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Fall 2000 Table of Contents
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Legislative Update

Compiled by Edgenie J. Bellah, Program Consultant, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) and Cyral Miller, Director of Outreach, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

This year parents and professionals will want to stay current on both Federal and State legislative actions, as the Texas Legislature will come back into session January 2001.

The American Foundation for the Blind's "Words from Washington" recently reported on two federal issues of interest. The first is pending Federal legislation that would allow qualified O&M specialists, rehabilitation teachers and low vision therapists to become eligible providers under Medicare. This would result in the professionals being reimbursed from Medicare funds, which can be used to meet the budget needs. HR2870, the Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Coverage Act of 1999, has over 100 co-sponsors in the House. To see the text of the current draft, you can go to http://www.medicarenow.org/advocacy_legislation_bill.htm. This bill would, for the first time, include vision rehabilitation services under the Medicare program. Once passed by the House, this bill will move to the Senate for its action.

The second is that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules for large broadcast stations and program distributors, to increase the availability of video description for television. With video description, narration inserted into television programming describes actions or visual clues to supplement dialogue and soundtracks. Using a separate channel, viewers can access critical information that enhances their television programming. The new rules, to go fully into effect by April 2002, will require a minimum of fifty hours per quarter (about four hours a week) of prime time and/or children's programming for large broadcasters in twenty-five major television markets. Rules will also increase accessibility of emergency information.

Another Federal issue we have been following that has tremendous impact on the lives of Texans is Medicaid. There are efforts underway nationally to extend health care coverage to more children through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. All states were expected to have CHIP completely implemented this fall, or they would have to pay back whatever was not spent. Because the CHIP program was approved by the U.S. Congress when the Legislature's session had already ended and Texas just started enrollment in the spring, it has been reported that our state may have to pay back a significant portion of CHIP funding for missing the deadline. Unless efforts in Congress to extend the deadline for implementation of CHIP to bigger states such as Texas and California are successful, the loss of revenue could cut down on future efforts to secure health care coverage for children now falling through the cracks.

There is also a pending federal lawsuit on Texas' implementation of Medicaid for children, and it appears likely that there will be legislation proposed in the next State legislative session to address concerns with this program. If you are interested in learning the specifics of the Medicaid lawsuit, you can go to http://www.main.org/txchip/index.html. Another hot topic families will be called to voice their opinions on is a movement to simplify Medicaid. The Texas CHIP Coalition is committed to making the TexCare Partnership a success for our uninsured children. However, unless the eligibility process for children's Medicaid is simplified to mirror that of CHIP, the TexCare Partnership will not reach its fullest potential. The Texas CHIP Coalition's proposal is simple - make the application processes for children's Medicaid and CHIP the same, so when a family mails in a TexCare Partnership application, it is complete. Other proposals include allowing mail-in applications and recertifications, making the verification and documentation policies identical to CHIP, eliminating the asset test, and adopting twelve months continuous eligibility.

Of particular interest to our readers are the following three state issues:

Any legislative session brings the promise of surprises. Families and professionals who want to stay informed can research legislation at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/ and be prepared to contact their Representatives and Senators to advocate for services they feel are important.

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Last Revision: July 30, 2002