FOA Update: House And Senate Committees Refuse To Add Family Opportunity Act To Budget And Tax Bill
As described in previous NAMI E-News, the Family Opportunity Act (S 2274/HR 4825) is intended to restore hope for families of children with severe disabilities, including the parents of children with serious brain disorders. The bill would allow states to set up Medicaid buy-in programs for families with children with severe disabilities so that parents would not be forced to relinquish custody of their children or declare bankruptcy in order to establish eligibility for Medicaid in order to access coverage for treatment services. More information on S 2744 and HR 4825 can be found at:
Senate Finance Committee Action
The Senate Finance Committee on September 28 rejected an amendment offered by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to add the Family Opportunity Act to the "New Markets Initiative" bill - unrelated tax legislation that Congressional leaders and the President are pushing for. NAMI is extremely disappointed that several cosponsors of the Family Opportunity Act voted against Senator Grassley's amendment. Senate cosponsors of S 2274 who voted against the Grassley amendment include: Senators Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Fred Thompson (R-TN), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). NAMI advocates from these states are encouraged to contact these senators' offices to encourage them to live up to their previous support for the FOA and support any future efforts by Senator Grassley to push for a vote on the bill this year. In addition, NAMI advocates are urged to thank Senator Grassley for his courageous efforts for moving FOA forward.
House Commerce Committee Action
On September 26, the House Commerce Committee reported out legislation that adds back $21 billion previously cut from the Medicare and Medicaid programs as part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act (BBA). FOA sponsors, including Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Tom Barrett (D-WI) attempted to add HR 4825 to this bill but were unsuccessful.
It is widely expected that these adjustments to the 1997 BBA law, which include payments to hospitals and providers, will pass Congress before adjournment. As was the case in the Senate Finance Committee, preliminary (unofficial) budget estimates of the projected cost of the FOA played a key role in keeping the bill from moving forward. Despite the fact that the federal government is running record budget surpluses, Congress is still constrained by projections of the cost of changes to entitlement programs, such as Medicaid, when passing legislation such as FOA. Unfortunately, controversy regarding current eligibility standards and covered services for children under Medicaid resulted in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) putting forward an inflated estimate about the expected cost of state programs that would allow families to purchase Medicaid coverage for a child with a severe disability. While the bill's sponsors continue to work problems associated with these cost estimates, it is critically important that all members of Congress - especially House and Senate leaders and the White House hear from families of children with severe disabilities about the importance of passing FOA this year.
In addition to considering the FOA, the House Commerce Committee also included in the Balance Budget Act Relief Act (HR 5291) a number of provisions of concern to NAMI. Among these is a study on the feasibility of parity for outpatient visit costs for certain low-income Medicare beneficiaries (also known as QMB-Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries). The QMB program helps low-income Medicare beneficiaries by paying Medicare premiums, deductibles and coinsurance. Eligibility varies from state to state, however, if an individual is a Medicare beneficiary with limited income and resources not more than $4000 for one person or $6000 for a couple, than that individual usually qualifies. This amendment was offered by Representative Greenwood (R-PA).
In addition, the House BBA Relief bill contains a provision that would delay a federal recapture from states of unspent childrens health insurance funds. Several states have been slow to spend their allotment of federal funds under the Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This provision is meant to avoid penalizing states that have been slow to spend federal CHIP funds by enrolling eligible uninsured children. The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees are expected to take up this legislation next week.
NAMI child and family advocates are urged to contact the President and Senate and House leaders to urge passage of the Family Opportunity Act this year - before Congress' expected adjournment within the next two weeks.
The White House can be reached by calling 202-456-1414 or through the White House website at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/Mail/html/Mail_President.html Urge President Clinton not to let Congress adjourn without passing the Family Opportunity Act.
Among the key congressional leaders who will determine the fate of the Family Opportunity Act are:
Senate: Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK), Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Finance Committee Chairman William Roth (R-DE) and Finance Committee Ranking Member Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).
House: Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX) and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO).
Remind them that S 2274/HR 4825 now has 76 bipartisan Senate cosponsors and 118 bipartisan House cosponsors. There is no excuse for Congress going home without passing this bill so that parents of children with severe mental illnesses are not forced to relinquish custody, impoverish their families or file for bankruptcy to qualify their child for Medicaid.
All members of the House and Senate can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or by going to the policy page of the NAMI web site at www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on "Write to Congress." District and Washington office numbers can be found in your local phone book or through http://www.congress.org/