Health Care Access

Senator Patty Murray has worked to build awareness and increase funding to address the medical needs of women. Murray's own life experience as an educator, a working mother of two children, a grandmother, and a caregiver for her parents have given her a unique perspective on the challenges women face in obtaining medical care.

In her years in the Senate, Murray has fought to ensure women have access to the care they need, increased screening and treatment options for breast and cervical cancer, and worked to promote equity in health research.

Senator Murray has been honored as a “Leader in Women's Health” by the Women Legislators' Lobby and Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists honored Murray with a “Public Service Award” and she has received the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association’s “Distinguished Public Servant Award.”


Expanding Health Care Access for Low-Income Women

There are serious challenges facing our country when it comes to health care. Low-income women and their families in particular face tremendous challenges accessing needed care. Census data shows that one in five women of childbearing age are uninsured, and at least one in eight pregnant women are uninsured. Lack of insurance leads to increased health complications, including complications during pregnancy. Senator Murray has also been working to increase coverage of low-income women and newborns.


Opposing Cuts in Medicaid and Medicare

For many low-income women, Medicaid and Medicare are critical safety nets. Medicaid finances over one-third of all births in the U.S. and accounts for over half of all publicly-funded family planning services. Senator Murray has been a longtime champion of Medicaid and Medicare and has fought attempts to cut funding for these programs.

  • In  2008, Senator Murray supported legislation that imposed a moratorium on Medicaid regulations that would have cut funding to states and health care providers by $15-$21 billion over the next five years.
  • In 2007, Murray successfully fought suggested cuts that would have cut $80 billion from Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years.
  • In 2006, Senator Murray fought efforts to cut these programs by $10 billion over the next five years. Unfortunately, Congress passed these cuts, which will reduce the affordability and accessibility of health care for low-income Americans.  
  • Murray has also fought the Administration's plans to block grant Medicaid, which would dismantle the health care safety net that women and their families rely on. Scaling back these programs seriously threatens the health care safety net for millions of women and their families.


Working to Increase Women’s Health Care Coverage

Senator Murray has been working to increase coverage of low-income pregnant women and newborns.

  • In 2009, after multiple attempts, Senator Murray helped pass a renewed CHIP bill.  This bill extends health insurance coverage to almost 10 million children – up from the 6 million children currently covered. 
  • In 2007, she fought for legislation that would have strengthened CHIP by increasing funding by $35 billion over five years, expanding health insurance to an additional 3.8 million low-income children and children of middle class families that cannot afford care.
  • She is a cosponsor of the “Start Healthy, Stay Healthy Act,” which would give states new options to cover low-income pregnant women under Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
  • In 2003, Senator Murray lead the fight for an SCHIP “fix” for Washington state. This fix provided an additional $24 million for low-income women and their families.  
  • Murray has also consistently supported legislation to expand eligibility for children under Medicaid and SCHIP.


Fighting Breast and Cervical Cancer By Increasing Funding for Screening, Treatment and Research

This year in the U.S., over 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and nearly 40,000 women will die from this devastating disease. Many of these deaths could be prevented with early detection. Senator Murray believes that it is critical for the federal government to support increased funding for screening, treating and ultimately curing this disease.

  • Senator Murray has successfully increased funding for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) breast and cervical cancer screening program for uninsured, low-income women.
  • Murray helped provide funding to the Medicaid program to expand treatment benefits for low-income women diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Senator Murray has cosponsored legislation to require health plans to provide coverage for a minimal hospital stay for mastectomies, lumpectomies, and lymph node dissection performed for the treatment of breast cancer.
  • In 2006, Murray helped pass legislation to expand research on the relationship between environmental factors and the development of breast cancer.
  • She also supported the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007, which was singed into law. This act reauthorizes the National and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program and authorizes appropriations for grants for screening and referral services.

In addition, Senator Murray has worked to increase funding for breast cancer screening and treatment for women on Medicaid. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Murray helped increase funding for screening and early diagnosis. To ensure treatment for low-income women, Murray helped secure passage of the “Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act of 2000,” which provides immediate health care support to low-income women who are diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer.


Promoting Equity in Health Research

For years, medical research and clinical trials have excluded women.  For example, one famous early medical study on breast cancer examined hundreds of men – but no women.

This bias has made it harder for scientists to address the unique medical needs of women.
This can be dangerous because drugs can affect women differently than due to differences in biology.  Women can have different symptoms for the same diseases, such as heart attacks and certain diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, affect women at much higher rates.  Senator Murray has worked to address equity in today's medical research.

  • In 2007, Senator Murray was key to getting the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to halt efforts to raid funding from the Office of Women’s Health for other uses.
  • In 1993, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Murray worked to establish a new office at the National Institutes for Health to ensure that federally-funded research addresses the needs of women. More recently, Murray cosponsored the “Women's Health Office Act” to establish a permanent Office on Women’s Health within the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Senator Murray has also helped to increase the focus on women's health at the CDC by funding new programs on arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of women in America.
  • Murray has also worked with the administrator of the FDA to encourage pharmaceutical companies to include women in advanced clinical trials of new, life-saving drugs. 


Ensuring Women's Access to Medical Care

Although women's health has advanced tremendously in recent decades, women still face special challenges in accessing comprehensive health care. Senator Murray is working to ensure that the unique health needs of women are met, including:

  • Ensuring direct access to Obstetricians and Gynecologists (OB/GYNs)
  • Preventing "drive-through mastectomies"
  • Protecting access to mammography
  • And extending insurance coverage of pap testing.


Direct Access to OB/GYNs

Many insurance and HMO plans require women to see a primary care physician before they are able to see an obstetrician or gynecologist. Senator Murray recognizes that OB/GYN care is a major component of comprehensive women's health care. She has fought for legislation to ensure women have direct access to an OB/GYN for all health care needs by:

  • Consistently supporting legislation creating a "Patient’s Bill of Rights"
  • Protecting the ability of Washington state patients to have direct access to an OB/GYN by offering a "direct access" amendment to proposed small business health insurance plan legislation.


Preventing “Drive-Through Mastectomies”

Senator Murray believes that no woman should be forced by her insurance company to leave a hospital prematurely after a mastectomy. She has supported legislation to require health plans to provide coverage for a minimum hospital stay for a woman who has undergone a mastectomy by:

  • Cosponsoring the "Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act."
  • Ensuring that Washington state patients are not stripped of their right to a minimum hospital stay after a mastectomy by offering a "drive-through mastectomy" amendment to proposed small business health plan legislation.