No. 9: U.S. Senate approves sweeping health bill, AOA-backed provisions advance in Dec. 2009

January 15, 2013

Editor’s Note: To commemorate 50 years of groundbreaking news in optometry, we are publishing the Top 10 AOA News stories as selected by our readers from all five decades. Please share your commentary and personal stories on the site as well (http://connect.aoa.org).

In the early morning hours of Dec. 24, the U.S. Senate approved its version of health care reform legislation (H.R. 3590) on a 60-39 party-line vote.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the sweeping legislation measure will extend health insurance coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cost $871 billion over the next 10 years.

Over the next few weeks, a congressional conference committee will be working to resolve differences between the Senate bill and the measure passed by the U.S. House (H.R. 3962) last month. If this process is successful, there will be a final “unified” bill followed by a final “up or down” votes in both chambers, likely within two to four weeks, notes the AOA Advocacy Group.

As a result of the recent Senate action, a number of important AOA-backed provisions have advanced:

  • Federal Provider Non-Discrimination, Section 2706 – AOA-backed Harkin Amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), would establish new Federal provider non-discrimination safeguards aimed at eliminating the harmful practice of health plan discrimination against whole classes of providers, including optometrists. Although the insurance industry, organized medicine and, most recently, a national coalition of surgical groups have mobilized to strip the Harkin Amendment, it remains in the Senate bill.
  • Vision Health Included in School-based Health Centers, Section 399Z / Manager’s Amendment Section 10402 — Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) led a successful AOA-backed effort to add vision to the core services included in a new program to expand the health services provided to children and adolescents through school-based health clinics.
  • Pediatric Vision Care Recognized as Essential Health Benefit, Section 1302 – The Senate bill responds to AOA’s call to make children’s vision a health care priority by requiring all health plans offering coverage to the uninsured and employees of small businesses through a state-based insurance exchange to include vision care as an essential benefit for children. Under the provisions of the bill, the benefit would be defined after the legislation becomes law, a process the AOA is already gearing up to impact.

As the process moves forward, a key objective for AOA in the conference will be to ensure that the provider non-discrimination safeguards that ODs and optometry students have fought all year to get through the Senate and House — Sen. Harkin’s federal provider non-discrimination provision and Rep. Mike Ross’ (D-AR) amendment to block pre-emption of state patient choice/provider non-discrimination laws — are both included in the final bill, noted Advocacy Group Director Jon Hymes.

The AOA believes that this will provide the strongest possible patient access to care protection as the health care system undergoes the changes envisioned by reform legislation, Hymes said.

However, insurance and medical groups are mobilizing against these provisions for a renewed effort to defeat provider non-discrimination in the Senate-House conference.

Those opposing the new patient safeguards passed by the Senate have complained that the provision would prohibit health plans from distinguishing among widely varying health care providers acting with the scope of that provider’s license… and inappropriately interjects civil rights concepts into well-established state scope of practice laws.

They argue that it could jeopardize patient safety and therefore are demanding that it be removed in its entirety.

Fortunately, the concerns of ODs and students on this issue have been heeded by senators to this point and the Harkin amendment has been retained in the Senate bill approved on Dec. 24.

As the Senate-House conference begins to take shape and gets down to business, the AOA Washington office team will be reaching out with more information on how ODs and students can next weigh-in in support of the Harkin Amendment, the Ross Amendment and other AOA priorities, added Hymes.

Questions or comments may be directed to ImpactWashingtonDC@aoa.org.
For the complete text of the Senate-approved “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” on the Library of Congress website, please follow: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.R. 3590.as:

Check out the original article on the AOA News blog at http://bit.ly/RAw1xG.

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