The Shutdown is Over. Now What?

Dear Parkinson's Disease Community,
Over the past few weeks, it has been hard to escape the partisan rancor that has come to define our political system. It has permeated the airwaves, internet news sites and blogs, and even the local newspapers. Truthfully, the mood here in Washington, D.C. has been unsettled for quite some time as our leaders struggle to put away ideological differences to find common ground and take critical steps forward on complex issues. While many breathed a sigh of relief at the agreement that finally emerged last night to send hundreds of thousands of federal employees back to work this morning, restarting critical research and review projects at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, and to raise the federal debt limit, it only offers a temporary solution. In fact, many of the fundamental issues that led to the crisis in the first place are still waiting to be addressed. (Learn more about the budget and debt limit deal.)

While gridlock in our nation's capital left the government at a near standstill, PAN increased its activity in a number of key policy areas. PAN has emerged as leader in the patient advocacy community with respect to identifying policy opportunities to expand the benefits of telemedicine services to people with Parkinson's and other chronic conditions, regardless of geographic location. With critical Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions taking effect this year and in 2014, including the Health Insurance Exchanges launched nationwide on October 1, PAN has devoted considerable time developing tools, resources, and programs to engage and educate the Parkinson's community about the changes to our nation's health care system – and these efforts will remain a priority as implementation of the ACA moves forward.

We also closely monitored the debate throughout the government shutdown, communicating to our elected officials the need for a comprehensive solution that ends sequestration and providing resources for the Parkinson's community to weigh in about the real world impact of the fiscal impasse. This critical work is strengthened by the hundreds of diverse and passionate grassroots leaders committed to improving the lives of people with Parkinson's across the country.

As difficult as these past few weeks and months have been, it seems that some of our greatest policy challenges may still lie ahead this year. Although we've managed to turn "the lights back on" for the federal government for now, there is still no long-term plan in place for Fiscal Year 2014 spending, creating uncertainty for a number of programs critical to the Parkinson's community, including the only Parkinson's-specific research program in the federal government at the Department of Defense. No decisions have been made on how to address sequestration, which will continue to automatically cut federal spending each year through 2021 if it is not replaced or repealed.

A bicameral, bipartisan Congressional committee has been appointed to find a path forward on these issues, but their work will likely be complicated by broader discussions on tax reform and changes to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security to help reduce the deficit. Without Congressional action by the end of the year, the Medicare therapy cap exceptions process will expire, leaving thousands of patients without access to the therapy services they need. In addition, an expiring patch to the Medicare physician pay formula, known as the "doc fix," will result in thousands of doctors facing deep cuts to their Medicare reimbursements. With the challenges ahead, we cannot afford to be idle or indifferent, and the strength of the collective voice of our community will be called upon and needed as much as it ever has in the past.

We will reach out soon again with more information and opportunities for you to stay engaged, and we thank you for your dedicated work, your enthusiasm, and your personal journeys that inspire us every day.

Amy Comstock Rick


Date originally posted: October 17, 2013.