AIDS Action Weekly Update
Welcome to AIDS Action Council's Weekly Washington Update, an on-line newsletter that reviews what is happening in Washington on AIDS policy issues each week. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us at the e-mail address listed below.
AIDS Programs Benefit In Omnibus Appropriations Bill
The passage of the Omnibus FY 96 appropriations bill (H.R.3019) marked the completion of the FY 96 appropriations process more than halfway through the fiscal year. The conference report for the bill was passed by the Senate 88-11, and 399-25 by the House Thursday, April 25. A 24 hour Continuing Resolution (CR) had been passed in order to give legislators time to complete negotiations on the conference report. AIDS programs, mainly in the Labor-HHS-Education portion of the bill, fared well with increases for the Ryan White CARE Act and the AIDS Education and Training Centers (AETCs). The funding increases for the CARE Act included $23 million for Title I, $52 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, $.5 million for Title IV, as well as an additional $30 million for the entire program, bringing the total Ryan White increase to $105.5 million. The AETCs which had been zeroed out in the House FY 96 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, then restored to $6 million ($10.3 less than the FY 95 funding level), were funded at $12 million in the Omnibus appropriations bill. The budgetary authority for the Office of AIDS Research was not restored, but AIDS advocates vow that this is not a dead issue. Another major victory for AIDS advocates was the inclusion of language to repeal a provision that would mandate the discharge of HIV-positive service members. In addition to the funding triumphs and the repeal of the Dornan provision, the Istook language that would have imposed extreme bookkeeping burdens on nonprofit organizations that receive federal grants was stripped from the spending bill. In the VA-HUD portion of H.R.3019, the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) program was funded at the FY 95 post-rescission level of $171 million. Given the cuts in other housing programs, this flat-funding indicates some support for this program. It is important, however, to keep in mind that HOPWA is funded by formula grant which means that as the caseloads and the number of jurisdictions increase, that same money must be spread over more jurisdictions.
AIDS Advocates Look To FY 97 Appropriations
With the completion of FY 96 appropriations, AIDS advocates look forward to the FY 97 appropriations process. The Administration's FY 97 budget request included some modest increases for AIDS research, prevention and care programs, but concern remains over the flat-funding request for the HOPWA program. In fiscal year 1996, 12 new jurisdictions qualified for HOPWA funding in the face of no increase in program funding. AIDS advocates must continue to carry the message that this program must have increased funding to prevent the drastic cuts that states and localities are now facing.
Health Insurance Reform Passes In The Senate
The Senate unanimously passed the Health Insurance Reform Act, H.R.3103 (formerly S.1028), Tuesday, April 23. Despite of the wishes of the main cosponsors, Senators Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) to not have any amendments attached, a few were added including an amendment to provide parity in health insurance coverage for mental illness. Language to include medical savings accounts (MSAs), however, was removed last week from a package of amendments offered by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS). The House-Senate conference has not yet been scheduled, but the fact that the House bill contains a number of provisions that the Administration and many Democrats find objectionable will make it a fairly contentious conference. In an effort perhaps to weigh the conference committee with MSA supporters, GOP leaders attempted to appoint a conference committee consisting of seven Republicans and four Democrats. This bid for an unbalanced conference committee was blocked by Democrats who accused Senator Dole of "trying to stack the deck in a way that will sink the bill." In addition to MSAs, other conference issues will include medical malpractice caps, exemption from state regulations for small employers who pool together to purchase health insurance policies, and administrative simplification language that could compromise the confidentiality of an individual's medical records.
Dornan Has Not Given Up
In spite of the fact that his provision to mandate the discharge of HIV-positive service members was repealed in the FY 96 Omnibus appropriations bill, Representative Robert Dornan (R-CA) has not given up his attack on this population. Even before the legislation to repeal the Dornan provision had been signed into law, the Military Personnel Subcommittee (which Dornan chairs) of the House National Security Committee voted to reinstate the ban against HIV-positive service members as part of the FY 97 defense authorization bill (H.R.3230). The language that was approved in subcommittee, yesterday would require discharge of HIV-positive service members within 60 days, but would allow HIV-positive personnel with 15 years of service to remain on duty, and provide health benefits to their dependents. In addition, the subcommittee approved language to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gays in the military.
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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council. It is a part of the publication AIDS Action Weekly Update.