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NAAOP Government Relations Update – Lame Duck Congress

Congress returns November 16, 2004 to finish up the term’s business, including nine spending bills that fund the federal agencies and programs and reform of the nation’s intelligence system. There are many more pending bills, such as reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which will likely remain unfinished heading into the 109th Congress.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) continue to prepare for implementation of the new Medicare law. Of particular interest to NAAOP members is the agency’s development of the competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment, orthotics, prosthetics and supplies (DMEPOS).

Competitive Bidding-The Program Advisory and Oversight Committee (PAOC) for competitive bidding of Durable Medical Equipment had its first meeting on October 6, 2004. The committee has been charged with advising CMS on the development of the competitive bidding program, as mandated by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. NAAOP attended the day-long meeting that primarily focused on implementation procedures. Little was mentioned in terms of orthotics and prosthetics specifically. NAAOP will continue to work with other organizations to education Congress, CMS, and the PAOC on the definition of “off-the-shelf orthotics” and the effect competitive bidding will have on the orthotists and orthotic consumers.

Appropriations-The focus of the upcoming “lame-duck” Congressional session following the election will be passage of the final nine spending bills, leaving important pieces of health-related legislation for the 109th Congress. The remaining appropriations bills are anticipated to be consolidated into an “omnibus” bill that will incorporate a final compromise between House and Senate leaders. The bill will fund the federal government through the remainder of the 2005 fiscal year. Among those bills to be reconciled is the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill, which funds many rehabilitation and health programs key to NAAOP’s priorities. Overall, most rehabilitation programs received level funding this year, as they have in the past, mostly because of across-the-board spending freezes attributed to growing spending on the war in Iraq. There is at least some chance that Congress will be unable to reach an agreement on new spending levels and simply extend FY 2004 spending levels to FY 2005 through a “Continuing Resolution.”

IDEA Reauthorization-Congress has appointed Senate and House Conferees to reconcile the two versions of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA guarantees all children with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. Though the bill is not expected to be enacted this Congress, House and Senate negotiators are expected to work through the election and lame duck session to finalize a compromise bill that can be quickly reintroduced next year and enacted. The current authorization expires on June 30, 2005.

“Tech” Act-Despite relatively few bills being enacted this late in an election year, Congress did manage to make progress on the reauthorization of the Assistive Technology Act. A final bill passed both the House and Senate early in October, and now awaits the President’s signature. The Assistive Technology Act funds state-administered programs that provide funding and other assistance to people with disabilities in need of assistive technologies, devices, and related services.

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