NASW Health Care Reform Roundup – October 6, 2009

Health Care Reform Legislation
This week Congress is continuing to make steady progress writing health reform legislation. House Democratic leaders have nearly finished negotiating the merger of three somewhat different committee versions of their bill, H.R. 3200. Their final version will go to the House floor for consideration later in October. The revised language for H.R. 3200 could be released late this week. NASW has supported this House effort, including the inclusion of the public insurance option. In the Senate, the Finance Committee is currently working long hours on their version of reform legislation.

While there are many concerns about the coverage and affordability aspects of the Senate Finance Committee version, momentum for passage is growing in both bodies. NASW is pleased with provisions in the House or Senate versions that address many of our professional concerns, including expanding direct billing privileges for CSWs serving Medicare patients in nursing homes, increasing payments for CSWs under Medicare and authorizing new funds addressing the health workforce needs of social workers. NASW is currently advocating Finance Committee inclusion of direct CSW billing for Medicare nursing home residents. If passed, this amendment will make equal the House and Senate versions, improving our chance of ultimate success.

Mental Health Parity in Health Care Reform
In a major victory for the profession and all advocates, addiction and mental health benefits have been included in all major versions of reform legislation. Last week the Senate Finance Committee unanimously adopted an amendment making equal their bill to other versions of reform legislation. Their bill now requires parity for addiction and mental health benefits in all plans sold through the new insurance exchanges. This key provision extends mandated benefits and parity protections to employees in small groups as well as individual insurance purchases, both individuals and employees of small groups were omitted from the parity law enacted last year. For more details about NASW’s recommendations on health reform and congressional activity, see: NASW’s Health Reform Page

Public Option Amendments Fail in Finance Committee
On September 29, the Senate Finance Committee voted 15-8 against an amendment by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to add a public insurance option to the Finance Committee’s health reform bill.  Five committee Democrats joined all 10 Republicans in voting no.  A second public option amendment offered by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) also failed.

The public option has been included in all other committee bills in the House and Senate.   Advocates for the public option are working with the Senate to discuss strategies on how the public option plan could be included in the final health reform legislation.

Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Forum focus on Health Care
In late September, NASW attended the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference (ALC). One of the key areas of coverage at the ALC was health care reform. On day two, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) hosted a session titled “Making the Dream of Guaranteed Health Care for All a Reality.” The room was filled to capacity. On the third day, Congresswoman Donna Christensen hosted an all day session titled “The Forgotten Faces and Voices in Health Reform.” This session focused on health care disparities.

The highlight of the ALC was the Phoenix Awards Dinner in which President Barack Obama was the keynote speaker. President Obama thanked the members of the CBC for being the “conscience of the Congress” and thanked Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) for her leadership as CBC Chair. Rep. Lee is a social worker from Oakland, CA.

During President Obama’s remarks he emphasized the importance of passing health care reform now. “For the sake of every American living today and for the sake of every American yet to be born, we must bring about a better health care system — not in 10 years, not in five years, not in one year — this year,” stated Obama.   He further stated, “Let me tell you:  We have been waiting for health reform since the days of Teddy Roosevelt.  We’ve been waiting since the days of Harry Truman.  We’ve been waiting since Johnson, and Nixon, and Clinton.  We cannot wait any longer.  Now is the time to enact health insurance reform in the United States of America.”

Earlier in the month NASW also attended the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) chaired a summit series on “Healthcare Reform: Impact on the Latino Community.” Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) chaired a summit series on “Salud Mental: Discussing Youth and the Public System.”

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