Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending March 9, 2012

105 Million Americans No Longer Face Lifetime Limits on Health Benefits, Thanks to the Affordable Care Act

Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans could put lifetime limits on payouts for benefits, in effect ending coverage for individuals who had catastrophic illness, such as cancer. Nearly 60% of all workers covered by their employer’s health plan in 2009 had some lifetime limit placed on their benefits, meaning these workers could max out of their benefits just when they needed them the most. Thanks to the ACA, lifetime limits on coverage have been eliminated for more than 105 million Americans, roughly 70 million people in large employer plans, 25 million people in small employer plans, and 10 million people with individually purchased health insurance, who all had lifetime limits on their health benefits prior to the passage of the health care reform law.

In addition, new data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows how the ACA provision that allows young adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ plan has helped young adults across racial and ethnic lines. The report estimated that this provision of the ACA has given 1.3 million minority young adults the security of health insurance as they begin to build their careers and their families. Approximately 2.5 million young adults who would otherwise be uninsured gained health care coverage thanks to the ACA.

These two provisions, and the security they provide to millions of Americans, would be lost if the ACA was repealed. To find out how many individuals would lose benefits from the ACA in your state if the ACA were to be repealed, see this post from the White House Blog

Senate Moves Forward on Highway Funding Bill

The Senate began consideration of the Surface Transportation bill (S. 1813), working its way through a series of amendments. One amendment adopted that was offered by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) would extend the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRSA) for one year, a measure that AFSCME supports because the program funds rural schools and other local government services in areas with large amounts of federal land that cannot be taxed to support those services.  Unfortunately the amendment proposes cuts to federal and postal employee retirement programs to pay for the SRSA.  The amendment passed by a vote of 82-16. The Senate will resume consideration of S. 1813 next week. 

March 12 Deadline to Help Extend Minimum Wage and Overtime Protections to Home Care Workers

For decades federal law has treated home care workers as casual baby sitters. They have been denied basic federal minimum wage and overtime protections because, historically, they’ve been regarded as just “companions.” AFSCME has fought to correct this injustice. President Obama and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis have proposed new Fair Labor Standards Act rules that would ensure that these workers are treated fairly. The Department of Labor’s (DOL) public comment period on the proposed rule ends March 12. The proposed rule, however, is already under attack. To help home care workers, please submit a comment in support of the proposed rule to the DOL. Please urge that the new FLSA rule be adopted.

After submitting your comment, please ask your Representative to oppose the bill that attacks the proposed rule (H.R. 3066). 

Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), Friend of Labor, Champion of Human Rights, Passes Away

Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-NJ), the first African-American member of Congress to represent the State of New Jersey, passed away at the age of 77 on March 6. He had colon cancer. Rep. Payne used his seat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee to advocate for working families, children and senior citizens. He also was a champion of human rights and a former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. AFSCME will miss Rep. Payne, who was a tireless advocate and humanitarian.

National Association of Counties Endorses Marketplace Fairness Act

The National Association of Counties (NACo) formally endorsed the bipartisan Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 1832), sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). The bill would empower state and local governments to collect currently unpaid sales and use taxes, which in 2012 will cumulatively total $23 billion. NACo joined with the National Governors Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and others in endorsing the Marketplace Fairness Act to provide states with the ability to enforce their existing state and local sales and use tax laws. At NACo’s 2012 Legislative Conference, Sen. Durbin said, the Marketplace Fairness Act will help “states avoid raising taxes or making painful cuts that will slow our economic recovery.” Durbin also noted that, “Marketplace Fairness Act is not a new tax. It simply gives states the ability to close the online sales-tax loophole created when out-of-state sellers don’t collect, and purchasers don’t pay, state sales tax – even though they still owe it.”  AFSCME continues to talk with Senate offices to build support for S. 1832.  

House GOP Leadership Expected to Propose Block Grant of Medicaid

House Budget Committee members Reps. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) introduced legislation to block grant the Medicaid program, which would lead to substantially reduced federal payments to states.  In comments reported by the press, Huelskamp stated that he was “very confident” that Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) would include a proposal to block grant the Medicaid program in the GOP leadership’s budget blueprint due to be released later this month.  Ryan included a block grant proposal in last year’s budget resolution and it was approved by the House along party lines.  However, the block grant was defeated in the Senate in response to concerns that a block grant would shift more Medicaid costs onto states, and put important services at risk, especially nursing home and other long-term care services for seniors and people with disabilities. 

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