Congressman Engel Floor Statement on Asthma Awareness Month

Mr. Speaker: May is Asthma Awareness Month. As co-chair of the Congressional Asthma and Allergy Caucus and a senior member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Health Subcommittee, I want to take this opportunity to bring attention to asthma’s prevalence in the United States, as well as what must be done to control its growth.

Asthma is one of the most serious chronic diseases in the U.S., affecting almost 26 million Americans and nearly 7 million children. It can cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and even death.

In my home state of New York, asthma takes a particularly heavy toll – especially in my hometown of the Bronx. About 390,000 children and 1.4 million adults in New York have asthma. The total cost of asthma-related hospitalizations in New York in 2007 was a staggering $535 million. The Bronx, where I was born and raised and am proud to represent part of, has one of the highest rates of asthma-related emergency room visits in all of New York.

These statistics are even more alarming when looking specifically at minority and low-income populations. Children from poor households are twice as likely as their more affluent peers to be diagnosed with asthma. In addition, asthma rates among African American children increased by 50 percent between 2001 and 2009.

Asthma’s prevalence costs children and adults dearly with regard to quality of life. However, it carries an economic cost as well. The direct medical costs of asthma treatment, coupled with absences from work and school, result in losses of more than $56 billion annually. Children additionally suffer academically, as asthma causes about 14 million student absences each year.

While asthma can be treated and managed, it is too often not managed properly. Asthma sufferers require regular check-ups, asthma management plans, and access to both maintenance and fast acting inhalers. People with persistent asthma must be tested for allergies so they can learn what triggers might cause an asthma attack. Furthermore, environmental triggers in homes and schools, such as mold, dust, animal dander, pests, toxic chemicals, and excessive moisture must be eliminated.

Congress must also work to reduce asthma rates. A little over five years ago, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act, which prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, like asthma. While this was a terrific stride, more efforts are needed here in Washington.

I have been a strong supporter of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Asthma Control Program, which helps states implement systems to monitor and treat asthma. This Program’s work has resulted in a $23.1 billion decline in asthma health care costs since 2001. In addition, deaths related to asthma have dropped by 24 percent since the Program’s inception in 1999. Earlier this year, I led a letter asking appropriators to fund the National Asthma Control Program at $30.6 million in Fiscal Year 2016.

While financial support for this Program is vital, we cannot rely on funding alone to solve the problems that asthma causes. We must continue to increase awareness of preventative measures to help people manage their disease. In addition, we must work collaboratively across sectors to address the burden that asthma creates.

I look forward to continuing to work to ensure that adults and children across the United States can live healthier and more successful lives.