Marion County Multiple Sclerosis Self-Help Group, Ocala, Florida

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MS Exceptions Set to Expire on Medicare Therapy Caps

Update on Medicare Therapy Caps, ADA Restoration Act

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MS Exceptions Set to Expire on Medicare Therapy Caps
Rehabilitation therapy under Medicare might no longer be affordable for some people living with multiple sclerosis and other conditions.  The exceptions process to Medicare's arbitrary reimbursement limits, or therapy caps, on rehabilitation services is set to expire on December 31, 2007.

MS activists have long been determined to eliminate Medicare therapy caps altogether on reimbursement for physical therapy (PT), speech language pathology, and occupational therapy (OT) services.  In 2008, the therapy cap reimbursement level is scheduled to be $1,810 for PT and speech therapy, and a separate cap of $1,810 will apply to OT services.

To help alleviate the burden, Congress instituted a process for exceptions that allow beneficiaries to apply for therapy services through Medicare above the current dollar cap.  MS currently has an automatic exception, making it easier for people with MS and their healthcare providers to continue therapy without interruption.  But without Congressional action, the therapy cap exceptions will be eliminated, further complicating and limiting necessary therapy services.

On November 6, Congressman Earl Pomeroy (ND) introduced the Long Term Care Quality and Modernization Act (H.R. 4082).  Part of this bill (Section 108) seeks to extend the therapy caps exceptions process through December 31, 2009.

In addition, the Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act (S. 450/H.R. 748) seeks to repeal the permanent therapy caps altogether — the best long-term solution.  However, if the therapy caps cannot fully be repealed, then it is imperative to extend the exceptions process in the short term.  We will keep you posted as this issue moves forward in Congress.


Have Your Legislators Co-Sponsored the ADA Restoration Act Yet?
During the past year, the Society and MS activists nationwide have supported the ADA Restoration Act (H.R. 3195/S. 1881) introduced by Representatives Steny Hoyer (MD) and James Sensenbrenner (WI), and Senators Tom Harkin (IA) and Arlen Specter (PA).  This bill seeks to restore the protections and intent of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as passed by Congress in 1990 with regard to disability discrimination and employment.

The House bill has 235 bipartisan co-sponsors, which is more than half of all the members of the House of Representatives.  Click here to see whether your Representative is a co-sponsor.  The ADA Restoration Act will help restore protections for people living with MS and other disabilities.  People living with MS manage their symptoms with medication to help prevent or ease their disability.  But that can sometimes make them appear too functional and could preclude them from ADA protections.  Despite the ADA's intent to create a level playing field in the workplace, the full promise of the law has never been fulfilled.

The Senate bill still needs more support.  Senators Harkin, Specter, and Edward Kennedy (MA) are the only sponsors so far.  Take action.  Click here and enter your ZIP code to urge your Senators to co-sponsor this important legislation on disability rights.


Thank You
Thank you for all your hard work and support this year.  In 2007, we successfully secured MS research funding, gained momentum on stem cell research, and shaped legislation that could provide more affordable MS therapies.  Change is happening through your MS activism.  We are looking forward to another great year in 2008.  Thank You, and Happy Holidays.

Join the movement at www.nationalMSsociety.org/advocacy  

 

MS Research Eligible for Funding under Dept. of Defense

Thank You for Helping Secure a New Source of MS Research Funding

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Your MS activism has paid off big.  For the first time ever, multiple sclerosis research will be eligible for funding under the Department of Defense (DoD).

Congress has listed MS as a research area eligible for funding under the DoD's Peer Reviewed Medical Research Programs (PRMRP).  PRMRP is a sister program to the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) under DoD that we've been working toward all year.  This program has a budget of $50 million that can only be spent on research areas that Congress directs. It is a new and untapped funding source for MS research, and will complement the work that NIH is doing to move us closer to a world free of MS.

The PRMRP was established in 1999 and continues to fulfill its Congressional intent by funding research of clear scientific merit with relevance to the health of the military and the American public.  PRMRP Congressional appropriations have totaled $344.5 million through 2006 and funded 247 projects in more than 60 topic areas.

All year, you have advocated to Congress to provide Defense funding for MS research.  While this program is not the exact line item we asked for, it is a significant gain in our effort expand research funding for MS in the federal arena.

The Society continues to carefully watch emerging evidence from Veterans' Affairs researchers and others that might point to an increased risk of MS among combat veterans.  More research must be conducted to better understand a potential environmental trigger.

