Capitol Hill Update: Advocates Press for Action on Medicaid
Advocates attending the 2010 Annual Conference heard words of encouragement for their work and delivered key messages to lawmakers on pressing issues. During the Advocacy Training Session, Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy told attendees that the Obama administration has worked to ensure the mental health community has a seat at the table and a strong voice in health policy discussions.
On Thursday, during Capitol Hill Day, attendees visited their congressional offices, urging action on critical issues and initiatives. These include extending an enhanced rate of federal funding for Medicaid through June 30, 2011; supporting increases in funding levels for mental health services, supports and research; extending health information technology assistance eligibility to mental health and addiction treatment professionals and facilities; and supporting legislation to prevent and reduce the use of physical restraint and seclusion in schools.
The drive to extend an increase in federal Medicaid matching funds has been a priority of our advocacy efforts because it provides a critical link to needed mental health services for millions of low-income Americans. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), enacted in February of 2009, included additional Medicaid funding for states through higher federal matching rates through the end of December.
However, states are still facing decreased revenues and increased demand for health care assistance as wages have declined and high rates of unemployment continue. In addition, because many states' fiscal years begin in July, the increase would end halfway through the 2011 cycle, leading many to considering cutting benefits and provider reimbursement rates.
To address this problem, an extension of the Medicaid funding increase through June of 2011 was included in legislation introduced in the House and Senate in May (the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010). Anticipating these funds would be available, a number of states have incorporated the increase in their 2011 budgets.
However, the legislation, which also included an extension of unemployment benefits, has faced opposition because of concerns over its cost and the impact on the deficit. The House stripped the Medicaid extension out of its version of the legislation before it gave approval in May. In the Senate, the bill has failed on three occasions to win the 60 votes needed to move the legislation for a vote.
Senate leaders plan to continue efforts to win approval for the package, although action will likely be delayed until later in the summer at the earliest. We will continue our efforts to win approval of this vital funding and will keep you apprised of developments. ::