Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending May 20, 2011

Budget Talks Continue With No Major Breakthroughs

Congressional leaders from both parties continue to struggle over federal budget issues. The most pressing item is the need to reach agreement on extension of the federal debt limit. Bipartisan talks hosted by Vice President Biden have yielded little agreement as the parties remain far apart in their effort to reach a compromise on spending cuts that would pave the way for a vote to increase the debt limit.

The Senate is expected to turn its attention to the budget when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls up the House-passed budget for FY 2012. Senate Democrats unable to reach consensus on their own plan will hold a vote on the unpopular House plan which makes deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. At this point it’s not clear what the next move will be as other bipartisan talks have splintered.

Sluggish Economic Recovery Takes Toll on Medicare Trust Fund

Reduced revenues caused by unemployment are impacting the Medicare hospital insurance fund. According to the annual Medicare trustees report released on May 13, Medicare is projected to exhaust its funds in 2024, five years earlier than projected last year. Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress pointed to the recession as the source of strain on finances for the program which covers nearly 47 million Americans. Medicare's hospital trust fund is supported by payroll taxes, and thus is more susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy. The Affordable Care Act, enacted last March, included reforms to improve the financial soundness of the trust fund by $120 billion over five years. The Affordable Care Act also strengthened and expanded guaranteed Medicare benefits.

Study Finds Women at Greater Risk if Health Care Reform is Not Implemented

According to a new report by the Commonwealth Fund, rising health care costs combined with sluggish income growth has led to losses in health care coverage among women and increased problems getting and paying for medical care. Nearly one of three women ages 19 to 64 – an estimated 27 million women – were uninsured during 2010. Of these uninsured women, half were in families with at least one full-time worker. Some 42 million women – with and without health insurance – reported problems paying medical bills. Over the past decade, U.S. adults have spent more and more of their income on health insurance and health care. A third of working-age women spent 10% or more of their income on premiums and out-of-pocket costs in 2010, up from 25% who did so in 2001. This is the result of rapidly rising health care costs, a decline in real median family income and the fact that women’s incomes continue to lag behind men’s. The prevalence of women’s problems paying for health care – whether or not they have insurance – highlights the need for implementing the Affordable Care Act. The changes required by the Affordable Care Act will ease the growing health care cost burden plaguing so many women, particularly those in low- and moderate-income families.

Sen. Boxer (D-CA) Introduces Nurse Staffing Bill

On May 12, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the National Nursing Shortage Reform and Patient Advocacy Act (S. 992) which would improve the delivery of safe and quality health care by requiring hospitals to meet minimum nurse-to-patient staffing levels. Safe nurse staffing standards also help address the nursing shortage by correcting harmful working conditions that drive nurses away from the bedside. Research shows that unsafe nurse staffing levels jeopardize quality patient care and put patients at greater risk of medical errors, hospital-acquired infections and death. The bill also protects the rights of nurses to speak out for their patients and to speak out for themselves, without the fear of discrimination or retaliation. A similar bill will be introduced in the House by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Senate Fails to Move Forward on Judicial Nominee

While achieving a simple majority vote of 52 to 43, mostly along party lines, Senate Democratic leaders failed to achieve the necessary 60 votes needed to break a filibuster against President Obama’s nomination of Goodwin Liu to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Liu, Professor of Law and the Dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law, received the American Bar Association’s top ranking of “Unanimously Well-Qualified.”

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