Heart on the Hill - October 2013

Heart on the Hill Header
October 2013

Like most Americans, the AHA’s advocacy team was relieved that Congress and the administration finally agreed on legislation that ended the government shutdown and prevented a default on our national debt. The 16-day shutdown cost the economy an estimated $23 billion, furloughed about 800,000 federal employees, and required another 1.3 million staff to report to work without knowing when they would get their next paycheck. Many services were suspended completely or curtailed. 

While the direct impact on AHA is difficult to calculate, the financial uncertainties created by the shutdown, as well as the suspension of the Combined Federal Campaign, will undoubtedly have an impact on charitable giving and AHA donations. The closing of most federal government agencies also had a less direct, but important impact on several aspects of our work and federal advocacy agenda, including: 
  • A FIT Kids fly-in was cancelled
  •  NIH grants and awards were delayed and new patients were not accepted for clinical trials
  •  Action by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee was suspended
  • Work on the SGR and various related provisions were postponed.
The final deal that reopened the government once again “kicks the can down the road” and it’s not clear whether the end point will ever be the illusive “grand bargain.” The continuing resolution was extended through January 15 (when the 2014 sequester budget cuts are slated to occur), and we are likely to reach the next debt ceiling crisis in April. In the meantime, the agreement calls for a budget conference to break the fiscal logjam that has paralyzed Congress. Conferees have been named – and your AHA federal advocacy team will be closely monitoring these deliberations to make sure our priorities are protected.

Contact: Sue Nelson, sue.nelson@heart.org


Rally for Medical Research Hill Day 

American Heart Association volunteers from around the country came to the nation’s capital September 17-18 to urge Congress to invest in the National Institutes of Health. Capitol Hill Group PicOur 40 advocates joined over 240 representatives from more than 170 research organizations on visits to the offices of both U.S. Representatives and Senators during a Rally for Medical Research “Hill Day.”

AHA participants included heart disease and stroke survivors, researchers, and members of the association leadership, such as current President Mariell Jessup, M.D., our past President Donna Arnett, Ph.D., and our President-elect, Elliott Antman, M.D. Our volunteers provided their congressional members with names of the advocates in their states who signed our online petition demanding support for medical research. The petition also displayed the real face of medical research via 250 photos of volunteers holding signs urging Congress to protect funding for the NIH.

At a reception the evening before the Hill Day, 13 year-old Sydney Salmon, an association volunteer from Springdale, Arkansas, shared her story about being a heart transplant recipient at the age of one and how her life depends on the innovations and discoveries of medical research.

In addition to the association, other participating organizations included the American Association of Cancer Research, which organized the event, the American Diabetes Association, FASEB, and the National Stroke Association.

Contact: Claudia Louis, claudia.louis@heart.org

Health Insurance Marketplaces Open! 

On October 1, the Health Insurance Marketplaces opened for business. As widely reported in the media, there have been technology glitches associated with the early phase of enrollment. It’s important to note that consumers who need coverage will have until March 31 to enroll. As of this report, HHS and most states have been hesitant to release initial first enrollment figures and we may not have specific numbers until mid-November. But the volume on the healthcare.gov website indicates a high initial interest by consumers and is a promising sign that many more Americans will sign up for coverage.

According to an analysis released by the Department of Health and Human Services, consumers living in the 36 states where HHS is operating their Health Insurance Marketplace will have, on average, 53 different health plans to choose from. In the 48 states that made their health insurance rate information publicly available prior to October 1, 56 percent of uninsured Americans are expected to qualify for health coverage for less than $100 per month, after eligibility for the Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program is factored in.

