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Washington, D.C. – Healthcare is a basic need, but many Americans lack access and insurance coverage. As Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is doing his best to change that by aggressive pursuit of multiple bills that approach the problem from different angles and seek to piece together the health care puzzle.

This week Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist introduced comprehensive bill language for S.4, the Healthy America Act of 2005. The bill provides objectives and principles for health care reform. Enzi has “fired up the legislative machine and it’s running at full tilt.” He’s put many of the objectives into actual legislative language and the committee has already passed a number of the bills.

“I have worked to speed up our efforts and develop a series of bills with my colleagues that deal with comprehensive initiatives outlined in S.4,” said Enzi. “At the heart of our effort is legislation aimed at restraining health care costs, increasing access to care, and improving health care quality.”

Enzi said a major step forward occurred with the HELP Committee’s approval of the “Wired for Health Care Quality Act,” a bill he believes will encourage the adoption of cutting edge-information technologies in health care that will improve patient care, reduce medical errors and contribute to cost savings. It provides for the creation of a new national framework for establishing personal electronic health records and for exchanging health information securely and privately.

Enzi introduced the Fair and Reliable Medical Justice Act, S. 1337, earlier this month. The bill would give states funding and allow them to choose from three innovative model programs that provide alternatives to costly medical tort litigation. The options include early disclosure and compensation, administrative determination, and compensation and special health courts.

“We also recognize the need for a comprehensive reform of America’s costly, unfair, and chaotic medical liability system - one that will ensure fair and rapid compensation to injured patients, reduce frivolous lawsuits, and limit excessive and costly damage awards,” Enzi said.

Enzi said this fall, the HELP Committee will deliver new legislation to provide health insurance market reforms that will deliver real relief to America’s small businesses and struggling families.

“The legislation I will offer is designed to promote genuine market reforms that will help close the gap between proponents of Association Health Plans (AHP) and opponents who fear AHPs will compromise regulatory oversight or lessen mandates for minimum coverage,” said Enzi.

In another step to improve patient safety, last week the Senate gave unanimous approval to S. 544, the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005, a bill that will extend crucial legal privilege and confidentiality protections to health care providers to allow them to report health care errors and “near misses” to specially designated patient safety organizations.

Finally, the HELP Committee has other bills ready for the Senate to take up and Enzi expects to file Committee reports on several additional bills. The bills include everything from reauthorizing the foundations that leverage private monies to support the missions of the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control (S. 302 and S. 655 respectively), to FDA management of decorative contact lenses (S. 288 ), to extending a key program of user fees to speed the review of innovative medical devices by the FDA (S. 1420), to reauthorizing support for educating the next generation of pediatricians at children’s hospitals (S. 285).

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