Capitol Hill Report: Congress Goes Home. Good Riddance?

October 1, 2010

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By Mike Amery, Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs, (202) 506-7468, mamery@aan.com

Congress adjourned last week leaving a lot of issues for after the November 2 elections, but the AAN was there until the end pushing for neurology.

SGR Left to a Lame Duck

In a letter, the Academy joined the AMA and several other medical groups in asking Congress to forestall the impending cut to the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) and reduction in Medicare reimbursements for 13 months. But with Congress gone until the lame duck session in November—the House is scheduled to resume votes on November 15—we will have to deal with another last-minute rush to pass a temporary Medicare patch. The latest cut would be 23 percent, which interestingly will take place just as doctors are choosing whether or not to be Medicare participating providers.

This is an incredibly difficult issue and there has been significant discussion within the Academy’s Government Relations Committee over whether to support a 13-month fix or demand nothing less than an immediate permanent repeal.

On the one hand, this problem is only getting bigger. In fact, the cost of a fix now stands at $1.5 billion per month! On the other hand, I was speaking with a senior Senate staff member who, upon hearing of the letter, said, “I’m glad the AMA is backing off their ‘all or nothing’ position. It is kind of like getting a stick poked in the eye when we are trying to be helpful.”

Primary Care Incentive Gains Support

As reported in earlier Capitol Hill Reports, Reps. Michael Burgess, MD, (R-TX) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO) sent out a Dear Colleague letter on behalf of the Academy on September 20. The letter closed last Friday and garnered the signatures of 18 members of Congress in a little more than a week during the busiest time in the congressional session.

Republicans

  • Michael Burgess, MD (TX)
  • Charles Boustany, MD (LA)
  • Paul Broun, MD (GA)
  • Bill Cassidy, MD (LA)
  • Howard Coble (NC)
  • Phil Gingrey, MD (GA)
  • Tom Latham (IA)
  • Todd Platts (PA)
  • Pete Session (TX)

Democrats

  • Russ Carnahan (MO)
  • Gabrielle Giffords (AZ)
  • Steve Kagen, MD (WI)
  • Ed Markey (MA)
  • Betty McCollum (MN)
  • Mike Michaud (ME)
  • James Moran (VA)
  • Ed Perlmutter (CO)
  • Chris Van Hollen (MD)
  • Ed Whitfield (KY)

This shows that there is bipartisan support for adding neurology to the primary care incentive of the ACA. Although it is unlikely we will be successful in gaining a legislative fix in 2010, this gives us a good base to work from in 2011, when the focus of Congress will not be on adjournment and elections, but on substantive policy.

Academy Connects with Key Leadership

Finally, I was joined on Capitol Hill last week by AAN CEO Catherine M. Rydell, CAE. We met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in a beautiful anteroom just off the Senate floor in the Capitol where we discussed some of the Academy’s priorities and delivered a letter signed by 21 patient groups supporting the Academy’s inclusion in the primary care incentive (right photo).

The Minnesota congressional delegation has always been very helpful to the Academy which is, of course, based in St. Paul. Cathy and I had the opportunity to meet with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) who is the newest member of the delegation. We had a very good meeting where we introduced him to the Academy and offered to be a resource (left photo). There was even a little excitement when, as we were wrapping up the visit, staff rushed in to tell the senator that “the governor is on the line” and he needed to take the call immediately. We surmised that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was calling to talk about flooding issues and disaster response back in Minnesota.

We also had lunch with North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven who is the Republican candidate for the open US Senate seat in that state (bottom left photo). Cathy has known Gov. Hoeven for several years and this will be a good contact for the Academy as Hoeven is a strong favorite to win this seat.