Kennedy Health Reform Bill Released

Yes, you heard it here first! Chairman Edward Kennedy and Democratic Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee just released their “Affordable Health Choices Act.”

Now it is important to note that considering the complexity of this legislation and how it will impact every single individual in this country, it will also require some Republican buy in. On Wednesday, June 10 and Thursday, June 11, Democrats and Republicans on the Committee will meet to discuss outstanding legislative options such as the public option and employer mandate.

Also, health reform isn’t just the HELP Committee’s issue. The Senate Finance Committee also shares jurisdiction, so Senator Max Baucus, Chairman of the Finance Committee, will play a large role in shaping the final legislation. A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, June 11 at 3 p.m. and mark-up will begin Tuesday, June 16 which means we’re looking at a VERY fast-moving bill.

I have to admit, at over 600 pages it is going to require some careful reading, which considering the time available is going to be difficult. But from a quick search and skim of the material:

– I am excited to see included portions of Senator Harkin’s Wellness for People with Disabilities bill which calls for accessible medical diagnostic equipment. For women with disabilities, in particular, this is a significant issue for mamograms and annual gynecological visits.

– I am also ecstatic about the inclusion of community health grants for prevention efforts. Working in communities and with communities has been proven to be one of the best ways to get individuals engaged in their own health. This also encourages better integration of disability IN TO communities.

– Also included is the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act or the (CLASS Act). This is supposed to establish a national voluntary insurance program for purchasing these services. Although often considered less inclusive than the Community Choice Act, its inclusion means that long term services is at least on the agenda.

– However, I have concerns with regard to language about health disparities as I’m not sure disability is appropriately addressed in that section. However, even there, are some “wins.” Disability IS included in data collection sections and IS specifically mentioned as an important part of cultural competency within curricula for health providers.

– In addition, the prevention portion seems to rely heavily on the U.S. Preventives Services Task Force, which does a good job at highlighting areas for support, but there is so much more that they cannot comment on or offer recommendations for based on the design and limitations of the Task Force.

– The one major issue that is of concern is that I did a search for the word “rehabilitation.” It only came up once, in reference to the Rehabilitation Act. There is nothing in this legislation that looks at habilitation and rehabilitation and for people with disabilities, people acquiring disabilities, people who want to maintain their health (physical or mental), or for those with substance use issues and those with intellectual disabilities. I understand how prevention fits in to health reform, and how acute care is necessary, but without properly looking at rehabilitation and habilitation, I worry that there may be a critical piece missing.

In full disclosure though, I will point out that I have not finished reading through all 600+ pages. I am sure there is more. If you have any thoughts, please comment or call me at 206-888-6009. This is Day in Washington hoping that you stay well, and stay informed.

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