DRUG RE-IMPORTATION BILL ADVANCES
A Senate bill allowing imports of low-priced prescription drugs won the approval of the House leadership on Sept. 26, making it likely that there will be agreement in Congress and from the President. Introduced by Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.), the bill addresses the disparities that force American consumers to pay two or three times as much for some American-made drugs as do people in Canada, Mexico and other countries where prices are regulated. Consumer organizations support this legislation but point out that a great deal more must be done to ensure that consumers have access to affordable prescription drugs.
NEA GETS FUNDING INCREASE
A House-Senate conference committee approved a $7 million increase for the National Endowment for the Arts, funding the agency at $105 million for fiscal 2001. While the amount of money currently appropriated for arts funding is totally inadequate, this marks the first real increase since 1995, when the Republican-led Congress began trying to dismantle the NEA. The White House requested $150 million this year.
EPA: NYC LEAD REMOVAL LAW COULD HURT CHILDREN
The Environmental Protection Agency has informed New York City officials that recent changes in the city’s law concerning lead paint removal are critically flawed and do not adequately protect children’s health. Local Law 38 – which weakened lead paint removal regulations and was characterized as “a landlord protection bill” by Councilmember Stanley Michels – was enacted in June 1999, despite vocal opposition from labor, public health, tenant and other organizations
EPA Region 2 Administrator Jeanne M. Fox said the law “falls short by not requiring two critical . . . steps that serve to ensure that work is done properly” – requiring lead paint removal work to be done by specially trained workers and, after its completion, testing to ensure that no lead dust or other contamination remains. Exposure of children to even minute amounts of lead dust can lead to permanent damage to a child’s mental development. Workers doing lead paint clean-up also are at risk for serious health problems.
INDEPENDENT MEDICAL EXAMINER BILL SIGNED
After a long delay, Gov. George Pataki signed legislation establishing regulations to cover the qualifications and activities of so-called “independent medical examiners” (IMEs) on Sept. 22. “The governor’s action is a direct result of our coordinated efforts, including hundreds of phone calls we made,” said NYS AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes. “Now injured workers will face a more fair and equitable situation when dealing with IMEs,” which play a critical role in determining whether injured workers are eligible for workers’ compensation.
Under the old law, the insurance companies’ “independent medical examination” system was rife with abuse, such as doctors submitting opinions concerning medical specialities that they were not qualified to practice, IMEs refusing to give a copy of their report to the claimant, and IME reports being altered by the insurance companies before being submitted to the Workers’ Compensation Board.