The Defense Appropriations (H.R. 3222) funding bill was signed by the President on November 13, 2007.  As the program is implemented, we will let you know how researchers and others can apply for this funding.  Thank you again for all your hard work and MS activism on this issue.  We will need your voice again next year.

Thank you for being an MS activist.  Join the movement at www.nationalMSsociety.org/advocacy

 

MS Funding Bill - Take Action Now

Congress Could Send Funding Bill to President on Veterans Day

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Breaking News:  Congress is moving quickly on the fiscal year 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill (H.R. 3043) that funds education, health, labor and other critical programs.

You can help gain support for increased funding for multiple sclerosis research.  The best chance of securing increased funds is to achieve veto-proof votes for the conference report in both the House and the Senate.  We understand that the House intends to vote on the conference report later today, and the Senate as early as later this week.

Call and ask them to vote in favor of H.R. 3043 and the 3.1 percent increase for the National Institutes of Health in the Labor-HHS conference report.  NIH is the leading source of research funding for MS.  The bill also includes funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Social Security Administration, and other programs. 


Senate and House Conferees Agree on Labor-HHS Bill

In a victory for medical research, a conference committee of House and Senate members on November 1 approved $29.7 billion for NIH for FY 2008.  That is an increase of $1.1 billion (or 3.1%) over the FY 2007 level.  The Labor-HHS appropriation bill added $100 million to the NIH budget beyond what the Senate passed on October 23.  This is major progress considering the President had proposed cuts to NIH funding.  Thank you.  MS activists have been taking action and encouraging support from your legislators on this issue from the beginning.

Funding for SSA 
Overall, the Labor-HHS appropriation bill provides $150.7 billion in discretionary spending.  At SSA, for example, many disability advocacy groups have been working to address the problems associated with the backlog of disability claims and appeals.  Those claims must be approved prior to receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cash benefits.  Many people living with MS are eligible for SSDI and have endured the arduous process.  To help alleviate this backlog, negotiators provided a $576 million increase (or 6.2%) for administrative costs to SSA.

Stem Cell Language Removed 
The Senate Labor-HHS bill originally included language that would have expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research.  However, Senators Tom Harkin (IA) and Arlene Specter (PA) removed this language in an effort to compromise.  The Senate passed their bill on October 23 by a vote of 75 - 19, which is enough to override a presidential veto.


The Future of the Labor-HHS Bill

Now that the Senate and House worked out their differences, the Labor-HHS conference report goes back to each chamber for approval.  In addition to the funding increases, the conference report packaged the Labor-HHS appropriations bill (H.R. 3043) with the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (H.R. 2642) to make one large spending bill.  This new bill is what the House and Senate will be voting on, and if it passes both chambers, it will be sent to the President.  Click above to take action.

The future of this combined spending bill is uncertain.  President Bush maintains that he will veto any spending bill that allocates more than he requested back in February.  To override his veto, the Senate and the House must both pass the conference report with a veto-proof majority.  It is anticipated that the bill will be put before the President on Veterans Day.


Follow On Biologics on Hold Until 2008
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health met on October 31 to discuss the future of the follow on (aka generic) biologics legislation (H.R. 1038).  Many people living with MS and other diseases depend on biological drugs to sustain or improve their quality of life.  This legislation would establish a pathway for the FDA to approve safe, effective, affordable, and comparable versions of biologic therapies for MS and other diseases.  There is pressure on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to take action on this issue this year.  However, the committee decided to push off working on the bill until 2008.

Biologic (also known as biological or biotech) drugs are produced from living cell cultures rather than synthesized chemically.  The generic drugs that are currently available are synthetically exact copies of the brand name original, based on a precise chemical composition.  Follow on, or generic, versions of biologic drugs, on the other hand, would need to allow for slight nuances in the cell cultures while meeting certain parameters that are strict enough to ensure they are just as safe and effective as the originals.  For MS, biologic therapies include Avonex, Betaseron, Rebif, and Tysabri.

Thank you for being an MS activist.  Join the movement at www.nationalMSsociety.org/advocacy

Lower Drug Prices

Lower Drug Prices

Important Victory for Medicare Beneficiaries
We asked AARP members to urge their Representatives to vote in favor of H.R. 4, a common-sense bill that could lower drug prices for millions of Medicare beneficiaries. Your voice has been heard! The House has voted 255-170 this afternoon to pass the bill. Find out how your Representative voted. This is an important victory, but the fight to make health care available and affordable for all Americans must continue.