AUCD Legislative News In Brief

January 25, 2010

Congressional Schedule
The Senate votes today on a judicial nomination and is expected to continue debate on a measure to increase the federal debt limit. The House returns tomorrow to consider a draft bill to provide emergency aid to U.S. survivors of the Haiti earthquake. President Obama is scheduled to give his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will deliver the opposition response after the President's address.

Special Senate Election
State Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) won last Tuesday's special Senate election over State Attorney General Martha Coakley to fill the unexpired term of the late Edward M. Kennedy.  When sworn in, Brown will become the first Republican Senator to be elected from Massachusetts since 1972 and the 41st U.S. Republican Senator, which will cost Democrats in the Senate their filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes and make it more difficult to move health reform forward. It is ironic that a Republican win in Massachusetts could hinder what many believe is the legacy of Kennedy, who held the Senate seat for nearly 47 years.

Health Care Reform
Democratic leaders have spent several days reassessing their strategy for passing health reform after last week's Republican win in Massachusetts, a victory which reduces the Senate Democratic Caucus membership to 59.  Although they know they must pass some type of health reform legislation by the end of the current Congress, several Democratic Senators are calling for a break from the subject to focus instead on legislation to create jobs and raise wages.

Although they have yet to come up with a strategy for moving health reform forward, Democrats are considering several options, each with its own political consequences. Most members have said they do not want to abandon their efforts, but have considered starting from scratch with a scaled-back bill. However, that is a feat easier said than done, as even the most popular provisions of the bill must be coupled with less-popular provisions to make them work long-term. For example, the most popular provision is probably the ban on denying coverage based on preexisting conditions. But policymakers agree that such a ban will not work without a law requiring that all Americans carry health insurance to prevent premiums from skyrocketing. Leaders could try to move a compromise plan through both the House and Senate before Brown takes office, but most Democrats have called for votes to be suspended until Brown is seated.  Finally, the House could pass the Senate's health reform bill as is and introduce a corrections bill through reconciliation that would incorporate House and Senate negotiations. But House leaders are reluctant to sacrifice provisions they believe are important in order to accept the Senate bill in its present form. Most agree that, whatever path health reform takes, it is unlikely to become a bipartisan effort.

Meanwhile, AUCD has continued to push for provisions of health reform that are important to people with disabilities. A number of aging and disability groups have planned a national call in day for health reform tomorrow, Jan. 26, to remind Congressional members how important comprehensive, meaningful reform is to the aging and disability communities. Visit AUCD's action center for more information. AUCD also sent a letter to House and Senate Democratic leaders urging them to include in a final bill certain provisions contained in the House version that would provide for training initiatives on autism to expand the capacity of states to better detect and provide evidence-based services to individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

Health Reform Resources
The Kaiser Family Foundation has issued two reports examining health reform and the prospective creation of a national high-risk pool insurance program. Such a program would offer health coverage to otherwise uninsurable individuals during the interim period between the enactment of legislation and the implementation of broader health care reform. State High-Risk Pools: An Overview and Issues for Structuring Interim High-Risk Pools, discuss the structure, operation, benefits and challenges of state high-risk pool programs and review the key issues involved in implementing a temporary national high-risk pool as part of health reform.  The Foundation has also prepared an updated side-by-side comparison of the final House and Senate health reform bills.

Proposed Entitlement Commission
Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH), the majority and minority leaders of the Senate Budget Committee, are pressing for legislation that would create a commission to make recommendations to alter entitlement programs as a way to lower the federal deficit.  President Obama announced over the weekend that he would support such legislation, which would require Congress to examine entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. This type of entitlement commission would be of great concern to the disability community, as its primary purpose is to recommend savings (i.e. cuts) in major entitlement programs that benefit people with disabilities.

Medicaid Home and Community-Based Service Programs
The Kaiser Family Foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured recently issued a report summarizing the main trends to emerge from the latest (2006) expenditures and participant data for the three main Medicaid Home and Community-Based Service programs. Those programs include the optional 1915(c) HCBS waivers, the mandatory home health benefit and the optional state plan personal care services benefit.

The National Council on Disability (NCD) has released a report entitled The State of Housing in America in the 21st Century: A Disability Perspective. The report provides recommendations to improve housing opportunities for people with disabilities. The research contained in the report presents a comprehensive overview of the state of housing in the twenty-first century, and answers important questions about the current housing needs and options for people with disabilities living in the United States.