AUCD Legislative News InBrief

December 3, 2007


The House plans to leave for the year by the end of the coming week, while the Senate is expected to remain in session for an additional week.  However, Congress has not completed 11 of 12 annual appropriations bills, including the Labor, Health and Human services bill that funds most programs that affect people with disabilities and families.  On Friday, appropriators announced that they had completed work on a large omnibus bill that wraps all 11 remaining bills together in one large funding bill.  According to press reports, the bill would cut in half the increase for the L-HHS-ED bill that was vetoed by the President the week of November 12.  The contents of the omnibus bill have not been made public and AUCD does not yet have any information about how network programs would fare in the plan. The President is against ANY increases over the funding level he proposed in his budget early in the year.  Also mixed up in the complicated political negotiations is supplemental war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.  Some Members of Congress are pushing to have the war funding tied to a timeline for withdrawal of troops, a policy opposed by the White House.  AUCD will continue to watch the negotiations closely and provide information about funding levels as soon as they become available. Please see previous issues of In Brief on the AUCD website for background information.



Democratic leaders of the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance committees will meet this week to markup Medicare legislation that would temporarily stop a 10 percent pay cut for physicians from going into effect Jan. 1.  Disability advocates are working to include an amendment that would prevent two new Rules to go into effect regarding the Medicaid Rehabilitation Option and reimbursement for school-based administrative costs. This moratorium was originally included in the vetoed SCHIP bill.  The Medicare package might become part of an omnibus spending bill expected on the House floor this week, or it could move separately with an alternative minimum tax bill.  Lawmakers also could put together a retroactive physicians' patch early next year.


House leaders also are putting together stopgap funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that will likely extend until October of 2008.  The SCHIP extension also could be a part of the omnibus spending bill (see above) or it could move separately. House Republicans who have opposed a bipartisan bill to add $35 billion to SCHIP say they would welcome an extension that provides at least $1.6 billion in new funds to cover expected shortfalls. House Democratic leaders are considering another vote to override President Bush's expected veto of an SCHIP bill that was sent to his desk earlier in the month. The House this Fall failed to attract the two-thirds majority needed to override Bush's veto of a similar bill and it is unlikely to succeed this time.



Progress on reauthorization of No Child Left behind has stopped for this session of Congress.  While the prospects of reauthorization next year are slim given the political dynamics, continued efforts will be needed to educate members of Congress about recommendations from the disability community.  Passage of the Higher Education Act is still expected, perhaps even before the end of the year if time permits.  There is broad bipartisan support for the bills which have passed the House and Senate.          


Mental Health Parity

AUCD signed on to a coalition letter with over 100 other organizations asking Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) to work with committee chairs and co-sponsors to pass mental health parity before the end of the year.  The Senate unanimously passed a bill (S.558) in September and the House bill (H.R. 1424) has been approved by three committees with jurisdiction.  Sticking points include the House provision of using the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and a $4 billion offset needed to comply with pay/go budget rules. The cost is associated with fewer payroll taxes because the enhanced benefits cost more and are not taxed. 

Newborn Screening
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a bill on Nov. 14 intended to raise awareness about newborn screening for certain disorders and conditions. The Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act (S. 1858) passed by voice vote.   The legislation authorizes $15 million in FY08 for education efforts for parents and to establish coordinated follow-up care. The measure also authorizes $5 million for an evaluation of the effectiveness of newborn screening, $1 million for the advisory panel that will create guidelines for screening and $2.5 million for creation of an online clearinghouse on newborn screening information. Three co-sponsors of the legislation, Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), also proposed similar legislation earlier this year. They joined with HELP Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA), to introduce S. 1858 in July. While the bills are similar, the later bill establishes a Hunter Kelly Newborn Screening Research program at the National Institutes of Health. The program would carry out and coordinate research on developing and testing new screening technologies as well as experimental treatments for newborns with certain conditions.  A bill similar to Dodd, Clinton and Hatch's first bill has been introduced in the House, but a compromise version has not been proposed.


Veterans Health
The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee passed a bill (S. 2162) that would authorize $11 million toward research into Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and substance abuse and a pilot program for family services for veterans who suffer from the conditions. The bill would authorize $2 million for each of FY08, FY09, FY10 and FY11 to fund research on PTSD and substance abuse for veterans.


Legislative Affairs Committee

The AUCD Legislative Affairs Committee will meet by phone tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. ET.  The agenda and phone number was emailed to committee members today.  Email Kim Musheno for more information.