View From Washington

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

It is August in Washington and that means three things for sure — it’s hot, Congress is on recess, and kids everywhere have begun counting down the last days of summer vacation. As hot as it is here, it’s clear the real heat is in many of the town hall meetings across the country where members of Congress are hearing from constituents about their feelings on health reform. While it is too early to know the final chapter in this health reform saga, it’s obvious these meetings are having a large impact on the public’s appetite for comprehensive health reform — which only makes final passage that much more uncertain.  

Meanwhile at AMCHP, we see a fragmented health system that costs too much, leaves too many out, and is unsustainable based on its current trajectory. As we continuously point out, the fact that the nation ranks 29th in the industrialized world in infant mortality rates, 4 of 10 low income American women are uninsured (unless they become pregnant or disabled), and only about half of all children with special health care needs are in a medical home, demonstrates that we have plenty of room for improvement.

Therefore we continue to advocate for health reform that covers everyone, provides a benefit package adequate to meet the needs of children, pregnant women, adolescents, and children with special health care needs, and invests in prevention and public health programs. The good news is that four of the five committees that have already passed health reform legislation in Congress have largely met these principles. 

It’s important to acknowledge that these bills are not perfect — but no legislation this large and important probably ever could be. I do want to highlight again that both the House and Senate HELP Committee bill include provisions to invest over a billion dollars in medical home demonstrations and to create a mandatory $10 billion Public Health Investment Fund. It’s hard to underestimate how important this would be in shaping the future public health funding landscape and delivering resources to support state and local MCH programs. For summaries of the legislation and many other health reform resources, be sure to visit AMCHP’s Health Reform Hub here 

Another provision in health reform legislation that fits nicely with the back to school theme is the creation of a school-based health center program. The legislation also requires plans participating in the exchange to cover all CDC-recommended immunizations and other preventive services with no cost-sharing, which would go a long way to fulfilling school-entry immunization requirements.  

The next few weeks will be critical in determining whether health reform legislation will have enough support to finally pass Congress and be signed into law. AMCHP will continue to be your voice in Washington and a resource to you at home, so stay tuned for further updates and analysis on what this means for the MCH populations you serve. 

Finally, although directly related to health reform, as kids go back to school there is heightened attention to our national preparedness for H1N1. The recent federal guidance on school closings is essential and available here. 

As kids go back to school, we will continue to study health reform legislation and what it means for MCH, so its time to hit the books!