Lawmakers Unroll Bipartisan Family Opportunity Act
Vowing to "close the health care gap for vulnerable families," four lawmakers yesterday unveiled the Family Opportunity Act of 2001, legislation that would extend health coverage for children with disabilities (Josh Kotzman, California Healthline, 2/9). The bill -- sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas) -- would allow parents earning up to 300% of the federal poverty level, about $51,150 for a family of four, to purchase Medicaid coverage for disabled children up to age 18 (Fulton/Rovner, CongressDaily, 2/8). The bill also would provide states with "greater flexibility" to offer health services to disabled children at home and would establish "family-to-family information centers" in each state to help parents with disabled children. According to the lawmakers, parents often have to avoid raises or overtime payments at work to ensure that their disabled children remain eligible for Medicaid coverage. "Today, the law forces these parents to choose between family income and their children's health care. That's a terrible choice," Grassley told a room full of parents of children with disabilities and advocates for the disabled yesterday (Kotzman, California Healthline, 2/9). Kennedy added, "To obtain needed health services for their children, families are too often forced to become poor, stay poor, place their children in institutions or even give up custody of their children entirely" (Kennedy release, 2/8).
Calling the legislation "long overdue," Waxman said that the bill, which died in Congress last year, enjoys broad support in this Congress and would likely pass in 2001 (Kotzman, California Healthline, 2/9). The lawmakers also plan to send a letter to President Bush, urging him to include funding for the legislation in his budget (Abrams, Associated Press, 2/8). "We're on the move ... and we're not going to give up and we're not going to give in," Kennedy vowed (Kotzman, California Healthline, 2/9). CongressDaily reports that the bill -- which has about 80 co-sponsors -- may have "a better chance" in 2001 with Grassley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, providing support. Still, GOP Senate leaders may oppose the legislation. "We probably won't mark it up as separate legislation because one or two members could hold it up pretty easily," Grassley said, suggesting that lawmakers may fold the measure into a larger tax or Medicare bill later this year (CongressDaily, 2/8).