Flurry of Activity Closes Out Congressional Session

Last year’s lame-duck session of Congress was anything but sedate. Prior to adjourning on Dec. 22, the House and Senate cleared a dizzying array of legislation for President Barack Obama’s signature.

Most historic of all, Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the 1993 law that prohibited gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

“NASW has long urged Congress to repeal the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,”‘ NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark wrote on the Social Work Blog, “NASW greatly appreciates everything our members did to support these efforts, such as responding to an action alert we sent out in the spring.”

Receiving far less fanfare but of no less importance, Congress reauthorized the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. The bill promotes the use of differential response in child protective services, gives special attention to the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence and sharpens the prevention focus of the community-based child abuse prevention grants.

Congress also passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which establishes a National Alzheimer’s Project within the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate efforts in improving care and ultimately finding a cure for people living with the disease.

The Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 was also approved. The measure gives a one-year extension to a delay in the 25 percent payment cut to clinical social workers’ payments for psychological services billed independently under Medicare Part B.

The act also extends for one more year the 5 percent psychotherapy payment restoration, thereby ensuring the continuation of $30 million in Medicare payments for 2011, which will be shared by psychologists and clinical social workers billing the program.

Additionally, it provides financial resources to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to process backlogged payments for claims since January 1, 2010, to which the restoration will be retroactively applied.

“Medicare [clinical social work] payment issues are a top priority for NASW,” said Jim Finley, an NASW senior government relations associate. “While we continue to face a challenging environment and complex battles on payment issues, this victory demonstrates the importance of NASW advocacy on behalf of the social work profession.”

Congress also passed legislation renaming the National Capital Station Post Office in Washington the “Dorothy I. Height Post Office” in honor of the late social work pioneer and civil rights icon who died last year. The location, adjacent to Union Station, houses the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

“Dr. Height was a pivotal figure in the history of the United States, particularly throughout the civil rights struggle and the women’s movement,” Clark said. “She was a proud social worker who exemplified our social justice mission. We were saddened by her death earlier this year and it is an honor that our nation named a post office after such an incredible leader.”

In other news, the Federal Communications Commission recently approved new rules supported by NASW that are meant to prohibit broadband companies from interfering with Internet traffic flowing to their customers.

The FCC’s national broadband plan will increase affordable broadband speeds to 100 megabits per second to 100 million households and increase broadband speed to at least 1 gigabit for one library, school or other public anchor institution in every community. Currently, 93 million Americans, including 13 million children, are not connected to broadband at home.

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