AUCD Legislative News In Brief

November 25, 2013

AUCD Legislative News In Brief
  November 25, 2013   |  Vol. XIII, Issue 46
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Congressional Schedule

Both chambers are in recess for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Senate returns December 9. The House returns December 2.  If you see your Members at holiday parades or events, please use the opportunity to talk to them about issues important to the AUCD network.


The budget conference committee met for a second time on Wednesday, November 13 to hear testimony from Congressional Budget Office director, Douglas Elmendorf, who focused on the currently weak economy and future challenges of increasing health and retirement costs. Although most Members of Congress are in their home districts this week, we have heard that staff of the budget conference will continue to work through the recess. The deadline for agreement on a topline number is December 13, but conferees are hoping to get agreement a week ahead of schedule. According to a recent Washington Post article, the committee will need as much as $100 billion to replace the sequester cuts (over one or two years) and that Sen. Murray and Rep. Ryan are looking for savings in mandatory spending other than health care. AUCD and other disability advocates are following the negotiations closely.

Early Childhood

Building on the idea proposed by President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union Address, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Rep.  George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) have introduced the Strong Start for America's Children Act. The bill would expand high quality early childhood education through grants for states to provide universal and voluntary pre-kindergarten, provide additional funding for Early Head Start to improve the quality of their infant and toddler care, and make statutory changes to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to increase health, safety, and school readiness standards. States applying for the CCDBG funds must prioritize serving areas with significant concentrations of poverty or unemployment or underserved populations like homeless children or children with disabilities. The bill also includes a "Sense of the Senate" provision expressing the importance of early childhood development and recognizing the importance of continued funding for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. For more information, see the bill summary and fact sheet prepared by Senator Harkin's office and watch the video of Senator Harkin's press conference introducing the bill.


On Thursday, November 14 the Senate passed the House-modified version of the Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers who deliver Infants Early (PREEMIE) Reauthorization Act. The bill is now headed to the White House for the President's signature or veto. Once signed, the act will extend existing federal programs aimed at preventing preterm labor and reducing pregnancy-related deaths and infant mortality through FY 2018. However, authorized funding for preterm research will be decreased from $5 million to $1.9 million per year.

Disability Treaty

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held the second hearing on the Disability Treaty on November 21. Secretary of State John Kerry was the first witness to testify, saying, "I still believe what I believed the first time - that ratification of the Disabilities Treaty will advance core American values, expand opportunities for our citizens and businesses, and strengthen American leadership. And I am still convinced that we give up nothing by joining but get everything in return. Our ratification doesn't require a single change to American laws, and it won't add a penny to our budget. But it will provide the hook we need to push other countries to raise their laws and standards for the protection of people with disabilities to the standard we set at home under President George H.W. Bush and Republican Leader Dole when we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act." Other witnesses in support of the treaty included Frances W. West, Worldwide Director of IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Center; and C. Boyden Gray, attorney and former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. Two professors of law, Jeremy Rabkin and Curtis Bradley also testified. The treaty still needs to be approved by the Committee before going to the full Senate for ratification.  There is no date set for committee markup.  For more information, including the witness testimonies and video of the hearing, see the committee website.  

Affordable Care Act

October and November have brought significant attention to the Health Insurance Marketplaces and individual insurance market. Despite well publicized problems with the federal, the state-based websites are showing success in enrollments in both Medicaid and private health insurance and the Department on Health and Human Services continues to report improvements in performance of the federal site.

There has also been a great deal of media coverage on reforms to the individual market for health insurance. The Affordable Care Act includes many provisions intended to improve the scope of coverage and protect consumers, including coverage of essential health benefits like habilitation and protections for people with pre-existing conditions. These reforms were scheduled to take effect January 1, 2014 at which point all health plans must meet the new requirements. This fall, health insurers have been ending plans which do not meet the requirements and creating new plans that comply with the law. Unfortunately, this resulted in thousands of confusing cancellation notices being sent to consumers on the individual market. Intense media attention on these notices and general confusion on how health insurance works has frightened many people into thinking they were losing coverage. 

Some members of Congress and the President have proposed solutions. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced a bill (HR 3350) that would greatly expand the "grandfather" clause in the ACA to allow plans that may not comply with the law to continue to be sold after 2010 indefinitely. AUCD has signed on to a letter opposing the bill. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has explained the problems with the bill and other similar bills that weaken the ACA. The President's much more limited solution allows states to decide whether to allow current grandfathered plans to continue only into 2014. Even with this more limited change, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, American Academy of Actuaries, and America's Health Insurance  Plans (the trade association for health insurers) have expressed strong concerns with this change to ACA policy. Many states have already decided whether they will allow "coverage extensions" (see map from AHIP).

As you prepare for this holiday week, the Washington Post's Wonk blog has provided a guide to surviving Obamacare debates at Thanksgiving.

GAO Report on Combating Autism Act

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last week on the Combating Autism Act programs titled "Federal Autism Activities: Better Data and More Coordination Needed to Help Avoid the Potential for Unnecessary Duplication." During the last reauthorization of CAA in 2011, several members of Congress requested that the GAO investigate and report specifically on "the extent to which federal autism activities are duplicative and the extent to which federal autism activities are coordinated." Overall, the GAO found that most of the autism research projects had the potential to be duplicative, but that the non-research projects were not duplicative. The report also determined that HRSA's training activities (which includes the LEND program) related to autism were not duplicative and that the CDC Learn the Signs. Act Early. Campaign is the only federally funded awareness campaign. The report recommends that HHS improve the usefulness of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee data to enhance coordination of research; and the Departments of Defense, Education, Health & Human Services, and the National Science Foundation improve their coordination of autism research. To view the full report, click here.

50th Anniversary of the DD Act

Last week, the White House hosted a celebration for the 50th Anniversary of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act), originally signed into law by President Kennedy in 1963 as the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963. The event marked a unique opportunity for the intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) community to celebrate the accomplishments of the past, examine current challenges, and look ahead to the future of disability policy. Speakers from the Obama Administration and representatives from several disability organizations, including AUCD, were featured.  Video of the presentations is available on the White House website.


A new report from the National Council on Disability explores the backlog of veterans' benefits claims and proposes solutions. The report, "Clearing the Backlog and Facilitating Benefits for Veterans with Disabilities" includes the voices and experiences of veterans with disabilities as well as input from federal entities and veterans' service organizations like Paralyzed Veterans of America. It has recommendations for the Department of Defense, Congress, and the Veterans Administration to reduce the claims backlog.

AUCD Annual Meeting

Last week, over 700 people participated in the AUCD annual meeting and conference. Participants celebrated the retirement of Dr. George Jesien, learned about promising practices and new research projects, heard from many wonderful speakers on different topics woven into the theme of "promoting inclusion in an increasingly diverse world."  For a list of speakers, pictures, and any handouts, see AUCD's event website.  For those of you who visited Members of Congress, please provide feedback to legislative affairs staff at [email protected] and [email protected].

New from the AUCD legislative staff: 7 Reasons Why You Are Absolutely Required to Educate Policymakers.

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

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