Historically, many areas of Kentucky's Fifth District have been underserved when it comes to medical and dental care. Throughout my career, I have worked to increase access to health care services, reduce the number of uninsured individuals and families, and improve the overall health of people in southern and eastern Kentucky.
Tragically, Kentuckians disproportionately suffer from some of America’s most common health disparities. Kentucky has one of the highest incidence rates of cancer in the nation, with the largest percentage of those deaths occurring in the Fifth Congressional District. Our region also has some of the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and obesity in the country. I believe we can tackle these problems, and I have consistently supported programs specifically tailored to serve rural regions like ours.
For example, I have long supported federal resources for Community Health Centers, and I helped secure the initial funding to establish the Center of Excellence in Rural Health in Hazard. Operated by the University of Kentucky, the Center provides academic and residency programs for students from Appalachia, while also providing an array of health services for area residents. I am also proud to have helped fund healthcare teaching facilities at Morehead State University and Union College. Along with the growth of the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Pikeville, we are creating a vibrant health network in our region that focuses on high quality care, wellness and prevention.
One of my proudest achievements is the establishment of the Marty Driesler Lethal Cancers Project at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center. Named in honor of my former Chief of Staff, who died in 2004 after a three-year battle with lung cancer, this first-of-its-kind healthcare initiative increased the early detection of cancer and improved survival rates for people with deadly cancers. Since 2001, I have secured tens of millions for equipment, construction, and other improvements for hospitals, healthcare facilities and wellness programs throughout southern and eastern Kentucky.
Today, one of the greatest challenges we face in healthcare policy remains the disastrous Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This law was passed in 2010 under the guise of lowering healthcare costs, but has only created more regulations, taxes, and fees, driving up premiums and deductibles. In fact, the average Kentuckian saw premiums increased by as much as 25% in 2017 and 19% in 2018. This has placed a terrible strain on working families seeking care, on doctors treating patients, and on states which are forced to foot the bill for much of the cost. Healthcare costs have risen much faster than expected in recent years and this has made it harder for people, especially in southern and eastern Kentucky, to access and pay for quality care.
I remain committed to commonsense, patient-focused reforms that address the high costs of care, including tort reform and greater competition in the insurance marketplace. I support healthcare reform that will provide patients with more choice and lower costs so you never have to worry about being turned away by your doctor or having your insurance coverage taken away. I also want to protect the more than 50 million seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on Medicare, and ensure the United States continues to lead the world in cures, drug research, and treatment of disease.
As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will do everything I can to ensure people in our region have access to quality affordable healthcare. Much work remains to achieve this goal, but I am optimistic we can clear these hurdles.