AUCD Legislative News InBrief

September 24, 2007

Budget and Appropriations

With the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year nearing and lawmakers nowhere near completion of the 12 annual appropriations bills, the House and Senate this week will consider a continuing resolution to fund government programs through Nov. 16. AUCD staff met with Marc Garufi, Chief of the Public Health Branch at the Office on Management and Budget on Friday, along with other members of the Coalition for Health Funding.  Garufi predicted that the Congress would be in session until sometime in December and that most of the appropriations bills will be wrapped up in an omnibus package.  He also said that the delay in finalizing the FY 08 appropriations is once again delaying work on the FY 09 process, but that the President's FY 09 budget would be similar to the FY 08 budget is terms of trying to keep non-defense discretionary spending down.

 

SCHIP

House and Senate negotiators reached bipartisan agreement on Friday afternoon on legislation to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).  At the same time, President Bush again threatened to veto the bill, stating that the current bill represents "an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American."  The compromise bill provides an additional $35 billion to the program allowing it to increase total enrollment to 10 million children, from 6.6 million children currently covered.  The expansion would be paid for by a 61-cent increase in the federal tax on cigarettes, to $1 a pack.  The compromise bill largely resembles the legislation passed earlier by the Senate, and rejects the original House-passed version which would have taken funding to $75 billion and paid for the new spending by cutting subsidies for private Medicare managed-care plans.  The compromise bill also eliminates several important Medicare reforms sought by the disability community.

 

AUCD and other disability advocates worked very hard during the course of the week to urge House and Senate leaders to retain certain provisions in the House bill that help people with disabilities, including Sec. 814, a provision that places a moratorium on two proposed rules that represent more than $5 billion in cuts to Medicaid.  One proposed rule would severely restrict states' use of the Medicaid Rehabilitation Option.  The other would restrict the use of Medicaid reimbursement in schools for transportation, administrative, and related services.  AUCD members in targeted states helped to make phone calls and gather signatures for state coalition letters to key policymakers during the negotiations. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) sent out a strong statement on Friday urging the Congress to prevent the cuts to Medicaid.  Rep. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) also authored a letter to Senate Committee leaders Baucus (D-MT) and Grassley (R-IA) signed by 21 Senators with the same message.  AUCD has not seen the final compromised bill language.  It is unclear yet whether the moratorium on proposed Medicaid rules was included or not.    

 

The House is set to vote on the bill on Tuesday, and the Senate is expected to vote on the measure by Thursday.  It is unclear whether the House and Senate have enough votes to override a presidential veto.  In the case of a presidential veto, the most likely scenario is that the program will be extended by Congress while they continue to work on a bill that the President will agree to sign.

 

Community Choices Act

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), will hold a hearing tomorrow entitled Home and Community Based Care: Expanding Options for Long Term Care.  Senator Harkin (D-IA) will testify followed by a second panel that includes Bob Liston (Director, Montana Fair Housing), Mitchell La Plante (University of California), Patrick Flood (Deputy Secretary, Vermont Agency of Human Services), and Kevin Concannon (Director, Iowa Department of Human Services).

 

ADA Restoration Act

AUCD is working with a broad coalition to generate co-sponsors of the ADA Restoration Act House (H.R. 3195).  AUCD is pleased to report that 202 bipartisan Members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors, bringing the effort closer to the goal of 218, the number that would ensure its passage if brought to the floor for a vote.  Visitors the AUCD's Action Center may view the list of co-sponsors http://capwiz.com/aucd/issues/bills/?bill=10102496 and take action by emailing or calling their Representatives.  For additional information or support materials, see http://www.aucd.org/template/page.cfm?id=309.

 

Autism

AUCD met with staff of several Members of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee over the past two weeks to urge panel members to co-sponsor the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act (H.R. 1881) and to hold a hearing on the issue of services for families with autism.  While committee Members were supportive, the Committee's agenda is crowded with "must-pass" bills, such as SCHIP, FDA reauthorization and SAMSHA, before adjournment.  To date, there are 67 bipartisan co-sponsors of the House bill.  More support is needed to bring the bill to the attention of Committee leadership this year.  On the Senate side, there are only11 co-sponsors of the companion bill (S. 843) and no date scheduled for a markup or hearing.

 

HHS Broadcast on Caregivers

The Department of Health and Human Services and CMS hosted a national satellite broadcast on supporting caregivers across the lifespan.  This broadcast was the first in a series initiated by the New Freedom Initiative Subcommittee on Caregiving.  To view an archive of the broadcast, go to the following link: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/Partnerships/20_CaregiverBroadcast.asp   Scroll to the bottom of the page to: NIH Live Video Webcast.

 

Emergency Management

The CCD Emergency Preparedness Task Force met with staff of the Senate Special Committee on Aging to discuss the "Safeguarding our Seniors Act of 2007" (see also Sept. 17 In Brief).  CCD provided input into the draft bill to ensure that people with functional disabilities regardless of age are included in its protections.

 

Vocational Rehabilitation

The CCD Employment and Training Task Force has now completed detailed and expansive recommendations on the draft Senate bill to reauthorize the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, Title IV of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  AUCD and other advocates will attend a meeting with Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee staff later this week where these recommendations will be presented.  It is still unclear whether the Senate will take up the entire WIA bill this year or try to separate and pass the Rehabilitation Act separately.  The House of Representatives has not yet introduced a bill to reauthorize WIA or the Rehabilitation Act.  For information about the CCD recommendations or to provide input, please contact David Morrissey, AUCD Policy Fellow, at (301) 588-8252 or dmorrissey@aucd.org.

 

Mental Health Parity

Last Tuesday the Senate passed the Mental Health Party Act (S. 558) by unanimous consent after Senator DeMint (R-SC) released a hold on the bill.  On Wednesday, a Ways and Means Subcommittee approved it version (H.R. 1424) after rejecting a proposed amendment that would make it more like the Senate version.  The bill is expected to be taken up by the full Committee soon.  The bill must also be approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has not yet scheduled a markup.  The House bill has 270 co-sponsors.   Both bills require equality in deductibles and co-payments, for example, if health plans include treatment for both physical and mental health issues. But there are a number of differences with backers of the House bill saying that measure provides more parity. For example, the House bill requires coverage for treatment by out-of-network doctors. The Senate bill does not mandate out-of-network mental health coverage if a health plan has out-of-network coverage for medical and surgical benefits for physical problems.  Originally, that Senate bill called for pre-emption of state parity laws in treatment limitations and financial requirements, causing a rift between supporters of the House and Senate bills. The Senate bill dropped that provision.