Capitol Hill Report: A Monumental Time for Patient Care

February 17, 2009

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By Mike Amery, Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs, (202) 349-4299, mamery@aan.com

The mission of the Academy is to be "indispensable to its members." One way the Academy fulfills this mission is by representing of neurology in the halls of Congress. Capitol Hill Report presents regular updates on legislative action and how the AAN ensures that the voice of neurology is heard on Capitol Hill. The Academy's legislative counsel in Washington, DC, Mike Amery, offers weekly updates on advocacy for neurology and neurologic concerns.

The Academy's Health Reform Task Force has been working proactively to prepare for health care reform. Academy staff recently met with patient advocacy groups—including the Epilepsy Foundation, the National MS Society, the American Heart/Stroke Association, the Brain Injury Association of America, and Parkinson's Action Network—to talk about common goals for reform. Everyone at the table agreed that protecting access to neurologists is critical to patient care. As we all prepare for our Capitol Hill advocacy events this spring, it will be very important for all the advocates to make sure that legislators and staff know that neurologists play a central role in the delivery of care for neurologic conditions. These patient groups were also instrumental in helping to draft The Critical Role of Neurologists in our Health Care System.

Just weeks into the 111th Congress, several important issues have already been acted on. This week the House passed one of the Academy's 2009 priorities by approving the Senate-passed version of H.R. 2, the "Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009," by a bipartisan vote of 290 to 135. This legislation, which was signed into law by President Obama on Wednesday, February 11, reauthorizes the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through 2013 and is expected to increase CHIP enrollment by 5.7 million people. Costs of the program expansion will be offset by an increase in the federal tobacco tax. Of significant interest is that the new law does not include any restrictions on physician ownership of hospitals.

This past Friday, Congress passed an economic stimulus plan that includes a number of health related issues. In a victory for the Academy, the Senate approved an increase of $6.5 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), bringing the total increase for NIH to $10 billion. The House had already passed a $3.5 billion increase. This funding, which was signed into law by President Obama, provides for new NIH grants and for facility construction. The Academy is particularly interested in seeing the NIH complete the Porter Neuroscience Center at the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.

Last week I joined several other specialty reps to meet with freshman Congressman Walt Minnick (D-ID). Minnick was elected from a highly Republican district in Idaho and is working to distinguish himself as a centrist. One of his priorities is capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice liability awards. This has long been a priority for the Academy. Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is a physician who introduces a comprehensive medical malpractice liability reform legislation each congress. I contacted Dr. Gingrey's office and put them in touch with Minnick's staff to make sure Minnick has the opportunity to join these efforts. We also had good discussion educating Congressman Minnick on the difficulties physicians face with the looming 21 percent cut in Medicare scheduled for January 2010.

Read more on the Capitol Hill Report page.

Read all of Mike Amery's reports on the Capitol Hill Report page.