View from Washington


Autism Awareness Month

By Brent Ewig, MHA
Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs, AMCHP

Its springtime in Washington, and the debate about reforming our nation’s health system is about to take center stage. However, as this issue is focused on autism, it’s a perfect opportunity to highlight a few pieces of good news:

First, the recently passed FY 2009 omnibus appropriations bill included a $5.6 million increase for the Maternal and Child Bureau’s (MCHB) work authorized by The Combating Autism Act of 2006. As a refresher, this law authorized a program for early detection, education and intervention activities on autism and other developmental disorders. Today, the program supports activities to:

·         provide information and education on autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities to increase public awareness;

·         promote research into the development and validation of reliable screening tools and interventions for autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities and disseminate information;

·         promote early screening of individuals at higher risk for autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities as early as practicable, given evidence-based screening techniques and interventions;

·         increase the number of individuals who are able to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities; and

·         increase the number of individuals able to provide evidence-based interventions for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities.

In FY 2008 Congress appropriated $36,354,000 to HRSA’s MCHB for this program, of which approximately $20 million was moved from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant training programs for Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) and Behavioral Pediatrics. The recently passed omnibus appropriations for FY 2009 increased this funding for the MCHB portion to $42 million.

These funds are being used to expand these programs, as well as support: grants to study interventions for autism and related developmental disabilities; demonstration grants to develop models of systems of services for children with autism and other disabilities; grants to disseminate current and accurate information to families and consumers on early identification, diagnosis and access to services; grants to disseminate screening intervention, and guideline information; and other technical assistance and evaluation.

Additionally, the president’s budget outline released last month announced planned investments to “support Americans with Autism Spectrum disorders (ASD).” The HHS budget outline noted that “the President is committed to expanding support for individuals, families, and communities affected by ASD.” His budget is expected to include $211 million in HHS for research into the causes of and treatments for ASD, screenings, public awareness, and support services.” While few additional details on that proposed funding are available at press time, we expect it will build upon the Combating Autism Act, and we’ll report more as details are released. 

Health Reform Update

Congressional committees are gearing up now to write health reform legislation. On your behalf, the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs is taking a lead role to advocate that the needs of women and children are at the forefront of any reform package. We are joining with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and other groups to spread the message loud and clear that the way to truly improve health and drive down health care costs is by strengthening our nation’s public health system.

Guided by our member-developed and board-approved AMCHP Principles for Health Reform, we are actively reaching out to key staff now to share ideas about how to create and maintain an adequate and stable funding stream to support effective public health programs. Current expectations are that key committees in Congress could introduce health reform legislation as early as May, with a stated goal to complete action before their planned August recess. AMCHP will continue to advocate that reform include coverage for all with a strong benefits package, as well as inclusion of explicit provisions to strengthen our public health system. Stay tuned as it promises to be an interesting and perhaps historic summer in our nation’s capital.