A Quick Look at the 112th Congress
As a result of the November elections, there will be significant changes to the new Congress. In the House of Representatives, the Republicans have reclaimed the majority; John Boehner (R-OH) will replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House; and the Republican leadership is focused on cutting discretionary funding, advancing a conservative agenda, and rolling back some of what congressional Democrats and President Obama accomplished during the 111th Congress. In the Senate, the Democrats’ majority was weakened. What is less well known is that the new Congress has a dearth of representation by scientists, MDs, and PhDs; of the 435 members of the House, only four have PhD and 20 have MD degrees. In the Senate, there are four physicians but no researchers or PhDs.
Congress Passes a One-Year Extension of Medicare Physician Payment Rates
As one of its last acts before adjournment in December, Congress passed H.R. 4994, the “Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010.” This legislation blocks a scheduled 25 percent cut and extends current Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians through 2011. The legislation will also extend several expiring Medicare programs, including protections for rural doctors and hospitals. While there had been general bipartisan agreement on the importance of stabilizing physician payments for at least a year, negotiations centered on identifying ways to pay for the approximately $19 billion cost of the proposal. The extensions will be paid mainly through a provision in the health reform law that would change tax credits provided to people with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level to help them buy health insurance in state-run markets, beginning in 2014. The agreement represents the first major adjustment to the health overhaul legislation.
ASH thanks all of its members who joined the Society’s advocacy campaigns to address the Medicare Payment Rate issue. ASH will continue to work with Congress to find a permanent solution and prevent future disruption by stop-gap measures to correct the sustainable growth rate formula.
Teach Your Congressional Representative About NIH
George Weiner, MD, Chair, Committee on Government Affairs
We have heard it many times before — “contact your Congress.” This time, we really need to do it. In fact, we need to do more than contact, we need to teach.
All hematologists know that research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is responsible for many major advances in hematology and clinical medicine in general. This research takes place at medical centers across the country and is selected through a highly competitive peer-review process. Funding from NIH serves as an economic engine for many communities and is an outstanding example of the “promote the general welfare” referenced in the Constitution. Indeed, NIH has been called the “crown jewel” of the federal government.
Nevertheless, support for NIH is in greater danger now than at any time in recent memory. Our current economic challenges combined with a large number of new Members of Congress are leading to consideration of a major rollback in NIH funding. This is because many in Congress, particularly newcomers, know little to nothing about NIH. They do not know that a vast majority of NIH funds are spent in medical centers across the United States, that NIH funding is distributed based on a highly competitive peer-review system and is not “pork,” and about the major and positive economic impact NIH funding has on many congressional districts and on our ability to remain competitive internationally in biomedicine.
As hematologists, we apply research advances to our care of patients every day. We pride ourselves on being excellent teachers of both patients and trainees. We, therefore, are in an excellent position to teach Members of Congress about the vital importance of NIH. Write to your Representative or Senators (http://grassroots.hematology.org/blood/ home). If you are in Washington, set up a time to visit them in their offices. Better yet, invite them when they are back in the district for a tour of your office, hospital, or lab, and bring along a patient who is of like mind and can speak about the importance of research advances made possible by NIH.
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