AUCD Legislative News In Brief

May 17, 2010

Budget and Appropriations
The Coalition on Health Funding, of which AUCD is a member, has been meeting with House and Senate appropriators for the past two weeks urging them to provide adequate funding for public health programs to support the new health care reform law.  Several appropriations staff also confirmed that it is very unlikely that Congress will be able to agree on a budget resolution. Instead, the appropriations process will move forward by "deeming" the discretionary cap, most likely as part of the supplemental spending package now under consideration. The cap will probably not exceed the President's budget request. Staff also indicated that the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill may be one of the last bills to be considered and may end up as part of a post-election omnibus spending bill.

The White House sent a letter Thursday endorsing a proposal from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) to provide $23 billion to stave off the loss of as many as 300,000 education jobs at a time when state budgets are stretched thin and funds from the economic stimulus package are running out. Harkin's bill, the Keep Our Educators Working Act (S. 3206), was created by separating a teacher's jobs provision from a broader House jobs bill (HR 4812). The job fund would be modeled after the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund established in the economic stimulus law, with funding disbursement based on the same formula. Harkin said he plans to introduce the measure as an amendment to the $58.8 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill (HR 4899) when that measure come up on the Senate floor. Opponents of the measure characterize it as yet another bailout that will further contribute to the deficit.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), focusing on programs that support student health, physical education and well-being. Special Olympics chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver will testify. The House Education and Labor Committee will hold an ESEA hearing Wednesday, focusing on successful school turnaround. Witnesses have not yet been announced.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote later this week on the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (H.R. 4213), which includes a six-month extension to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) temporary increase in the federal share of Medicaid spending (known as the FMAP).  The ARRA increase expires on December 31, 2010.  Without this increase, states are likely to have to make significant cuts to their Medicaid programs for the 2011 fiscal year.

The U.S. Department of Labor last week unveiled a new online tool to help employers ensure their employment policies and practices do not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. The
Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor  helps employers determine which federal disability nondiscrimination laws apply to their business and their responsibilities under those laws. The advisor tool asks users to answer questions about the business, size of staff, and whether the business receives federal financial assistance. Based on the responses provided, the advisor then generates a customized list of federal disability nondiscrimination laws that likely apply, along with easy-to-understand information about employers' responsibilities. The advisor also can help employees, job applicants, and people applying for or participating in federally funded programs learn more about their rights under employment laws. The advisor also includes a Guide on Employing People with Disabilities that outlines resources available to help employers comply with disability nondiscrimination laws.

The Disability Nondiscrimination Law Advisor is part of a series of Employment Laws Assistance for workers and small businesses, or "elaws," developed by the Labor Department's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, in coordination with other department agencies, to help employers and employees understand federal employment laws.

Health Reform Information
Families USA reported today that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released three regulations for public comment related to health care reform:

  1. Dependent Coverage of Children To Age 26: Before health reform, young adults could not remain on their families' health insurance plans. Now coverage has been extended to the age of 26, which will be helpful for those who are having trouble finding or affording health coverage. These interim final rules explain at what point young adults will be able to remain on their parents' plans. If they have already dropped off their parents' plans by the time the law goes into effect, plans will provide a special opportunity for them to rejoin. There will also be a special window for parents to rejoin a plan or to join a different plan that offers better dependent coverage. Comments are due August 11, 2010 and the rules go into effect September 23, 2010.
  2. Web Portal: This new HHS-run website will show consumers the health insurance options that exist in their state, including information about available private insurance policies, premium prices, and information about Medicaid and CHIP eligibility. The Web portal will be launched July 1, 2010, but HHS plans to add more to the site, such as performance ratings for health plans, by October 2010. Although the majority of the rule discusses definitions and HHS's authority to collect needed information from insurers, the preamble to the rule describes HHS's innovative plans for the site. HHS encourages consumers to provide comments as to what they would find most useful on the site. Comments are due June 4, 2010.
  3. Reinsurance for Early Retirees: This helps employers pay the cost of high claims for early retirees by setting up a government program that reimburses participating plans up to a certain amount. Comments are due June 4, 2010.