President Barack Obama
July 13, 2009

This announcement from the President is confirmation that the work being done by the neighborhoods, MARC, the city and all the partner agencies is getting noticed by the Administration. When the President is citing your initiative as a model for the nation, you have done something right. My thanks and congratulations go to the neighborhood leaders and community groups who continue to work hard to make this vision a reality. The nation is looking to us to lead.

The White House said more details about the visit will follow.

Complete remarks can be found here >>>

I would also like to thank the City Council of Kansas City and particularly Council members Circo and Riley who achieved passage of a $1.5 million dollar operating budget for the Green Impact Zone which will be designated for the Mid-America Regional Council to hire staff to administer the Zone, open a service center, and support data collection and planning activities in the Green Impact Zone.

Health-Care Reform: What It Means For You

The Ways and Means Committee and Health, Education and Labor Committee passed a health care reform bill that, for the first time in our nation’s history, will guarantee health care for all Americans. The proposal is complicated but seeks to reign in the spiraling cost of health care while allowing those who like the health care they have to keep those plans.

The proposal will provide for a group of private plans as well as a public plan that will be offered as part of an “exchange” where all Americans can compare and choose a plan that best suits their needs.

To participate in the “exchange” and have the opportunity to enroll some of the millions of Americans that are currently uninsured, private insurers would have to cover all pre-existing conditions. On this “exchange” Americans could also select to be insured by a public health insurance option. That option would help drive down costs across the board.

This bill is still evolving, but the Washington Post put together a few bullet points that outline potential benefits under the proposal now moving through the House (see below). And

If you are Uninsured- Currently 46 Million Americans
-How you could benefit from reform:

If you have a low income, you could have an easier time qualifying for Medicaid, a program funded by the state and federal governments.

In addition, based on your income, you could receive federal aid to purchase private insurance and vouchers for preventive care.

The proposal gives you the option of buying insurance through “exchanges” which lay out all of the options, benefits and price points available.

Insurers would be prohibited from denying coverage for preexisting conditions or taking into account your medical risk when setting your premium.

Insurers in the” exchanges” would offer a minimum set of benefits. For example, an annual cap on out-of-pocket expenses and end co-payments and deductibles for preventive care.
Older people could pay relatively lower premiums, because age-based variations in rates could be restricted.

Along side private options you would also buy coverage from a public option whose scale would enable it to pass along savings.

If you are on Medicare and Medicaid- Currently 42 million and 37 million Americans
- How you could benefit from reform: Medicare

The “doughnut hole” for prescription drug coverage, which leaves you responsible for the cost when you’ve racked up $2700 to $6100 of annual prescription expenses, would be closed.
You can obtain preventive services without paying anything out of pocket.

You can qualify for drug subsidies with more assets than current recipients are allowed.
Income from the sale of your primary residence could be excluded from determinations of who pays higher premiums for outpatient coverage.

Premiums would be reduced for seniors who enroll in wellness of disease-management programs.

Payments to primary-care doctors could be increased, paving the way for them to play a larger role in your care.

Your annual out-of-pocket expenses could be capped, protecting you from catastrophic bills.

- How you could benefit from reform: Medicaid
Increased reimbursements for physicians could make it easier to find doctors. You could also gain access to private health plans.

For individuals buy their own insurance- 15 million Americans
- How you could benefit from reform:

You would have the option of buying insurance through “exchanges”, with an annual cap on out-of-pocket expenses, an end to co-payments and deductibles for preventive care, and no more annual or lifetime limits on coverage.

Insurers in the “exchanges” could be barred from denying coverage based on your medical history. Insurers would be required to cover your preexisting conditions.
Older people could end up paying relatively lower premiums, because age-based variations in rates could be restricted.

You could gain the option of buying coverage from a public plan whose scale and purchasing power could enable it to pass along savings.

Based on your income, you could receive federal aid to purchase insurance.
Your employer would be required to provide health benefits or pay a penalty, increasing the odds that you would receive coverage at work.

If your employer pays for your insurance-sponsored: 158 million Americans
- How you could benefit from reform:

If you’re employed at a small business, you and your employer would gain the option of buying coverage through the “exchange”, in which insurers would have to offer a minimum set of benefits and factors such as health status would not count against you. The government might help your employer pay for health benefits.

The proposal will increase the quality of care as a result of efforts to increase coordination among providers, identify and encourage best practices, automate medical records, avoid unnecessary tests and procedures, and reduce medical errors.

With expanded coverage for the uninsured, you and your employer would experience a reduction in hidden health tax you now pay to cover the cost of care that hospitals provide without compensation.

If you leave or lose your job and have to buy your own insurance, you would have much better options than those now available to you. Having new alternatives could make it easier for you to leave a job in which you feel trapped; if you get laid off, it could save you from joining the ranks of the uninsured.