April 2010 E-Newsletter - Policy Focus

     After a whirl-wind March, Congress is now on Congressional recess.  While your Members are back in the district for the district work period, we hope that you visit with them and their staff.  But before you go, let's recap the busy month of March. 
Department of Defense Parkinson's Research
In March, a great deal of effort went into securing support for the Department of Defense Parkinson's research program.  The Neurotoxin Exposure Treatment Parkinson's Research (NETPR) program is the only Parkinson's-specific research program funded by the Federal government.  It is not automatically funded each year, and it is up to the Parkinson's community to ask Members of Congress to support the program by signing a Dear Colleague letter.  Thanks to the diligent work of advocates from across the country, the Parkinson's community secured 42 Representatives on the House letter and 17 signers on the Senate letter.  While not as many signers as traditionally secured, it was a good effort for what is going to turn out to be a tough budget year.  Stay tuned as we will need your help again later this year as Congress acts on the Defense Appropriations bill.
Health Care Reform 
On March 23, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. There are several provisions of this historic legislation that are of interest to the Parkinson's disease community, including:
  • Creating a Cures Acceleration Network at the National Institutes of Health, supporting translational research in the hopes of more quickly moving research from the lab into new drugs and therapies available to patients.  For quite some time, PAN has focused on this fundamental issue and we are excited to see a renewed focus on accelerating therapies and drugs for Parkinson's and many other diseases;   Learn more.  
  • Extending the Medicare Therapy Caps exceptions process until December 31, 2010 for medically necessary outpatient occupational, physical, and speech therapy; Learn more.   
  • Eliminating lifetime caps on benefits for all insurance plans 6 months after enactment of the bill;  
  • Eliminating annual caps on benefits for individual and group plans in 2014;  
  • Closing the Medicare Part D donut hole by 2020, and providing a $250 rebate for all Medicare Part D enrollees who enter the donut hole in 2010;  
  • Prohibiting insurers from establishing eligibility rules based on health status, medical condition (mental or physical illness), claims experience, receipt of healthcare, medical history, genetic information, evidence of insurability, disability, etc.  
With the passage of health reform legislation, PAN will be actively working on these priorities where implementation or additional legislation is needed.  Stay tuned as this work moves forward.

On March 25, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a proposed rule that adds Parkinson's disease to the list of health problems found to be related to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures during service in Vietnam. On October 13, 2009, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced that Parkinson's disease will receive a "presumption of service connection" for disabled Vietnam veterans living with Parkinson's disease.  This decision simplifies and accelerates the benefits application process for Vietnam veterans with Parkinson's disease.
Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted over the next 30 days.  PAN is working with the U.S. Military Veterans with Parkinson's (USMVP), a group of over 200 Vietnam veterans living with Parkinson's disease, to ensure the final regulations are comprehensive for Vietnam veterans living with Parkinson's disease.  Please stay tuned for an Action Alert with directions on how you can submit comments to the VA.
Once the public comment period has ended, the Veterans Affairs Administration will prepare a final rule for publication in the Federal Register.  It is important to note that the VA is encouraging Vietnam veterans to submit their applications for compensation now, before the rule is final, so that the Agency can begin development of their claims and they can receive benefits from the date of their applications once the rule becomes final.
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