Disability Policy News In Brief

February 8, 2016

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February 8, 2016   |   Vol. XV, Issue 58
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The President is expected to submit his budget request for the Fiscal Year 2017 to Congress tomorrow, February 9. Watch for details in next week's In Brief.           



On January 29, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Health and Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Task Forces, of which AUCD is a member, provided recommendations to the Senate Finance Committee regarding policy options to improve care for people with chronic health conditions in Medicare. AUCD and 21 other organizations contributed content and endorsed the letter, which highlighted the importance of improving care in these areas.

Rehabilitation/Research/FDA Bills

Tomorrow, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will hold a markup of several health-related bills:  S.1622, the "FDA Device Accountability Act of 2015"; S.2030, the "Advancing Targeted Therapies for Rare Diseases Act of 2015"; S.849, the "Advancing Research for Neurological Diseases Act of 2015"; S.2014, the "Next Generation Researchers Act"; S.800, the "Enhancing the Stature and Visibility of Medical Rehabilitation Research at the NIH Act"; the "Preventing Superbugs and Protecting Patients Act"; and legislation on improving health information technology. One of the bills being marked up, the Enhancing the Stature and Visibility of Medical Rehabilitation Research at NIH Act (S. 800) aims to strengthen rehabilitation science at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This bill was introduced by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and has a companion bill (H.R. 1469) that was introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) and was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee. AUCD will continue to monitor the progress of these bills.

Zika Virus

The President's Budget will include $1.8 billion in emergency funding to respond to and prevent the spread of Zika virus.  Of the total amount, $828 million would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for prevention and treatment, including increased research into the link between the virus and the birth defect microcephaly; $250 million to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services for a temporary FMAP increase for Puerto Rico; $200 million to develop vaccines and diagnostic tests; $210 million to establish a new fund for maternal and child health services; $335 million for USAID investments; and $41 million for the State Department. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a hearing on the Zika virus next week. For more information, see the CDC's website: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html.

ACA Enrollment

12.7 million individuals signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act during the 2016 enrollment period, which ended on February 1. The enrollment numbers, which were announced on February 4, meet the Obama Administration's goal of between 11 million and 14.7 million enrollees for this year's sign-up period, but do not constitute a significant increase from the number of individuals who enrolled through the Affordable Care Act in 2015 (11.7 million). Following the end of the 2016 enrollment period, the rate of individuals without health insurance now stands at 9 percent, a record low.


At a recent White House event, the Obama administration announced a pilot program which would allow states to automatically certify students for free or reduced-price school meals by using Medicaid data. "Many children who are eligible for free and reduced lunch meals aren't enrolled in the program - this is going to help ensure that they receive the benefits, too," said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The event was focused on strategies to prevent child hunger.


On Wednesday, the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee of House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing on "Next Steps for K-12 Education: Implementing the Promise to Restore State and Local Control."  The subcommittee is chaired by Todd Rokita (R-IN).

Last week, the House Education and Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), held a hearing entitled Expanding Educational Opportunity through School Choice. The majority of witnesses highlighted successful school choice programs.  However, one witness, Dr. Luis Huerta, Columbia University Associate Professor of Education and Policy, testified that the evidence suggesting that vouchers improve academic achievement are uncertain and should be used with caution. Also uncertain, he said, is the quality of services provided to students with disabilities and other minorities.  In his opening statement, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Ranking Minority Member, stated that there is no evidence that choice programs improve school achievement and further that school choice programs divert public funds from public schools. Watch the archived hearing on the committee website.

Criminal Justice Reform

Congressional leaders hope to schedule a vote soon on comprehensive reforms to prison sentencing rules and the housing of inmates. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123) reduces several mandatory minimum sentences in federal prisons, where nearly 50 percent of inmates have a mental illness or other form of disability. The bill would save spending on the penal system, reduce thousands of prisoners' jail terms and expand access to programs that help inmates prepare for reentry into society. President Obama hopes to use some of the expected savings to increase mental health resources in federal prisons and create a system to identify and properly treat inmates with mental illnesses.

In related news, Indiana has banned authorities in its state prisons from placing inmates with mental illnesses in solitary confinement. The decision also establishes "minimum adequate treatment" standards as to how prisoners with mental illnesses (who make up 20% of all inmates in Indiana state prisons) should be treated. These include the provision of individualized treatment plans and recurring evaluations of inmates' care every 90 days. Indiana's elimination of solitary confinement follows President Obama's recent executive actions, which did the same for juvenile offenders in federal prisons and sought to advance mental health treatment by hiring more psychological staff.

Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All                   

This week Liz Weintraub, AUCD's advocacy specialist and host of Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All, interviews Jay Ruderman, the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, about Jewish Disability Awareness Month and how the principles of the ADA can be applied to religious institutions more effectively. In case you missed last week's edition, Liz interviewed Kruti Acharya (LEND Director at the Department of Disability and Human Development - University of Illinois) on the importance of including family members and self-advocates in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (LEND) programs.

Editor's note:

The AUCD office will be closed on Monday, February 15 in observance of President's day. Look for the next edition of In Brief on February 22, 2016


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For more policy news, follow Kim on Twitter at @kmusheno

For definitions of terms used in In Brief, please see AUCD's Glossary of Legislative Terms 

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