Monday, December 13, 2004

AUCD Legislative News In Brief

Dec. 13, 2004
Vol. IV, Issue 52

Congressional Schedule
The House of Representatives adjourned on December 7 and the Senate on December 8 officially putting a close to the 108th Congress. The first session of the 109th Congress begins on January 4, 2005. The 108th Congress left a large stack of unfinished business for the new Congress, including the Family Opportunity Act, Money Follows the Person Demonstration, and the Lifespan Respite Care Act; and reauthorizations for TANF, the Higher Education Act, Head Start, and the Transportation Act.

Elections
The Dec. 4 run-offs for open seats in Louisiana finally brought this year’s election year to a close. Democrat Charlie Melancon won in the 3rd District and Republican Charles Boustany Jr. won the 7th District race. The race finalized a three-seat net gain in the House for the Republican majority. When the 109th Congress convenes, the makeup of the House will be 232 Republicans, 202 Democrats and one Independent. The Senate will be 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one Independent.

Medicaid
In November, Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Patty Murray (D-WA) organized a letter to President Bush urging him not to pursue a policy of block granting or establishing arbitrary caps on the Medicaid program. To date, the letter has been signed by 45 Senators—Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) and all returning Democratic Senators. However, we need at least 51 Senators to make this commitment to fend off efforts to cap and cut Medicaid. We need these Senators to promise that they will oppose any budget resolution or budget reconciliation bill that caps and cuts Medicaid. Senators will likely be under tremendous pressure to go along with the President’s proposal. During the holiday recess, AUCD members and supporters are encouraged to contact your Senators with the message that Medicaid is a critical support for people with disabilities as well as an economic engine that generates crucial financial benefits for states.

Medicare
AUCD staff attended a celebration of the one year anniversary of the passage of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) held at the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services on Dec. 9. Secretary Tommy Thompson who presided over the celebration noted that nearly 6 million beneficiaries have signed up for the Medicare-approved drug discount card. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan was also present. He stated that, "as a result of our outreach efforts, we're helping more beneficiaries faster than ever -- over 1.7 million Medicare beneficiaries have enrolled in low-income assistance in just six months.” The Medicare-approved drug discount cards became available on June 1. On the same day, however, the General Accounting Office (GAO) published a report indicating that the 1-800-Medicare help line was providing inaccurate information at least 30% of the time and no information 10% of the time. For more information about the new Medicare law, see the CMS website or the Medicare information page set up for consumers at Families USA.

State Budgets
At least 22 states now project shortfalls averaging roughly 6 percent to 7.5 percent of their general fund spending, according to a new report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: http://www.cbpp.org/12-8-04sfp.pdf. The combined deficit is approximately $25 billion to $30 billion. When state legislatures convene in early 2005 to write their budgets for the 2005-06 fiscal year, many will consider cutting services or raising new revenues in order to bring their budgets into balance, the report says. The National Conference of State Legislatures released “State Budget Update: November 2004”, the results of a 50-state survey of state legislative fiscal officers. The report, which can be accessed at http://www.ncsl.org/print/fiscal/sbu2005-0411.pdf notes that almost every state cited Medicaid concerns among their top three fiscal issues to be addressed in the FY 2005 legislative sessions.

HHS Secretary
President Bush chose Environmental Protection Agency chief Michael Leavitt today to be secretary of Health and Human Services. The HHS secretary oversees Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Indian Health Service. The agency has a budget of more than $500 billion and 67,000 employees. Leavitt, Utah's governor before joining the Bush administration in late 2003, would succeed Tommy Thompson, who recently resigned. As recently as last week, Dr. Mark McClellan, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, had been rumored to have the inside track for the HHS job.

Disability Policy Seminar
“Partnership for Empowerment,” the annual Disability Policy Seminar sponsored by AUCD, The Arc, UCP, AAMR, NACDD will be held on February 28 through March 2, 2005 at the Renaissance Hotel Washington, DC. See Save the Date flyer and watch for a preliminary program and registration materials coming soon. Staff will meet with representatives of AAMR, The Arc and the NACDD today to determine the final program.

AUCD · 1010 Wayne Ave, Suite 920 · Silver Spring, MD 20910 · 301-588-8252 · http://www.aucd.org/

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