Monday, December 21, 2009

Hill Update: Senate Health Care Reform Legislation

The U.S. Senate is poised to pass a historic health care reform bill. This legislation has been hotly debated with both pro and con voices speaking on issues of concern in the bill. As you all know there were several very important issues that advocates for people with disabilities were working on during this very long process. We just received an update from the Disability Policy Collaborative in DC and wanted to share the information with you our readers.

Here is the update:

Health Reform

On Saturday, December 19, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) reached agreement on a package of amendments to the Senate health reform bill. The agreement was reached after several days of debate and during a major snowstorm that blanketed Washington with over two feet of snow. The agreement, among other things, addresses Nelson's concerns regarding funding of abortions and Nebraska's Medicaid payments, thereby clearing the way for consideration of those and other revisions to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation released an estimate of the costs of the revised bill indicating that the package of revisions raises the cost of the bill by $10 billion over a decade, but also increases revenues by $12 billion, effectively lowering the deficit by an added $2 billion over the next decade. The revised package also includes an added $10 billion to build community health centers and increase the number of doctors in medically underserved regions, bringing the total cost to $871 billion.

The $871 billion bill includes the following provisions which are of major importance to people with disabilities:
· Major insurance market reforms including elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions and annual and lifetime caps;
· Coverage of rehabilitation and habilitation services and devices in the essential benefits package for the new insurance Exchange;
· An expansion of Medicaid eligibility up to 133% of the federal poverty level;
· The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act which will establish a new nation wide long term services insurance program that will help individuals and their families meet their needs without needing to be impoverished;
· The Community First Choice (CFC) Medicaid option which will make comprehensive community-based services available to Medicaid beneficiaries in states which choose the option (it would begin on Oct 1, 2010 with no sunset date); and
· A requirement for the development of standards for accessible diagnostic and other medical equipment.

Inclusion of the CLASS Act was a great victory for the disabiliy community. It had been uncertain in the last week as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) worked to ensure the 60th vote from Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE). Nelson had mentioned the CLASS Act as a concern to him, but in the end, the CLASS Act was kept in.

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