A congressional success story

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

Congress is doing a great job, and this is not a joke. Sure, there’s a lot of gridlock in Washington and on many issues, Congress can’t seem to agree on the color of the sky, let alone reach agreement on anything of substance.

But when it comes to diabetes awareness, and appropriating funds to cover research and prevention programs, it’s a different story. Funding for diabetes research, which was about $320 million in 1997, is now in the billions of dollars.

Support of this nature is significant to me, because I’ve had diabetes for more than 15 years and have experienced many of the complications. If we do nothing, it’s projected that one in three people will have diabetes by 2050. For a society, that is unacceptable.

None of this is lost on the members of Congress – specifically, three of the four members of Idaho’s congressional delegation. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson clearly “get it” on this issue. They are not working alone; 345 House members and 42 senators are members of diabetes caucuses. They have a deep understanding of the issue and the role Congress can play in fighting this disease.

“I’m no fan of federal spending, or creating a bigger government, but there is an appropriate role when it comes to certain expenditures,” Risch said. The National Institute of Health is one of those areas in which government does have a proper funding role.

“I’m a big fan of the NIH,” Risch said. “They perform miracles – arresting cancer on kids who are living normal and productive lives. Twenty-five years ago, or even 20 years ago, they were destined to die at an early age.”

He notes that similar progress has been made in helping people better manage diabetes. He only wishes that Congress could do more.

“One thing that stuns me is the fact we can’t do a lot of the things we’d like to do because of the waste and the expansion of the federal government,” Risch said. “If we’d get things right, we could do substantially better work for the NIH, and I’m certainly a person who would like to do that.”

Crapo works in areas of prevention. He is a leading sponsor of legislation that directs the Congressional Budget Office to determine how prevention can result in cost savings. For instance, he said, encouraging involvement in weight-loss programs for older Americans could save Medicare more than $7 billion. He has worked to encourage more fresh fruits and vegetables in schools and has been involved with prevention programs for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, where diabetes is especially prevalent.

These are small, but significant, steps. Crapo notes that the costs go beyond dollars and cents.

“The personal costs are higher,” he said. “Americans can lose their vision, face amputation and suffer damage of their internal organs such as their kidneys and their heart if high blood sugar levels are left untreated.”

Simpson, a former dentist, has seen diabetes up close in his professional and personal life.
“I know firsthand how this disease can affect the lives of not only the person suffering from diabetes but the diabetic’s family members as well,” he said. “I have been a strong advocate for adequate funding to facilitate the Institute’s efforts to better understand diabetes and eventually find a cure.  In addition, as a former healthcare provider, I recognize the important role that proper education, prevention and treatment play for people suffering from diabetes.”

Attitudes in Congress help the efforts from the American Diabetes Association and other education networks that promote diabetes research and prevention.

“We are fortunate to have the diabetes caucuses as a partner in the effort to stop the diabetes epidemic,” said Andrea Bruno, executive director of the ADA’s Portland office, which also covers part of Idaho. “The caucuses and their members, including Sens. Crapo and Risch and Congressman Simpson, play an invaluable role in elevating the needs of the diabetes community among their fellow colleagues.”
Maybe a few lessons can be learned here. If Congress can put aside partisan politics and work successfully to take on one of the best health issues of our times, imagine how this spirit of cooperation could work on everything else.

We can only hope.

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