Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Funding Victories and Two-Month Extension of Important Medicare Policies

As the calendar year draws to a close, the Society is pleased that Congress was able to pass a short-term package that ensures that physicians treating Medicare patients will not face a steep cut in reimbursement rates, as well as extends an exceptions process for Medicare beneficiaries to ensure that they can continue receiving
outpatient physical, speech and occupational therapy services. A longer term solution is needed though--past this package's February 29, 2012 deadline--to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries continue to have access to health and therapy services well into the year. Congressional leadership has already appointed some conferees who are charged with developing this longer-term solution. Stay tuned for updates and opportunities to weigh in about these important Medicare policies!

Shortly before Congress addressed Medicare reimbursement and therapy caps, it also completed work on Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations. Each year, MS activists participate in the federal appropriations process—visiting and contacting their members of Congress repeatedly throughout the year to help ensure that MS research and programs important to people affected by MS continue to be funded at robust levels. Congress and the President are under tremendous pressure to cut spending in the face of historic budget deficits and while programs are being trimmed, the Society is pleased to report that the ardent work of MS activists has paid off and MS research and programs will be funded at the following levels in FY 2012:
  • MS Research in the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP): MS research in the CDMRP will receive $3.8 million. This is a funding stream that exists solely because MS activists urged Congress to create it and with the FY 2012 funding, MS research has received a total of over $20 million through the CDMRP over five years.
  • Lifespan Respite: Lifespan Respite Care programs help support, expand and streamline the delivery of planned and emergency respite services supporting our nation’s 65 million family caregivers—including those who care for people living with MS. Lifespan Respite will receive $2.495 million in FY 2012, offering states more funding to sustain or enhance their statewide respite systems.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): The NIH is the single largest source of biomedical research funding in the world and sponsors a majority of the MS-related research carried out in the United States. In FY 2012, NIH funding is increased by $300 million over FY 2011 levels—with total funding of $30.7 billion. The Society is pleased that as part of NIH funding, $10 million is provided to implement the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) that will help speed the translation and application of discoveries and get effective therapies to the people that need them quicker.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA): FY 2012 funding for the FDA was finalized in mid-November as part of a separate package and the FDA will fortunately receive a $50 million increase over last year’s level—for a total of $2.5 billion. Funding for the FDA will help ensure that drugs and medical devices are safe and effective.
  • Social Security Administration (SSA): While the Society worked with many other advocates to increase funding for the SSA in FY 2012, the SSA will receive a $400 million cut in FY 2012--being funded at $10.984 billion. Significant cuts the SSA’s administrative budget can result in longer turnaround times for approval of disability benefits so the Society will monitor this potential impact.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays and Safe Travels

As the holidays approach, the National MS Society’s Public Policy Office wishes to thank our more than 64,000 network of MS activists around the country who made phone calls, sent emails, attended town meetings, joined our MS Activist blog and followed us on our @MSActivist twitter account. It’s through our collective, multi-faceted effort that we have been able to continue making progress and while we know new battles lie ahead, the Public Policy Office wants to share its appreciation for the terrific efforts of 2011. We look forward to engaging together again in 2012!

For anyone traveling during the holiday season, we urge you to check out the Transportation Security Administration's(TSA) toll-free helpline number at 1-855-787-2227, prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. Click here for more information.

Thank you for your continued participation and support.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Step Forward for the MS Community – Addition of Advanced MS to Compassionate Allowances Listing Will Help Speed Disability Applications

Good News! Due to the hard work of MS Activists over a series of months, the Society recently learned that it has been successful in working alongside the Social Security Administration (SSA) to add aggressive and advanced forms of MS to the “Compassionate Allowance” listing. Society staff and volunteers have been in conversations with SSA to better understand the Compassionate Allowance process and blog readers may remember that two MS activists—Dr. John Booss and Yvonne Brown--testified at a March 2011 Social Security hearing requesting that MS be added.

So what does this victory mean for people living with MS? The Compassionate Allowances Program expedites the review of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applications for diseases and other medical conditions that invariably qualifyfor disability insurance based on minimal objective medical information. The benefit of this is two-fold: it gets the sickest and most severely impacted applicants approved for Social Security Disability more quickly and it alleviates the backlog of applications for others in line.

This is a real victory for the MS community!!! This victory is a great example of non-legislative advocacy and, how using our collective voices can lead to real change. We just want to say THANK YOU again for your dedication and commitment to a world free of MS.

Stay tuned for more to come.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wondering How the New Health Care Law Is Going to Impact You and Your Family?

The National MS Society believes that all individuals regardless of health or disability, employment status, age, claims history or risk should have access to affordable, quality health care. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010, our current health care system will improve by increasing access to health care coverage, helping keep costs down, and offering new protections for people who have health insurance.

Understanding the new health care law can be tricky because of the intricate and multi-faceted provisions in the law. We want to help you understand what it means for you and your family so that you can be an informed consumer. A poll conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that many Americans are unaware of or confused by major provisions in the law.  The Kaiser Family Foundation has created a new interactive feature in order to help people understand the impact of the Affordable Care Act will have on their lives. We urge to click here to check it out.

Additionally, the Kaiser Family Foundation has created an animated video to show people how their health insurance coverage could change as the new health care reform law continues to be implemented. Click here to watch the video and better understand the reform from real life situations.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Creating a Path to Employment for People with Disabilities

Finding employment in this economy is challenging for everyone but specifically, can be for people with disabilities. People with disabilities generally have a 13 percent unemployment rate, which is about one and a half times the rate of those without disabilities.

Last week, the Obama Administration proposed a rule that would require federal contractors and subcontractors to set a goal of having 7% of its workforce be comprised of people with disabilities. The rule would provide new opportunities for employment for people with disabilities by requiring federal contractors to devote more resources to recruiting efforts to hire more disabled workers, improve training programs and update data collection.

Currently, there are about 200,000 total federal contractors taking in approximately $700 billion in annual contracts. Approximately 170,000 of those contractors would be impacted by the rule--those that have at least 50 employees and have a minimum of $50,000 in government contracts. The Department of Labor will be taking comments on the rule for 60 days before proceeding with final approval next year. The Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis says that "this proposed rule represents one of the most significant advances in protecting the civil rights of workers with disabilities since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act." Click here to read the press release from the Department of Labor.