Too often healthcare gets wrapped up in political debate while forgetting the actual needs of people. The reality is that there are people hurting and they deserve help. My family and I know this all too well. Just over a month ago, my mother in law passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Consuelo was an amazing, brilliant woman. She was appointed by President Eisenhower as Honorary Council to Peru, she was one of the most kind, hospitable people I’ve ever known and she raised an amazing daughter that embodies all of her best qualities. Her battle with Alzheimer’s had a true impact on me. The reality is that healthcare is not simply a debate. It’s real people, real needs and they deserve a system that cares for them.
Since coming to Congress, healthcare has remained at the forefront for Montanans. Whether it’s skyrocketing premiums, problems with Obamacare, or lapses in care, it’s obvious that the status quo isn’t working. Our country must create a system that helps the most vulnerable while incentivizing solutions. As a freshman member, I’ve made it my mission to accomplish these goals. With a Republican Congress and Democrat President, my focus has been on policies that highlight our commonalities, and I’ve focused my attention on three bills:
First, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA): Montana and America has been struck with opioid and heroin addiction. Often times, good people are lured in by prescription drugs and then hooked into a viscous cycle of dependency. This comprehensive bill creates a task force of agencies to identify best practices for prescribing pain medication and establishes specialized grants for local governments, tribes, nonprofits and care centers. These investments will help protect, treat, and heal our neighbors.
Second, the 21st Century Cures Act: This bill is designed to help accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of new treatments and cures while solidifying America’s standing as the medical innovation capital of the world. There are 10,000 known diseases, but we only have cures for 500 of them. This bill specifically targets research and development for the deadliest cancers, brain disease, and drug research. It’s imperative that we make critical investments so patients and families can be spared the devastating news of an incurable disease.
Third, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act: Mental illness affects all segments of society. Nearly 10 million Americans have serious mental illness, but too many go without treatment as families struggle to find care for loved ones. This bill makes critical investments in care, increases hospital space for mental health patients, incentivizes early detection and suicide prevention programs, and prioritizes rural care and tele-medicine.
After hearing from Montanans and based on my own family’s experience, I was thrilled to support and help introduce each of these bills. They will help the most vulnerable; those who are truly in need. In July, we scored a major victory when CARA was signed into law. Resources are already flowing into Montana to combat the drug abuse problem.
This year, the House overwhelmingly passed the Mental Health Reform package and the 21st Century Cures Act, but both sat idle in the Senate because of Minority Leader Harry Reid’s gridlock. That is unacceptable, but we remained persistent. We took another swing at the ball and recently we packaged the two bills together, passed them again and now they await action in the Senate. I hope my Senate colleagues support these common sense reforms and get them to the President’s desk.
When I came to Congress, I never would’ve guessed I’d end up championing healthcare reforms. My 23 years in the Navy prepared me for many tasks, but healthcare wasn’t at the top of the list. However, one thing it did teach me was teamwork is always the best way to accomplish a mission. After my family’s experience, I’ve been inspired to action. This was a true team effort, one that I was proud to support in every way I could. This is just the beginning. As we look toward the next Congress, I hope we continue reaching across the aisle in the spirit of progress.
Ryan Zinke is Montana’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives