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June 5, 2009


June 5, 2009

FDA Tobacco Bill Makes Slow Progress in the Senate

After nearly two decades of effort, the Senate finally took action towards passing legislation granting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (H.R. 1256) currently has broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, the latter of which passed the legislation earlier this year by a vote of 298-112. Despite this support, the bill faces several legislative hurdles in the Senate and may become a victim of its own success.

Tobacco state Senators Burr (R-NC) and Hagan (D-NC) are expected to offer a number of unfriendly amendments to gut the bill's most important provisions. That said, most congressional observers believe there are enough votes in the Senate to beat back weakening amendments.

At the same time, because the FDA tobacco bill is seen as likely to pass, a number of senators are poised to offer non-germane amendments to this "must-pass" legislation. Senator McCain (R-AZ), for example, is expected to propose an amendment to allow drug re-importation in the U.S. Senator Stabenaw (D-MI) may offer an amendment that would provide individuals who replace old cars with more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles with tax incentives. Adoption of these, or any other possible non-germane amendments, could undermine bipartisan support for the bill and derail its chances for passage by the Senate. The ATS and other tobacco control advocates are opposing all non-germane amendments.

The Senate will continue consideration of the bill next week. Key votes on the non-germane amendments are expected on Monday, June 8.

Clean Air: ATS Comments on EPA GHG Reporting Rule

This week, the ATS submitted comments on a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule, that if implemented, would require major pollution sources to report their annual green house gas (GHG) emissions to the EPA. This data would then be made available to the public.

The proposed rule requires reporting of all sources that release the equivalent of 250,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. By equivalent, the EPA means GHGs that have the same effect as 250,000 tons of CO2 - so for gases with stronger green house effects (ie CH4, NF3, HFEs), the actual tonnage threshold is lower. The reporting standard recommended by the EPA captures over 85 percent of GHGs emitted in the U.S.  

In the proposed rule, the EPA does not exert authority to regulate GHG emission, but merely requires public reporting of those emissions. The EPA is expected to exert its authority to regulate such emissions in a separate rule-making process.

The rule proposes that annual emission levels of these six GHG agents be made public: CO2 CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6 and other fluorinated compounds (NF3, HFEs). The EPA had discussed including black carbon as a reportable GHG, but decided against it.

The ATS largely supports the EPA's proposed rule, in both its selection of reportable GHGs and threshold levels identified. However, the Society has expressed its concern that black carbon is not listed as one of the reportable green house agents and is advocating for it to become a reportable agent in the final rule. To read the ATS's comments to the EPA in full, please visit http://www.joebydesign.com/ATS/ghg0609.pdf.

Health Reform: Senate HELP Committee Releases Health Reform Overview

This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), chaired by Sen. Kennedy (D-MA), released a policy summary of the committee's health reform proposal. The summary outlines the main priorities for the committee's legislation, which is expected to be formally introduced in the Senate within the next week or so. Among the main priorities outlined are providing:

  • Quality, affordable health coverage for all Americans;
  • Higher quality, more efficient delivery system;
  • New framework for enhancing prevention and wellness;
  • New structure of long-term supports and services for the disabled and seniors with chronic illness;
  • New mechanisms to prevent fraud and abuse; and
  • Shared responsibility for healthcare reform.

The plan outlines a number of proposals, all of which would lead to eventual universal coverage. The plan’s goals include creating a public insurance option, as well as a federal Health Insurance Exchange that would provide quality and affordable options for consumers and assist those who wish to purchase private insurance. Under this plan, states would be permitted to set up their own insurance exchanges in collaboration with the federal government. Finally, the insurance industry would be governed by stricter regulation that would prohibit insurance plans from basing policies on an applicant’s medical history or health status or denying coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

The HELP Committee’s plan seeks to improve quality and efficiency in the healthcare delivery system through a number of mechanisms, including the development of standardized health information technology systems that are designed to conduct comparative effectiveness research, prevent medical errors, promote chronic disease management and strengthen the health workforce.

The plan would also create a Patient Safety and Clinical Delivery Institute within the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to coordinate best practices for health research and dissemination. The HELP Committee plans to address health workforce shortages through a new federal Workforce Commission, expanded primary care and nurse development programs and the creation of a new grant program to train professionals in geriatric care.

The new framework for prevention and public health proposes to improve chronic disease management in a number of ways, first by utilizing the “medical homes” model to provide patient-centered comprehensive health services coordinated by a case manager and by reforming the payment system to ensure reimbursement for preventative services such as screenings and affordability of these services for patients. Finally, the plan proposes strengthening community prevention programs--including those that focus on tobacco cessation—as well as promoting an increased focus on prevention and public health in medical school and residency curriculums.

Points of Contact

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