Monday, February 25, 2013


Hi all – I could have called this the ‘Countdown to Sequester’ edition but thought better of it.  Who knows, maybe they will kick the sequester can down the road another month or two!

President’s Day – Fun Facts.  Monday we observed the holiday and this week I ran across this U.S. Census tidbit about how many places are named after presidents.  Benjamin Franklin, while never a president, ranks as second most named after.  Interestingly ‘Clinton’ is at #7 however this survey doesn’t identify whether the entity was named after the actual president  (remember our fourth Vice President George Clinton was also a six term, non-consecutive, Governor of NY serving a total of 21 years, plus his two stints as VP under different presidents).  For other trivia you can buy a copy of “The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia” released last month.

State of the Union ‘Dumb Down’  The Guardian took a look at all of the states of the union and gave them a reading level score.  The highest?  James Madison at 21.6.  The dumbest?  George H.W. Bush at 8.6 with Barack Obama next at 9.2.  George Washington scores pretty well, coming in at 11th highest out of the 41 addresses.

Mapping the Human Brain.  President Obama announced plans for an ambitious program to map the human brain, putting the kind of muscle needed to achieve results similar to the human genome project.  This effort could provide a significant research boost for diseases like Parkinson’s, MS and Alzheimer’s to name a few.  The human genome project cost approximately $3.8 billion but in a 2010 study it was found that $800 billion in economic activity had been generated because of the project.

Sequestration on (everyone’s) mind.  At least in DC it is – barring a last minute deal that doesn’t look forthcoming, automatic spending cuts will start on March 1.  Approximately $85 billion in cuts, $46 billion of which will come from defense spending.  Some are saying this is the best of the worst proposals out there, others predict the cuts will last for a few weeks until the public anger flares giving Congress the impetus to act.  The House GOP doesn’t fear any blowback on the cuts.  In the meantime the president is ramping up pressure for a ‘sequester fix.’  This week he said sequester would be like taking a ‘meat cleaver’ to the budget.  NIH Director Collins is mincing no words, stating that these are just ‘dumb’ cuts

Obama Outreach.  The most recent development is that President Obama made calls to Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader McConnell to discuss sequestration and what can be done to avoid it.  The White House published its view of the impact of sequestration on its website.

Research Funding Threat.  Should the sequestration happen, agencies will be directed to cut budgets by a certain amount.  There is a real threat however in that the agencies have flexibility to choose what to cut so for example, CDMRP programs in the Department of Defense could be zeroed out in a worst-case scenario.  NIH will be able to choose which of its institutes to trim which will determine which research projects continue unchanged, or changed.

Retirements.  Our 2011 Senator of the Year, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, announced last weekend that he is not seeking re-election.  This is his first term in the Senate and he previously served as Governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

HUD-HHS Rental Assistance Partnership for Persons with DisabilitiesFebruary 12 Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) announcement. The 13 states are California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.  Learn more here.

Not a Cure for Death, but . . .   New research shows that as a person consumes more coffee, he or she puts off their own mortality.  Can’t wait to see the new ad campaigns coming out of Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, Caribou, etc.!

Public Policy Conference.  The National MS Society Public Policy Conference is right around the corner and we’re pleased that former Senator Byron Dorgan, former founding co-chair of the MS Caucus, will join us to kick it off!  Also, nationally renowned pollster Celinda Lake will be our lunch speaker on March 5.  Looking forward to seeing 300+ Activists, and the wave of orange on the Hill March 6!

Health Reform Implementation News:

  •  HHS Issues Final Rule on the Essential Health Benefits:   Many MS activists have been involved in the complex process of defining the ‘essential health benefits’ that all individual and small group health plans will have to cover in new plans sold in their state in 2014 and beyond.  Tens of thousands of stakeholders submitted formal comments to HHS as they crafted the federal regulations outlining them, and clarifying the federal government’s role vs. the states.  With the release of HHS final rule yesterday, it seems the federal government’s role is nearly complete.  Read about it here.   
  • Confused about Medicaid and its role in implementing the Affordable Care Act? You’re not alone!! So, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid published this new list of Frequently Asked Questions
  • State Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Pools No Longer Accepting New Enrollees:   Because the ACA’s requirement that health insurers must accept applicants regardless of their pre-existing condition doesn’t go into effect until 2014, the ACA included a special health insurance program for un-insured people as a stop-gap measure to tie them over.  Known as the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program (PCIP) these temporary health plans were always intended to fade out when their enrollees gained new coverage options in 2014.  That phase out process has now begun with the announcement that the PCIPs are set to stop accepting new applicants on March 2, 2013.  Existing enrollees will continue to be covered until next year. 
  • Florida in? Governor Rick Scott of Florida is the most recent governor to announce support for expanding Medicaid in his state.  He was one of the most vocal opponents of Medicaid expansion and the Florida Attorney General played a key role in the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court saying that expansion needed to be optional.

 By the next issue of Federal Fridays, we’ll know whether Congress and the Administration averted yet another potential
budget/fiscal/economic crisis.  I’d ask your opinion of that however I have a feeling I know what most non-elected people feel already!

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