Little New Funding for Critical Programs New federal funding allocations for 2008 will impact many programs that people with MS rely on for research and disability assistance. The president signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2008 (H.R. 2764), a large omnibus appropriations package that funds several different federal government agencies and programs, in late December.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received only a 2.8% increase.
As the Social Security Administration (SSA) continues to struggle with its disability determination backlog, MS activists advocated for increases in funding to support the agency. SSA was allocated $9.7 billion to carry out its administrative activities, representing a $451 million increase from FY 2007. This modest increase is intended to help address the severe backlog issue.
On a positive note, funding for a new comprehensive MS center at West Virginia University was approved and allocated nearly $3.5 million. It will be the first comprehensive care center in West Virginia for people living with MS and families dealing with the disease.
In November, the president vetoed a more promising, stand-alone Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (H.R. 3043) that would have given a 3.1% increase to NIH, a 6.6% increase to CDC, and $2 million for respite care. You worked hard on that bill and essentially helped push it through Congress in a strong bi-partisan showing. However, the votes were not there to overcome the president’s veto.
Successful Changes to Medicare Coverage Medicare received some much-needed attention and maintenance, including changes that MS activists pursued for the past few years. Congress successfully passed a broad-reaching Medicare package—the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007 (S. 2499)—also in late December. It includes:
Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities A new Medicare rule change will help preserve access to rehabilitation services. Previously, 75% of patients using inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRF) would need to meet certain conditions for the facility to maintain its status as an IRF and its level of Medicare reimbursement. If the 75% was not met, it could limit access to IRFs for Medicare patients and potentially close those facilities all together. The Medicare legislation permanently freezes the percentage at 60%, a more achievable level. This is a great win for people living with MS.
Medicare Therapy Caps Medicare beneficiaries with MS will have continued access to physical and occupational therapy services through June 2008, due to an extension of the Medicare therapy capsexceptions process. It was set to expire on December 31, 2007. The cap for 2008 is $1,810, which a person with MS can quickly reach early in the calendar year. We will continue to advocate for a full repeal of Medicare therapy caps and fight to extend the exceptions process.
The overall Medicare package also approves a 0.5% increase in physician payments through June 2008, extends the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) until March 2009, and makes a number of other Medicare “fixes.”
Looking Forward to 2008 2007 was a year of tough fights, but we have many successes to celebrate. Thanks to your hard work and MS activism, we opened up a new funding stream for MS research in the Department of Defense and built a new bi-partisan Congressional Multiple Sclerosis Caucus on Capitol Hill. But we still have a great deal of work to do in 2008:
MS treatments remain very costly and out of reach for too many people.
Too many important federal agencies continue to be under funded, such as the NIH, CDC, SSA, and the Food and Drug Administration.
Stem cell researchin the federal arena has made progress, but we have not yet reached our goal of advancing it potential through expanded federal funding.
We must eliminate discrimination against people living with disabilities by passing theADA Restoration Act.
To accomplish these goals in 2008, we must continue to inform members of Congress about MS and related policies. In 2007, you sent nearly 100,000 emails to your legislators. Some MS activists sent 40, 60, even 80 messages about MS issues. One man took action 100 times—now that’s MS activism. Make a resolution to reach out to your public officials even more this year.
MS activists are among the most passionate and effective grassroots groups in the country. Thank you. We are confident that your efforts will continue to make better public policy for people living with MS and their families. We’ll keep you updated on hot issues and policies that need your attention in the coming year. You can also read daily updates on the MS activism blog atwww.msactivist.blogspot.com