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Representative George R. Nethercutt, Jr. (RWash.), formed the Congressional Diabetes Caucus in 1996 with only 22 supporters.
It is now the largest caucus on Capitol Hill, with more than 300 members.
This bipartisan body promotes research and prevention, but their influence has grown beyond what anyone in the original 22 could have imagined.
Achieving Victories for Diabetes in Washington
In the last several years, the caucus has achieved great victories.
They were instrumental in appropriating the millions that doubled the National Institutes of Health budget, not to mention securing $1.5 billion in special diabetes program funding for type 1 research and Native American programs.
Each year the Congressional Diabetes Caucus works to increase the dollars spent on diabetes.
In 2004, they requested $10 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Diabetes Translation. The hope is to double their budget in the next five years.
Says Nethercutt’s co-chair, Representative Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), “In 2004, we had more than 100 bipartisan colleagues in Congress who supported this effort.”
Caucus Helped Pass Important Legislation
The caucus did help pass into law the Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation Act, sponsored by Nethercutt and DeGette along with Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
In addition, the caucus has worked ardently to improve Medicare coverage for seniors with diabetes. Recently, they helped pass several diabetes provisions in the Medicare law, including a demonstration project for pancreatic islet cell transplantation coverage; mandatory diabetes education in the “Welcome to Medicare” physical; and coverage for diabetes screening tests.
Caucus Focus Will Focus on Diabetes Education
Nethercutt and DeGette agree that, in 2005, the caucus will continue to focus on education and on helping Americans with diabetes get in better control.
“My daughter, Meredith, has been living with diabetes for 15 years, so I have seen firsthand the challenges of managing diabetes,” Nethercutt says. “If we can help people achieve good A1C levels, not only will they live healthier lives, they will have a lower risk of complications.”
DeGette has been leading the fight for better treatment and access to care for minority populations.
“The Diabetes Caucus is committed to improving health disparities so that the rapidly increasing number of Americans with diabetes can better control their disease,” she says.
DeGette introduced the Diabetes Prevention, Access and Care Act in 2002, which aims to improve federal programs targeted to minority populations. She will continue to highlight this issue in 2005.
I asked the co-chairs what role people with diabetes play in their advocacy work on the Hill. DeGette said, “We rely on the determination of patients and their loved ones. It is the communication of patient stories that help members of Congress create positive change.”
Nethercutt said, “You can help by developing a relationship with your congressperson and helping that member understand the reality of diabetes. The more people who understand this disease, the more support we will have to cure it.”
Note: In January, George R. Nethercutt, Jr., will step down from his position in the House of Representatives, and a new co-chair of the caucus will be named.
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.