By Deanne Canieso, AANMA Patient Advocate
The debate over the debt ceiling was more than a cursory discussion for many Americans. It was the source of frustration as negotiations, back-handed and forward-moving, were measured against a looming deadline. The issue compelled lively discussion among members of Congress and transfixed political and healthcare pundits with a sense of urgency knowing that if the debt ceiling was not raised, America would be unable to pay its bills and go into default. We were once again reminded not only of the limits of our economy, but of Congress’ challenges.
Despite uncertainty in coming to a debt ceiling agreement, the negotiating table was fraught with strong convictions and a final decision can only be hard won. Last week the debt ceiling made its way onto the Senate floor where Congress passed a debt-limit plan. A bow was placed on the agreed-upon package deal and made into law on August 2 with an important December 23rd Santa clause. But what does that mean for Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) families and the future?
In raising the debt ceiling and allowing the Department of Treasury to pay our bills, Congressional leaders must now appoint a committee of 12 members of congress, a “super committee,” tasked with cutting $1.2 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. If the committee fails to approve a package by the December 23 deadline, what will unfold is in the law’s “trigger mechanism,” which institute across-the-board 2% spending cuts starting in 2013. In the meantime, the debt-deal itself requires cuts of $917 billion in discretionary spending; spending that Congress must approve each year to continue programs. That means programs in K-12 education, infrastructure, and defense might be affected.
Programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, which provide insurance to many with asthma and allergies, are largely untouched by the discretionary spending reductions. However, the super committee must come to agreement on a plan that chips away at the $1.2 trillion goal right before Thanksgiving, on November 23. The committee could accomplish this portion of the law by a number of means. They may:
- Target programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid
- Provide vouchers or credit to purchase a private insurance plan for Medicare and Medicaid enrollees rather than having the government pay for services
- Convert Medicaid to a block grant and limit federal funding
- Recommend tax increases to match spending cuts
- Make reductions in Medicare and Medicaid that could potentially shift the costs to patients
Such cuts might also affect resources given to State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP), a program vital for many low-income families who have children suffering from allergy, asthma, and related conditions. All the while, funding for school-based health centers, sites where children with asthma go for care, continue to be threatened.
It’s hard to cut through the political clutter and scary to think of its potential ramifications- children without access to asthma care. AANMA has long fought for access to much-needed asthma medications and specialty care. For more than 25 years, we’ve sought to connect patients and families to reliable and relevant information, once locked in ivory towers of research institutions. With your help, we rallied to push for a student’s right to carry and administer their asthma medications in schools- a requirement successfully made into law in 50 states. Now, the economic downturn brings us new challenges, and for many, a renewed passion to advocate for creative answers.
How the debt-limit law will affect people with asthma and allergies is still undetermined and dependent on whether the super committee will come to an agreement at all. But we don’t need to cut resources where many people with asthma and allergies are dependent. There are zero-cost solutions we can champion now. For example, we can ensure that NIH guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma are met, and require asthma action plans where it’s needed in the community.
HERE’S WHERE YOU CAN HELP. Contact your representatives and urge them to join the Congressional Allergy and Asthma Caucus. The caucus is key to informing members of Congress about the importance of allergy and asthma as a national issue. Please visit our AANMA advocacy site for more information.
There is still much to accomplish. At AANMA, we know that policies cannot change without constituents, irked by the status quo, willing to make changes. There will be times I’ll reach out to you to share your experiences- hoping that your voice can inspire our blog. We’ll be sure to keep you informed. Please keep visiting our advocacy blog for updates.
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