Advocacy Roundup – July 10-14
SAA Hill Day
On Friday, July 7, the Student Academy of Audiology’s (SAA) Board of Directors kicked off their July meeting to travel to Capitol Hill and lobby for key Audiology initiatives. Through a series of 11 meetings with Congressional staff, the SAA Board, along with Academy Board Member Virginia Ramachandran, AuD, PhD and AAA Government Relations Committee Member Steven Madix, PhD, pressed Congress to reauthorize the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Act and to pass the Access to Frontline Health Care Act. These meetings served to bolster the Academy’s legislative portfolio at a critical time before Congress adjourns for its’ August recess. For more information on SAA’s successful Hill visits, view the post on the Academy’s Instagram page.
House Passes OTC Bill
On Wednesday, July 12, the House of Representatives officially passed the FDA Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2430) under suspension of the rules. Broadly speaking, this legislation reauthorizes the FDA’s user fee programs for prescription drug, medical device, generic drug, and biosimilar biological products. This legislation also contains language found in the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act which would create a new category of over-the-counter hearing aids for adults who perceive that they have a mild-to-moderate hearing loss. This legislation has already been passed out of Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the expectation is a full Senate vote will occur on this legislation in the next several weeks.
Senate Hearing on VA Choice Act
On Tuesday, July 11, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on legislation that would make improvements to the VA Choice Program and make it permanent. The draft legislation would serve to simplify access to the Choice program for many Veterans and shore up the program’s funding. Specifically, the legislation would remove the requirement that a Veteran lives more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical center or faces a wait time of 30 days or longer to access care outside of the VA system. Instead, a Veteran can communicate with his or her doctor and they can decide where the best treatment would lie.
As Congress considers changes to the Choice program, the Academy has been active in working with Congress to ensure that the role of VA Audiology is understood by lawmakers. Visit the Academy’s Legislative Action Center for more information on the audiology and the VA Choice Program.
Senate Unveils New Version of Health Bill
Following an unpopular initial draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), legislation that would effectively repeal and replace large portions of the Affordable Care Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced an amended version to his Republican colleagues on Thursday, July 13. This legislation is currently awaiting an official score from the Congressional Budget Office, but it has already run into steep opposition from several key Senators. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have indicated that they would vote against the motion allowing the debate to formally proceed, and other Senators including Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mike Lee (R-UT), and John Hoeven (R-ND) have said that they are undecided. Three other Republican Senators, Shelly Moore Capitol (WV), Dean Heller (NV), and Lisa Murkowski (AK) also have expressed concerns with the legislation. With a Democratic Caucus that is expected to be unified in opposition to the bill, Leader McConnell can only afford to lose two votes when passing the BCRA.
This version of the legislation includes a controversial amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would allow the sale of cheaper, deregulated insurance plans as long as the company made other insurance available that was compliant with the Affordable Care Act. This amendment may be stripped from the eventual bill to win over the more moderate members of the Republican caucus. However, that risks alienating key conservatives like Cruz and Lee. Congressional experts are expecting a CBO score early next week followed by a vote on a motion to proceed with the legislation. Should the GOP secure enough votes, a vote on the full bill will likely occur by the end of the week. At this point, should the Senate pass this legislation, it will return to the House who would either need to rectify the differences between the two bills or simply pass the Senate bill.
Senate Delays Recess
In an effort to avoid returning to their home states with an agenda that is largely incomplete, Leader McConnell announced that he would delay’s the Senate’s annual August recess by two weeks to give Senate Republicans more time to pass key legislation, like the Better Care Reconciliation Act and the annual defense policy bill, and to advance key nominations to executive agencies. This move comes as criticism mounts for leading Republicans that much of the GOP agenda for the 115th Congress remains unfinished, including a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, and an infrastructure package. The House of Representatives has not yet cut into the August recess, but expectations are that the House would return to Washington should the Senate pass a health care reform bill so that the two bodies can work to create a joint product that can be sent to the President’s desk.