The legislature continues in its budgetary work with the both chamber Appropriations committees starting to finalize their first round of budgets. The income tax reduction continues to linger on in the House, leaving members on the Appropriations trying to cut back on the budget so that the money will be available for those who want to cut taxes. Let's review major activity in the House and Senate over the past few weeks.
Appropriations committees took their first stabs at putting together a budget for the coming fiscal year. ACS CAN have been active in the appropriations in three major areas this go around. The usual tobacco and cancer prevention funding dollars continues to stay as a top priority for ACS CAN. Funding for the programs has seen a stabilization over the past couple cycles due to a great amount of advocacy work done by those all-around Michigan. This year both chairmen of the Health and Human Services budget indicated that there would be no change in the funding levels for the tobacco and cancer prevention programs in the first go around. We will continue to monitor the situation as the bills move forward in the process.
Our second activity in the budget surrounds healthy food access. There were three asks in the budget this year that ACS CAN worked on with coalition partners. The first was providing a one tine grant to corner stores and convenience stores to put in equipment that would make it easier to sell fresh fruits and vegetables in their stores. We know there are areas in the state that do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and these stores are the only place that people can get groceries. Our hope is with this funding we can grow the access to the needed food.
Farmers markets are a great location to get fresh foods. SNAP benefits in the past few years have been allowed to be used at farmer’s markets. One of the great programs around the SNAP program is one that allows for a doubling up for SNAP dollars for those buying food at farmer’s markets. One of the major hurdles is the way that SNAP benefits are taken. The market needs to have a hard-wired device to accept the payments. Many farmer’s markets don't have that luxury to allow for that so this leaves this option unavailable for those with SNAP. Wireless devices are available but they are costly and currently not required under contract with the SNAP vendor. ACS CAN is advocating for that to change. We are asking the legislature to change the contact to allow for wireless devices and make them available at all farmer’s markets in Michigan that want them.
Finally, fresh fruits and vegetables have a hard time making into our children's lunches sometimes. Local farmers have the produce but have hard times making it into the school systems. That all changed with the 10 Cents a Meal program. This is a pilot program in northern Michigan that is providing schools 10 extra cents per child per meal to purchase fresh produces from local growers. ACS CAN supported the proposal last session and saw that 16 schools participated in the program with 52 applying. This year we are asking for a continuation of the pilot to help schools get the fresh fruits and veggies they need and help local growers in the process.
As you have likely heard in the news, the efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act are continuing. The American Health Care Act (AHCA) is the replacement plan that has been debated. This bill would significantly alter the accessibility, adequacy and affordability of meaningful health insurance for millions of Americans, including those who have coverage through Medicaid. ACS CAN did not support this legislation when it was moving through the process back in March because it would undermine access to affordable, quality coverage, and put patient protections at risk. The bill would significantly reduce the number of Americans able to access and afford quality health insurance.
Unfortunately, the bill has been amended and is now even worse for cancer patients. An amendment has been added that would allow states who set up high-risk pools to waive the Essential Health Benefits, meaning that cancer patients would no longer be guaranteed coverage for chemotherapy, prevention, or hospitalization. While in theory plans would have to accept everyone, insurers could set up plans that don’t cover the services that people with chronic illnesses like cancer need, thus opening the door for backdoor discrimination.
The amendment would also allow patients with pre-existing conditions to be charged much more for their plans, and could price people out of the market. The bottom line is that it could make plans both worse and more expensive for cancer patients and survivors. Congressional leadership is trying to get the votes to pass this bill. ACS CAN strongly opposes this bill as it is not a replacement that is better than the current system.
· Budgets are moving and money for tobacco and cancer prevention programs are safe for the moment
· Funding for healthy food initiatives have made their way in the budget and could stay.
That activity has been front and center for us over the past month but I would also look for issues surround tobacco and oral chemotherapy fairness to make their way to the surface in May. If you have any further questions please don't hesitate to reach out to myself (email@example.com) or Matt Phelan (matt.phelan@cancer,org) with any questions.