By: Nicole Johnson
Representative George R. Nethercutt, Jr. (RWash.),formed the Congressional DiabetesCaucus 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 andprevention, but their influence has grownbeyond what anyone in the original 22 couldhave imagined.
Achieving Victories for Diabetesin Washington
In the last several years, the caucus hasachieved great victories.
They were instrumental in appropriating themillions that doubled the National Institutesof Health budget, not to mention securing$1.5 billion in special diabetes programfunding for type 1 research and NativeAmerican programs.
Each year the Congressional Diabetes Caucusworks to increase the dollars spent ondiabetes.
In 2004, they requested $10 million for theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention’sDivision of Diabetes Translation. The hope isto double their budget in the next five years.
Says Nethercutt’s co-chair, RepresentativeDiana DeGette (D-Colo.), “In 2004, we hadmore than 100 bipartisan colleagues inCongress who supported this effort.”
Caucus Helped Pass Important Legislation
The caucus did help pass into law thePancreatic Islet Cell Transplantation Act,sponsored by Nethercutt and DeGette alongwith Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) andPatty Murray (D-Wash.).
In addition, the caucus has worked ardentlyto improve Medicare coverage for seniorswith diabetes. Recently, they helped passseveral diabetes provisions in the Medicarelaw, including a demonstration projectfor pancreatic islet cell transplantationcoverage; mandatory diabetes educationin the “Welcome to Medicare” physical; andcoverage for diabetes screening tests.
Caucus Focus Will Focuson Diabetes Education
Nethercutt and DeGette agree that, in2005, the caucus will continue to focus oneducation and on helping Americans withdiabetes get in better control.
“My daughter, Meredith, has been living withdiabetes for 15 years, so I have seen firsthandthe challenges of managing diabetes,”Nethercutt says. “If we can help peopleachieve good A1C levels, not only will theylive healthier lives, they will have a lower riskof complications.”
DeGette has been leading the fight for bettertreatment and access to care for minoritypopulations.
“The Diabetes Caucus is committed toimproving health disparities so that therapidly increasing number of Americans withdiabetes can better control their disease,”she says.
DeGette introduced the Diabetes Prevention,Access and Care Act in 2002, which aimsto improve federal programs targeted tominority populations. She will continue tohighlight this issue in 2005.
I asked the co-chairs what role peoplewith diabetes play in their advocacy workon the Hill. DeGette said, “We rely on thedetermination of patients and their lovedones. It is the communication of patientstories that help members of Congress createpositive change.”
Nethercutt said, “You can help by developinga relationship with your congresspersonand helping that member understand thereality of diabetes. The more people whounderstand this disease, the more supportwe will have to cure it.”
Note: In January,George R. Nethercutt, Jr.,will step down from hisposition in the House ofRepresentatives, anda new co-chair of thecaucus will be named.