The AHA continues to do our part to help educate those Americans who need insurance about new coverage choices and provide our staff and volunteers with the information and tools they need to assist in our outreach efforts. Here are some highlights:
  • The association has launched a “Covering All Americans Toolkit” to help staff and volunteers educate the public about the Marketplaces and the coverage options available to the uninsured. In addition, palm cards with the Marketplace contact information are now available through Workflow (item number 301071) for only the cost of shipping ($1.20 per pack of 25).
  • We teamed up with AARP to host a TeleTown Hall meeting about the health care law for Association volunteers. Nearly 7,000 volunteers from across the country participated in the call to learn more about how the law impacts them.
  • Association survivor-advocate Aqualyn Laury participated in a White House event with President Obama on October 1 to highlight the opening of the Marketplaces. Aqualyn also shared her story on NPR’s Marketplace and MSNBC. Dr. Don Lloyd-Jones, the AHA’s Chicago Board president, was a featured speaker at the launch of the Illinois Marketplace.
  • We joined with the NAACP to host a webinar about the law for our Power To End Stroke Ambassadors on October 15.
  • Additionally, we partnered with the American College of Cardiology and the Association of Black Cardiologists on a webinar for health care providers about the health reform law on September 24.
Contact: Stephanie Mohl, stephanie.mohl@heart.org

 FDA Considers Options for Potential Regulation of Menthol Cigarettes
The Food and Drug Administration is currently examining whether it should regulate menthol in cigarettes. FDA regulation could include a limit on the amount of menthol cigarettes can contain, advertising and promotion restrictions, sales and distribution restrictions, or prohibiting menthol cigarettes altogether.

As part of this process, the FDA is seeking input from members of the public on the use of menthol in cigarettes. The FDA plans to use public input, along with a report from the agency’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee and a recently completed independent scientific evaluation, to determine if and how menthol should be regulated.

In upcoming comments to the FDA, AHA will recommend that the agency prohibit the use of menthol in cigarettes because of their adverse impact on public health. Individuals may submit their own letter to the FDA by visiting the You’re the Cure website.

Contact: Susan K. Bishop, susan.k.bishop@heart.org

AHA Volunteer Testifies on Newborn Screening    

On Thursday, September 26, AHA volunteer Joye Mullis of Raleigh, North Carolina, testified before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on “The Past, Present, and Future of the Newborn Screening System.” Joye shared the story of her son Ethan, who exemplified the importance of comprehensive newborn screening. Ethan was born with a congenital heart defect that was first discovered by an observant nurse, and later through pulse oximetry screening. At the end of her testimony, Joye called for the reauthorization of the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act. The act will help ensure that infants throughout the country are screened for treatable conditions. The American Heart Association worked with the March of Dimes, Little Mended Hearts, and a variety of other passionate volunteers to pass legislation in North Carolina which made pulse oximetry screening mandatory. Joye works as a volunteer for both the AHA and the other two organizations. The hearing was chaired by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). Many thanks to Betsy Vetter for her efforts to prepare Joye and her great work on this issue.

Contact: Sue Nelson, sue.nelson@heart.org


 Three More States Require Pulse Ox Screenings  

New York, South Carolina and Michigan have joined the more than 20 states requiring all newborns to be screened for critical congenital heart defects (CCHD) using pulse oximetry. Several other states are developing rules to carryout previously enacted legislation to implement the screening. The pulse oximetry test offers a quick, painless way to screen newborns for CCHD and enables health care providers to identify defects early and treat them quickly and more efficaciously.

Contact: Lucy Asdourian, lucy.asdourian@heart.org


Smokefree Victories in Louisiana and Texas

Smokefree Victories in Louisiana and Texas

Ouachita Parish in Louisiana recently passed one of the few parish- or county-wide smokefree ordinances in the Greater Southeast Affiliate. The parish includes Monroe and West Monroe, Louisiana and covers more than 155,000 citizens. This comprehensive ordinance applies to bars, bingo halls, and e-cigarettes and will take effect January 2, 2014.

In addition, San Marcos, Texas passed a comprehensive smokefree ordinance on October 2. San Marcos is home to 50,000 people and contains the second largest shopping outlet in the country. The ordinance requires a 10 ft. distance rule and will also prohibit the use of e-cigarettes. All city-owned property will become smokefree on January 1, 2014, followed by all workplaces on June 1, 2014. There is one exception: if a bar or restaurant has secured a permit to build a patio, they will have until January 1, 2015 to become smokefree.

Contact: Chris Sherwin, chris.sherwin@heart.org

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Retha Sherrod
Director, Media Advocacy
(202) 785-7929

Samantha Carter
Associate Communications Manager, Media Advocacy
(202) 785-7935

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