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June 20, 2008


June 20, 2008

Legislation to Avert Medicare Physician Pay Cut Elusive

With less than 10 legislative days left in June, Congress appears to be in jeopardy of passing legislation to avert the 10% cut in Medicare payments to physicians and other Medicare Part B providers scheduled to start July 1, 2008. Senate Democrats and Republicans have introduced similar competing measures to fix the Medicare physician pay cut, but as of yet have not resolved difference between the two bills. While rumors are circulating throughout Capitol Hill about a potential compromise, at press time, a deal had not yet been struck.

At stake is the 10% cut in Medicare physician payments starting July 1 and an additional 5 % cut in Medicare physician reimbursement scheduled for January 1, 2009. Also in both the Democratic and Republican versions of the bill is a provision to create a pulmonary rehabilitation benefit under the Medicare program and other Medicare beneficiary enhancements.

The ATS will continue to urge Congress to pass legislation quickly to resolve the short-term physician payment crisis and to create a pulmonary rehabilitation benefit under Medicare.


House Subcommittee Approves FY09 Health Research & Services Spending Bill

This week, the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (L-HHS-ED) Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Obey (D-WI), approved its FY2009 spending bill for health research and services programs. The bill includes a funding level of $30.6 billion for NIH, which is as an increase of $1.2 billion (4%) over the FY2008 level, and the President's FY2009 budget, which had proposed to flat-fund the NIH at the FY2008 number.

The FY2009 Labor-HHS-ED Appropriations bill includes a funding level of $6.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is an increase of $156 million (2.4%) over the FY2008 level and $631 million over the President's FY2009 budget. We will have more details on specific NIH institute and CDC program funding levels next week when the full House Appropriations Committee considers the bill on June 25. The Senate Labor-HHS-ED Subcommittee is tentatively scheduled to consider its bill next week.

There is also some good news this year for the NIH in the FY2008 Iraq supplemental spending bill that the Congress is finalizing. The bill includes $150 million in funding for the NIH, although it still must be passed by the Senate.

House Provides $20 Million for VA Research

In separate committee action, the House Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee provided $500 million for VA research funding for FY09. That is a $20 million increase over current funding. The ATS and sister organizations had been asking for $555 million (+$75 million). The full House Appropriations committee is expected to consider the bill later this month. We will continue to seek additional funding as the appropriations process moves forward.




ATS Testifies on EPA Lead Standard

In June, the ATS presented testimony at an EPA field hearing on the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for lead.

The existing standard of 1.5 ug/m3 over a 3-month period was established in 1978.

Once widely used in gasoline and paint products, lead is still released as a byproduct from many industrial sources including power plants, smelters and cement kilns, and is also present in some types of aviation fuel. The known health effects of lead include lowering children's IQ levels - a life-long health effect with significant socioeconomic implications including behavioral effects such as aggression and attention deficit disorders. Lead also can cause kidney damage and cardiovascular injury.

The Clean Air Act mandates that EPA evaluate NAAQS standards for criteria pollutants, such as lead, every 5 years. The current standard was established in 1978 and has not been revised in nearly 30 years. EPA is under a court order to issue a final rule on a revised standard by September 15, 2008.

EPA is proposing a revised standard of 0.1 to 0.3 ug/m3 averaged over 3 month period. The EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee - known as CASAC and the EPA Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee have recommended a stricter standard of no higher that 0.2 ug/m3 averaged over a 1-month period.

In comments to the EPA, the ATS expressed support for the stricter standard recommended by CASAC and the Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee of no higher that 0.2 ug/m3 over a 1-month period. Noting that even brief exposures to lead can cause adverse health effect, ATS supports the 1-month averaging - as opposed to the 3 -month averaging period recommended by EPA - for the revised standard.

Points of Contact

Gary Ewart Senior Director, Government Relations
Nuala Moore Senior Legislative Representative
Joe Kirby DC Office Administrator