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By Senator Mike Crapo

In April, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Washington released a 40-year life expectancy study. Among other things, the study found that "four percent of the male population and 19 percent of the female population experienced either decline or stagnation in mortality beginning in the 1980s."  The affected population was located in regions outside of Idaho, but the trend indicates an ongoing need to address preventive care and promote healthier living. The report linked worsening mortality rates with increases in diabetes, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These diseases are largely behavior-driven: smoking, obesity and high blood pressure are major risk factors. While heredity can indeed play a role in chronic illnesses, lifestyle choices dictate our long term health and the resulting burden on our health care system as a whole. 


As co-founder and Senate co-chair of the Congressional COPD Caucus and a two-time cancer survivor, I've made it a priority to raise awareness of preventive care options, promote research and development funding for chronic illnesses and support important advances in health care. In addition, our nation must embrace a more fiscally responsible approach to our health care challenges-one that recognizes the need for a market-based approach while providing quality private health insurance for American citizens, especially those in need. 


In November 2007, I co-sponsored the bipartisan Healthy Americans Act (HAA), an important step toward comprehensive health care reform. It would give Americans affordable choice, make health care portable from job to job, promote personal responsibility and preventive medicine and reform the insurance market so that insurers compete on price, benefits and quality. The legislation also includes incentives for insurers and individuals to promote and seek preventive care, wellness initiatives and chronic disease management. 


As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, I'll be involved throughout the process. In order to achieve a broad-based coalition, HAA represents compromise between very different views on what government's role in health care policy should be and certain provisions need close scrutiny. However, it's entirely possible to work through additional important compromises and achieve a successful legislative outcome. Ultimately, HAA is a free-market approach that puts health care choices in our hands instead of a government-run program that makes those choices for us. It empowers consumers and helps the free market extend coverage to all Americans. 


In the specific interest of long-term care and coinciding with Older Americans Month celebrated every May, I've recently co-sponsored S. 1980, the Long-term Care Quality & Modernization Act, supported by the Idaho Health Care Association. The legislation provides for increased training for long-term care providers and state surveyors on rules and regulations. It modernizes outdated consolidated billing rules and amends a federal rule regarding treatment of diabetic nursing home residents. It addresses growing shortages in the nursing profession and improves the Nurse Reinvestment Act. Finally, it updates current tax law regarding reconstruction and modernization of nursing homes and other long-term care settings. Improvements to elder care are necessary and urgent-by 2025, Idaho will be 10 th in the nation in the percentage of individuals over age 65. 


Spring has finally come to Idaho after a long winter. Whether you are young or old, take some fresh steps to help your own health: stop smoking, get more exercise, make healthy eating choices; proactively prolong your life and enhance your quality of life by making healthy life choices. It will help reduce future financial and emotional burdens on you and your loved ones and improve our healthcare system as a whole.