By guest blogger Robert Field:
2010 will go down as one of the most productive years ever for health care legislation. Congress strengthened food safety laws, improved school nutrition to combat child obesity, created a fund to cover the health problems of 9/11 responders, established a National Alzheimer's Project, and reduced the amount of allowable lead in plumbing fixtures.
Oh, and Congress also passed a sweeping reform plan to overhaul the nation's health insurance system.
The Affordable Care Act, known to many as "Obamacare," got most of the media attention. This is certainly understandable, since it represents the largest expansion in health care coverage since the creation of Medicare in 1965. However, this attention hides a slew of other major legislative achievements, many of which flew beneath the public's radar screen. Even without Obamacare, 2010 would stand out as a significant year in advancing the public's health.
Take food safety. Thousands of Americans are sickened every year by contaminated food, and many die. Just last October, lethal e coli bacteria were found in cheese in five states. The Food and Drug Administration, which enforces food safety laws, had lacked both the authority to order recalls and the resources to conduct enough safety inspections. Now, thanks to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, it has both.
Obesity is among the greatest killers of Americans, and it starts at an early age. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act gives the USDA authority to set nutrition standards for foods regularly sold in schools, including food in vending machines. This marks the first national quality check of the nutrition our children receive.
Many of the responders who toiled at the World Trade Center site after 9/11 developed serious health problems. Breathing ailments tied to toxic dust were among the more common. Just last week, after over a year of effort, Congress allocated $4.2 billion to help the responders receive treatment, signifying an important commitment to the health of those who serve our country.
Beyond the new laws passed in 2010, implementation began for several that were enacted in 2009. The FDA proposed new package designs for cigarettes, the Department of Health and Human Services issued rules for health information technology, and grants were issued for comparative effectiveness research to study the actual medical value of many expensive new treatments.
Of course, none of these actions matched health reform in scope and effect. For all of the legislation's flaws, it is hard to equal the achievement of guaranteeing coverage, for the first time ever, to every American who wants it. However, health policy means much more than the sound bites from the health reform debates may suggest. The other achievements of 2010 are less visible, but they make major strides in strengthening the underlying infrastructure that protects the overall health of the public.
And in contrast to the acrimony over Obamacare, most of the other 2010 laws passed with bipartisan support.