Bingaman: Bill Would Improve Border Health

Las Cruces – U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) have introduced legislation that allows border states to continue addressing public health challenges along the U.S.-Mexico border region by improving infections disease surveillance and strengthening the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission.

In 1994, Congress approved legislation led by Bingaman and Hutchison to address the unique health needs along the U.S.-Mexico border. Under that law, the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission was established. The commission, consisting of health officials from the United States and Mexico, has since then worked to promote public health and has established key initiatives to address bi-national health issues that strain the public health system along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"The Border Health Commission has been instrumental in bringing together experts from the United States and Mexico to help address important health issues that are unique to our border. This bill will make it possible for the commission to continue its good work to help improve the quality of life in the U.S.-Mexico border region," Bingaman said.

"A 21st century Texas should not have to tolerate the high rates of infectious diseases we see on the border," said Hutchison. "This legislation is extremely important for Texas - and especially Texans who live along the border, where these serious public health problems need to be addressed."

"Improving the health and level of health care resources along the U.S.-Mexico border is one of the greatest challenges confronting America today," Reyes said. "This legislation will help address the mounting health disparities in the border region that endanger our nation's long term economic health."

The Border Health Security Act of 2011 will build on the ongoing work of the commission and continue to invest in key public health initiatives. The commission's Healthy Border 2010 initiative has achieved notable progress in reducing breast cancer mortality, cervical cancer mortality, childhood injury, and reducing Hepatitis A incidence. In the coming year the commission will focus on reducing the tuberculosis incidence at the border and improving detection and treatment outcomes. Additionally, the commission was particularly helpful in coordinating the response to the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.The Border Health Security Act of 2011 will do the following:

Provide Infectious Disease Surveillance Grants for All Hazards Preparedness: Authorizes funding for the successful Early Warning Infectious Disease Surveillance (EWIDS) program in the U.S.-Mexico border region. The bill also establishes a health alert network to identify and communicate information quickly to health providers about emerging health care threats and coordination of the system between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Improve Border Health Services: Provides authorization for needed grant funding to states, local governments, tribal governments, institutions of higher education, nonprofit health organizations, or community health centers along the U.S.-Mexico border to improve infrastructure, access, and the delivery of health care services, including: maternal and child health, primary care and preventative health, behavioral and mental health, substance abuse, community health workers or promotoras, among others.

Strengthen the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission: Undertakes key organizational reforms of the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission and authorizes $31 million annually for its operations, the border health and EWIDS grant programs, and facilitates key studies conducted by the Institute of Medicine.

Coordinate Recommendations, and Study: The legislation affirms the need for coordinated efforts to address border health issues. It specifies that recommendations and advice on how to improve border health will be communicated to Congress from the Commission. And finally, the legislation authorizes a GAO evaluation of the Commission's execution of its strategic plan and two key studies conducted by the Institute of Medicine on bi-national health infrastructure and health insurance coverage for border residents.