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Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
 Issue 208 - August 20, 2019
Friends & Colleagues,

It never hurts to have friends in high places. Fortunately for the UNLV School of Medicine, U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is a true believer in the UNLV brand of academic medicine, where education, research and clinical care are combined to provide the best possible medical experience. In July, the senator helped shine a spotlight on the importance of the medical school in the community by hosting a round table discussion with medical experts at our Shadow Lane Campus. The subject? The high cost of prescription drugs. Last year, Sen. Cortez Masto toured the UNLV Medicine Ackerman Center and its fundraising arm, the Grant a Gift Autism Foundation. She was impressed with what she saw: "I will continue to fight in Congress to support the critical work that happens here and to make sure we're doing everything we can for individuals with autism and their families." Today, in interview fashion, we feature some of the senator's thoughts on important healthcare issues, thinking that may well help us transform medical care in Southern Nevada. 
Barbara signature, first name only
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto: Friend of UNLV School of Medicine
Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson presents U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto with a honorary UNLV School of Medicine white coat.
How do you think the UNLV School of Medicine will help transform medical care in Southern Nevada?

UNLV School of Medicine is training a new generation of doctors committed to providing high-quality health care to patients in our community. Many of these medical students have strong ties to the Silver State, and their positive impact will be felt in Southern Nevada for years to come. 

What is being done to create more residencies and fellowships in Nevada, which often have much to do with keeping young doctors in a state?

Nevada suffers from one of the worst health care workforce shortages in the country, and we need all hands on deck to address this crisis. That means working together across levels of government, with our universities and the private sector to support and provide opportunities for young doctors in Nevada. We’re actively exploring ways to give hospitals the flexibility to hire more residents above the federal caps. Most solutions will require additional investment by the federal government in new training slots and programs, which is also something I’m looking into. 

What do you see as the best way to ensure that Americans have access to health insurance -- and do not have to worry about being refused for pre-existing conditions? Do you see Nevada as being a leader in this regard?

The best way to ensure access to health insurance is to make it affordable. That means extending the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) subsidies to new families who need them and enhancing them when they don’t go far enough to help families who are already eligible. I’m working on legislation to do just that. We need to defend and strengthen the consumer protections secured in the ACA, including those for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Nevada’s legislature has taken steps to safeguard Nevadans’ health care if Republicans are successful in their efforts to overturn the ACA. Earlier this year, Governor Sisolak signed into law AB170, which guarantees protections for pre-existing conditions for Nevadans enrolled in insurance plans under the state’s authority. And I’m fighting in the Senate on behalf of Nevadans, and all Americans, to ensure the pre-existing conditions protections under the ACA are preserved at the federal level from this Administration’s attempts to sabotage the ACA.  

Among Democrats who hope to become President, there has been much talk about doing away with private health insurance in favor of a government Medicare kind of plan. What is your stand on this topic and why?

Health care is the number one issue in the State of Nevada. Voters in Nevada are going to make up their own minds about which candidate’s approach they want to get behind, but what remains clear is this: Democrats are fighting to defend and strengthen Americans health care; Republicans are trying to sabotage it and rip it away. 

Unfortunately, there have been too many parents not getting children vaccinated because they believe vaccinations cause autism and assorted other problems. There is absolutely no medical justification for this. How can the government better address this growing problem that has resulted in far more cases of measles, chickenpox etc -- diseases once thought to be things of the past because of vaccinations. 

Information is key. We need to educate parents about the danger not vaccinating poses to their children and others. The government has a role to play; the success of anti-smoking campaigns are a perfect example of how we can change unhealthy behaviors and save lives. In fact, the Senate HELP committee recently passed legislation to address high health care costs that included funding for a national vaccine awareness campaign. This issue also underscores just how critical public health funding and infrastructures are. 
You are working to lower prescription drug prices in the U.S. -- Reuters has reported that in Britain the world’s 20 top selling medicines are three times cheaper than in the U.S. What are the challenges to lowering prescription drug prices in the U.S.?

Congress has a role in holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for pricing drugs out of reach for too many Americans. Part of the challenges is the lack of transparency around drug prices. I’ve introduced legislation that would increase transparency and provide Congress with the data we need to address high costs and hold drug companies accountable. We’ve also long struggled with the appropriate balance between a system that prioritizes affordability for patients while also fostering the leading research and development we need to discover more innovative prescription drug treatments. Right now, far too many lifesaving medicines have a price tag that put them out of reach of those who need them. That balance is skewed too far towards rewarding manufacturers; we have to readjust that. We can absolutely bring prices down without jeopardizing innovation – there’s enough money in the system to do that. 

The cost of healthcare continues to rise far faster in the U.S. than in other industrialized nations. What can be done to bring costs under control?

America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. There is no reason we can’t have affordable health care and prescription drugs for hardworking people in this country. There’s a lot we can do to address the high cost of health care. First and foremost, we must protect the gains we’ve made under the Affordable Care Act and also fix some of the problems we’ve seen with it. We can also work to stabilize our health care market for low-income and middle-class families in our rural communities, allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices for struggling seniors, and increase drug price transparency for all Americans.
Your grandfather was an immigrant with a grade school education. Your father became an important figure in the Nevada’s political and business community, becoming a Clark County Commissioner for four terms and president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau for 13 years. You and your sister were the first in your family to go to college. How does your family’s experience affect your work on immigration matters?

My family’s story informs my work because I understand the value immigrants bring to Nevada and the country. I understand that these families are hard-working people whose wish is to build a better life and contribute to their communities. That’s why I’ll continue to stand up when our communities are attacked by this Administration. I recently went to the border for the second time to check on the conditions for migrant children and families. This Administration’s cruel and inhumane treatment of immigrant families is wrong, and I’ll continue to fight to hold them accountable and fix our broken immigration system.
You have been a leader in working to reduce domestic violence and sex trafficking. Could you please describe some of the steps you’ve taken and why you’ve taken on those challenges?

As Nevada’s Attorney General, I fought to protect the rights of domestic violence survivors and human trafficking victims. Their resilience in the face of pain and trauma is so inspiring. It’s motivated my work in the Senate. Today, I’m working to support survivors and provide our law enforcement with the tools they need to bring perpetrators to justice. Last year, I successfully passed bipartisan legislation requiring a study on the connection between domestic violence and traumatic brain injury. In January, I introduced a bipartisan bill to ensure that law enforcement officers get training on recognizing the signs of children who may be at risk of trafficking and other forms of exploitation by expanding the Interdiction for the Protection of Children program. I’ve also introduced two bills, Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, to address the epidemic of missing and murdered Native women, who are often victims of trafficking or domestic violence. And I’ll continue to do everything in my power to combat violence against women and children.  

There are those in the science/medical fields who believe women, first-generation students and minorities are under-represented in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). What can be done to ensure that more young people make careers in STEM?

We know there’s a dearth of women and people of color in the STEM fields. Statistics show that Latinos and African Americans only make up 14 percent of the tech workforce, and women make up just 22 percent. This lack of diversity often means minority perspectives and experiences aren’t taken into account in developing new technologies, and as a result, some of these technologies don’t adequately serve minority consumers. This is a problem for tech users but also for companies’ bottom lines. We need to create opportunities for young girls and children of color to pursue a STEM education. We have to understand that these talented kids are an untapped resource for America’s 21 st  century economy. That’s why I helped introduce bipartisan legislation that would create grants to encourage our young girls in particular to pursue careers in computer science and have supported legislation that would ensure federal STEM efforts reach minorities, women, veterans, and other underserved populations.

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