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Legislative Update

January 2013

Join us for the Legislative Update call on 
Monday, Jan. 14, at 1 p.m. (ET)

APHA's legislative staff will provide an update on
congressional activity and Q & A

Call (800) 442-5794
Passcode: 141930

I. President signs fiscal cliff deal; sequester delayed until March
II. APHA calls for measures to reduce gun violence
III. Preparedness bill passes House, stalls in Senate
IV. EPA issues final rule to strengthen soot standards
V. APHA joins brief in support of contraception coverage
VI. Infant mortality bill passes House
VII. APHA 2014 Public Health Fellowship in Government
VIII. Policy watch: State updates

President signs fiscal cliff deal; sequester delayed until March

On Jan. 2, President Barack Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, legislation to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. The legislation permanently extended Bush-era tax cuts for individuals earning up to $400,000 annually as well as a number of other tax extensions and changes. However, the legislation did not resolve one of the biggest threats to public health – the pending sequester – across-the-board cuts of 8-10 percent for all non-exempt discretionary and some mandatory spending. Instead, the deal postponed the implementation of the sequester until March 1 in an effort to give Congress and the administration additional time to develop an alternative deficit reduction proposal. APHA and its members have been advocating for Congress and the president to develop a balanced deficit reduction proposal to replace the sequester.

The legislation contained a variety of health-related provisions, including a provision to avoid a 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors for one year. The legislation also reauthorized some federal farm support programs in an effort to avoid major increases in the prices of some foods through the end of the 2013 fiscal year. Additionally, the bill included a reduction in funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education or SNAP-Ed. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the goal of SNAP-Ed is to increase the likelihood that SNAP – formerly known as food stamps – recipients will make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles.

APHA members are encouraged to send a message to their senators and representative urging them to develop a balanced deficit reduction proposal to replace the pending sequester that does not contain additional cuts to nondefense discretionary programs and other important public health programs.

APHA calls for measures to reduce gun violence

On Jan. 3, APHA staff joined other medical and health organizations at the White House with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and representatives from Vice President Joe Biden’s office to discuss efforts to reduce gun violence in the United States. APHA was invited to give input to the secretary who is working closely with the vice president and other leading administration officials to develop a set of recommendations for the president. In addition, APHA sent a letter to President Obama shortly after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., urging him to support a number of legislative proposals to reduce gun violence. The APHA letter recommends increased research and data collection on gun violence, reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban, requiring background checks for all gun purchases and ensuring access and adequate funding at the federal, state and local level for mental health services. APHA will continue to work with the administration and Congress to push for common sense gun violence legislation this year.

APHA members are urged to send a message to their senators and representatives urging them to take swift action on legislation to reduce gun violence.

Preparedness bill passes House, stalls in Senate

On Dec. 18, APHA joined other leading public health organizations in sending a letter to leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives in support of H.R. 6672, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2012. The bill would reauthorize medical and public health preparedness and response programs, and overwhelmingly passed by a bipartisan vote of 383-16. The bill would enhance the capacity of existing programs and authorities using lessons learned over the past five years to strengthen the nation’s resilience to threats, whether naturally occurring or the result of a deliberate attack. The bill would also strengthen the National Health Security Strategy, modernize the national situational awareness and biosurveillance capabilities and enhance collaboration and coordination by providing federal preparedness leadership. The reauthorization would provide targeted flexibility by allowing preparedness grant programs at HHS the limited ability to carry over funds to encourage efficiency and promote long-term planning. The measure would also allow states and tribes to request the authority to temporarily reassign public health personnel from other HHS-funded grant programs to respond to a major emergency to meet the staffing needs required by a disaster. The reauthorization would make modifications to ensure that a range of public health and medical capabilities take into account the needs of vulnerable populations, including children and people with disabilities.

Action on the bill has stalled in the Senate, which failed to take up the bill before adjourning the 112th Congress.

EPA issues final rule to strengthen soot standards

On Dec. 14, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule to protect the health of all Americans by tightening the standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), or soot, from the current 15 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over a year to a standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The proposal also recommends maintaining the current 24-hour standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. Exposure to fine particle pollution causes premature deaths and significant health problems, such as increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for cardiovascular and respiratory problems, including heart attacks and strokes. Soot is also linked to the development of chronic respiratory disease, reproductive and developmental harm, as well as cancer, mutagenicity and genotoxicity. APHA and other health advocates submitted comments to EPA and participated in several meetings with EPA and the Office of Management and Budget urging them to adopt a stronger standard. You can read APHA’s press statement in support of EPA’s action to strengthen the standard on the APHA website.

APHA joins brief in support of contraception coverage

On Dec. 28, APHA joined a friends of the court brief in support of HHS and the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The plaintiff, Frank O’Brien and O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, a for-profit, secular corporation, claimed that HHS’s rule requiring birth control coverage in employees’ health care plan violates the company’s religious rights. The district court dismissed O’Brien’s claim, finding that the contraceptive rule does not impinge on the company’s religious exercise. Additionally, the brief requested that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit also affirm the district court’s decision to uphold the HHS contraceptive rule.

The claim brought to the district court mirrors more than 40 other cases across the country that are opposing the contraceptive rule with plaintiffs including private businesses as well as religiously affiliated institutions.

Infant mortality bill passes House

On Dec. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of S. 1440, the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act, by voice vote, which would reauthorize programs focused on decreasing the risk of pre-term labor, pregnancy-related deaths and infant mortality. The House version includes additional provisions that would allow the National Institute of Health to establish a National Pediatric Research Network and reauthorize federal payments through 2017 to children’s hospitals that operate graduate medical education programs.

The Senate passed its version of the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act, sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. in November, however, Congress adjourned the second session of the 112th Congress without resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

APHA 2014 Public Health Fellowship in Government

APHA is seeking candidates for the 2014 Public Health Fellowship in Government. The fellow will spend a year working on public health legislative and policy issues in a Capitol Hill office, experiencing firsthand how public policy decisions affect our public health system. The fellowship will begin January 2014 and will run through December 2014. Applicants must be a member of APHA and a U.S. citizen, have a master’s or doctorate in a public health or related discipline and at least 5 years of professional experience in a public health setting. Visit APHA’s website for more information. Applications are due by April 8, 2013. 

Policy watch: State updates

Seattle public school cafeteria revolution

Seattle public schools have introduced a series of new school meals. A grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed the district to partner with Tom Douglas Restaurants to combine flavor with nutritional goals. New recipes include more fresh, local foods, including baked fish, butternut squash curry and homemade granola. Student focus groups were used to gather suggestions for new recipes, and the meals were then served to families, who provided feedback to the chefs. The USDA recently updated the nutrition standards for school meals as directed by Congress through the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. New school meal standards were implemented this fall. Under the new standards, school lunches are required to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and fewer calories, sodium and unhealthy fats. The Seattle public school district made changes to school meals in advance of the new school meal standards, which exceed USDA nutritional regulations and have been well received by students.

Colorado looks to strengthen mental health programs

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is looking to strengthen Colorado’s mental health services and support system to help keep patients, families and communities safer through prevention. Proposed changes to overhaul the state’s mental health system include establishing a statewide mental health crisis hotline, improving access to walk-in crisis stabilization centers for urgent mental health care and making real-time mental health commitment records available for firearm purchase background checks. Additional changes include providing mental health care to jailed inmates in the Denver area and providing support for people leaving mental health institutions. The proposed plan calls for an $18.5 million budget increase and would be implemented through the Office of Behavioral Health at the Colorado Department of Human Services.


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