Capitol Correspondence - 02.04.19

3 Hearings Reveal Congress’ Health Policy Priorities – How Can Providers Join the Discussion?

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ANCOR is sharing synopses of three U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives hearings held last week because they show what issues weighing on Congress’ mind and covered trends that are of importance to the quality of life of people with disabilities. These topics were: access to health care in rural and other underserved communities; insurance protections for pre-existing conditions; drug pricing. Even if people with disabilities were not explicitly mentioned in the hearings, these issues affect their everyday lives. By staying abreast of policy discussions on these topics, providers can become stronger advocates for the individuals they support, and help connect the dots between these issues and important legislation more directly tied to the disability community.

Senate Health, Educational, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on health centers in underserved communities: This hearing showcased difficulties obtaining care in rural, isolated and otherwise underserved communities, and shared that funding for health care centers in those areas is scheduled to run out on in September 2019 unless Congress takes action. Topics included the need for funding certainty in supports and training for an adequate workforce of doctors and nurses. While this discussion is not directly about I/DD supports, people with disabilities have historically struggled to find doctors willing to take them on as patients. The struggles of health centers show how this trend can be exacerbated. Additionally, this discussion could help ANCOR members give a reference point for members of Congress when explaining the more niche challenges facing I/DD supports, including the DSP workforce crisis which has similarities to the nurse shortage. For a deeper summary, click here.

  • Pro-tip: ANCOR members interested in this topic might also want to follow ANCOR’s work on the HEADs UP Act, introduced in the 115th Congress and currently pending re-introduction in the 116th Congress.  The bill seeks to designate people with disabilities as a medically underserved population. We will keep members informed of opportunities for action, but please reach out to Sarah Meek, our Director of Legislative Affairs, at [email protected] if you have questions in the meantime.

House Ways and Means Committee hearing on protections for pre-existing conditions: This hearing featured testimony by the Kaiser Family Foundation on how policy changes that divide insurance risk pools increase costs for people with pre-existing conditions. Intellectual and developmental disabilities are considered pre-existing conditions by insurance companies, so ensuring that there are protections for pre-existing conditions in place is important to the disability community overall. For a deeper summary, click here.

Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug pricing: While the hearing focused on the pharmaceutical sector and the importance of drug pricing controls, it featured the testimony of a parent of someone with diabetes who shared how the affordability of insulin is a matter of life of death for her son. Given the prevalence of diabetes among people with I/DD, ANCOR is flagging this as another example of how advocates within the I/DD community can educate Congress on how issues that appear not connected to disability issues are in fact impactful to the community. For a deeper summary, click here.

  • The big(ger) picture: Controlling rising drug costs is a key priority for the President and his Administration. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar’s talk this past Friday to the Bipartisan Policy Center on this topic illustrates this focus, and Congress-watchers have expressed hopes that drug pricing could be an area of bipartisan interest.

Key takeaway: The more I/DD providers demonstrate to Congressional offices that the disability community is at the intersection of multiple policy issues, the more those offices will feel comfortable reaching out to the disability community for feedback when they start crafting broad proposals.