By Bob Le Roy
This month, the U.S. Senate has acted to advance two top priorities of the Alzheimer’s Association. Passage into law is still months away, but years of tireless advocacy are clearly having an impact.
We say it’s “the power of purple,” and “grassroots works”. Senators and representatives do indeed pay attention to the voices and opinions of people back home. When thousands of Washingtonians contact their members of Congress and ask them to make Alzheimer’s a national priority by dramatically increasing federal funding for research on the disease and improving the care and support for people who are currently living with dementia, good things happen!
So what’s happened in early June? The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee began to vote on bills to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins October 1. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who are the leading members of the subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health, introduced a bill that proposes boosting funding for Alzheimer’s research by $400 million.
This is a 40% increase from this year’s level of $991 million. We’re still celebrating the historic 60% increase in Alzheimer’s research championed by these two senators and enacted in December 2015. For their leadership, Sens. Murray and Blunt were named recipients of the Humanitarian Award by the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, our sister organization.
The NIH funding bill sailed through subcommittee and full committee votes and will soon be debated on the Senate Floor. Gaining momentum early in the Congressional process is often the key to victory. Since the bill already has bipartisan agreement for our desired funding – indeed the very amount the Alzheimer’s Association asked for – it’s harder for skeptics to remove it.
What about the U.S. House? Their consideration of a separate funding bill for NIH will begin later in the summer. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) helped achieve last year’s big increase. Our advocates are hoping they will be willing and able to do it again.
Getting funding up to $1.4 billion takes us more than halfway to the annual $2 billion our scientific advisers say is necessary in order to achieve the national goal of having a treatment for Alzheimer’s by the year 2025. We won’t rest until we get there!
Another priority for the Alzheimer’s Association is passage of the “HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act,” H.R. 1559 and S. 857. Cosponsors of this bill include every member of the Washington delegation and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID). The HOPE Act would amend Medicare to compensate physicians for writing a care coordination plan after the initial diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Sens. Murray and Blunt added the text of the HOPE Act to the NIH funding bill, effectively doing an end run around the Senate Finance Committee which has not moved the HOPE Act in five years.
Advocates continue to hope that the House committees to which the HOPE Act has been referred will choose to move the bill, especially since the Alzheimer’s Association has shown them that the bill would save Medicare almost $692 million over ten years. One promising sign came when the House Ways & Means Health Subcommittee, the ranking member of which is Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), had a hearing June 8 on Medicare improvements that included the HOPE Act.
Passage of both of these bills is possible in September, particularly if Alzheimer’s advocates keep up the pressure. Becoming an advocate is easy, sign up today and encourage your family and friends to do so, too. Use the easy messaging service at www.alz.org/advocate to send emails to your Senators and Representative in support of legislation that helps individuals in our state and across the nation.
Bob Le Roy has been the Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter Serving Washington & Northern Idaho since July, 2011. He joined the Association as President & Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Pennsylvania Chapter in 2008, bringing with him more than 35 years experience as a development professional and change agent in the not-for-profit sector and financial services industry.