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AIDS Action Weekly Update

June 6, 1997

Welcome to AIDS Action Council's Weekly Washington Update, an on-line newsletter for Handsnet subscribers 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.

Budget Resolution Passes

The budget resolution (H Con Res 84) conference report passed both chambers Thursday, June 5th. The budget resolution which provides the spending guidelines for appropriations and reconciliation bills, does not require the signature of the President. Preliminary work is already beginning on the budget reconciliation with subcommittee mark up beginning in a number of areas. There will be two budget reconciliation bills - one for entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the other for taxes. Appropriators will also begin working on mark ups for the 13 discretionary funds designated in the budget resolution.

Medicare Provisions Offered For Budget Reconcilation

As part of budget reconciliation, a number of Medicare provisions are being offered by Congress to meet the budget resolution targeted saving of $115 billion over five years. While there are a number of concerns about different provisions, three stand out. They are: 1) reducing or eliminating state licensure requirements for provider-sponsored organizations (PSOs); 2) medical savings accounts (MSAs) with high deductibles and no limit on out-of-pocket costs; and 3) broad changes in medical malpractice awards which would also include lawsuits involving drugs or devices. The above provisions would negatively affect consumer protection laws and do nothing to increase the quality of health care. Savings in Medicare would also come from reductions in government payments to hospitals, HMOs, and health care providers, and increases in Medicare premiums.

FDA Reform Action

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee is poised to make significant changes to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through a bill aimed at amending the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act. Patient and consumer advocates fear the changes will jeopardize drug safety. On Wednesday, June 11th, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee will mark-up the "Food and Drug Administration Modernization and Accountability Act of 1997." There have been no public hearings on this bill. AIDS Action is concerned that the bill will: 1) lower safety and efficacy standards for new drugs and for off-label uses of approved drugs; and 2) threaten the reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA). PDUFA is largely responsible for the significant improvements in the FDA's review and approval of new drug applications and faster patient access to promising new therapies. AIDS Action would support key administrative changes in the FDA, but opposes efforts to undercut the agency's fundamental mission of protecting the public health and safety.

Gingrich Lists Programs Not Protected In Balanced Budget Agreement

Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (R-GA) recently sent out a release entitled "What the President Did Not Get in the Budget Agreement," which included a list of programs that were not protected in the agreement. Unfortunately, Republican negotiators rejected the President's request that AIDS programs be on the list of protected programs. The Gingrich memo identifies the National Institutes of Health, Ryan White Programs, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Drug Treatment, and Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS in the list of programs that did not receive priority protection status. The release also boasts that new welfare benefits and the food stamp program were cut in half, significant cut backs in Alzheimer's respite care and outpatient copayment reductions, and rejected the President's proposal to significantly expand Medicaid benefits and provide $1.5 billion to help elderly indigent Medicare recipients.

Anti-HIV Immigration Provision

Representative Clay Shaw (R-FL), Chairman of the Health Resources Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means included a number of provisions in the Chairman's mark of the Budget Reconciliation which would negatively affect legal immigrants and undocumented individuals, including those with HIV/AIDS. Significantly, a number of Rep. Shaw's provisions represent a departure from the bipartisan budget agreement. The bipartisan budget agreement included a provision to soften the impact of last year's welfare reform law on legal immigrants by restoring SSI and Medicaid eligibility to legal immigrants who were in the country as of August 22, 1996. This would include legal immigrants who are not yet disabled. Shaw's provision would allow only individuals who were already receiving SSI benefits as of August 22, 1996 to continue to receive them. This means that immigrants who contract HIV and later become disabled by AIDS would not be eligible to receive SSI. This provision would leave the most vuln erable legal immigrants unprotected. Shaw does offer language that would allow legal immigrants who are senior citizens to keep some benefits if they were in the county as of August 22, 1996.

Congressional Briefing On The Impact Of AIDS On Communities Of Color

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus held a briefing on June 2nd, on the impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color. AIDS Project Los Angles presented findings from their recently published report that highlighted the fact that communities of color are less likely to benefit from new therapies. Further, minorities and women are less likely to have knowledge about and access to combination therapy. For those who do access new therapies there are important benefits aside from improved health. The study found that there was a decrease in depression, anxiety and pain, and an increased quality of life. This was especially true of women of color. Also presenting at the briefing was AIDS Action Council on the HIV/AIDS legislative agenda for the 105th Congress. Rounding out the briefing was The Latino Commission on AIDS. The Commission emphasized the need for alternative approaches to prevention such as needle exchange programs to become more available and to be supported with federal funds.

For more information, contact:
Sara Collins
AIDS Action Council
1875 Connecticut Avenue NW #700
Washington DC 20009
202-986-1300, extension 3053
202-986-1345 (fax)
202-332-9614 (tty)

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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council. It is a part of the publication AIDS Action Weekly Update.