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Breastfeeding and pregnant worker amendments added as Congress passes omnibus bill

congress omnibus.jpg
Stacks of the Congressional Record are distributed as lawmakers debate a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill that finances federal agencies and provides aid to Ukraine, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.

Several health policy provisions are included in the $1.7 trillion legislation, which was approved by the House a day after the Senate passed it.

The House passed a massive $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill Friday that finances federal agencies through September. The vote comes a day after the Senate approved the measure. It now goes to President Joe Biden for signing.

Known more increasing defense spending and aid for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, the bill passed with several health policies, including two late amendments added by the Senate:

  • The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers, PUMP Act, which expands breastfeeding time and space protections for more nursing workers.
  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for medical conditions arising from pregnancy and childbirth, such as limits on heavy lifting and more frequent breaks.

The bill also allowed Congress to follow through on some of the most consequential bills it had passed over the past two years, such as expanding health care services to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. Some $5 billion was provided help the VA implement some of the changes called for in the PACT Act, and the amount of money provided specifically for VA health care soared 22% to nearly $119 billion.

“These benefits are deserve. They were earned, and they are owed," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is retiring after serving some 48 years in the Senate and as the current chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill also requires states to keep children enrolled in Medicaid on coverage for at least a year, which advocates say increases access to preventative care.

However, millions who enrolled in the health care program for low-income Americans could start to lose coverage on April 1 because the bill sunsets a requirement of the COVID-19 public health emergency that prohibited states from booting people off Medicaid.

Also, physicians will see Medicare payment rates cut by 2 percent in 2023, and then 3.25 percent in 2024. The bill originally called for a 4.5 percent cut, although many doctor advocacy groups wanted to hold off on any cuts.

The legislation also includes $9.2 billion in funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mostly for public health preparedness for another pandemic.

Other elements of the bill: a $100 million increase in block grants to states for substance abuse prevention and treatment programs; a two-year extension for more telehealth flexibility and the health-at-home program; Medicare coverage for marriage and family therapists; and continuation of the Low-Volume Hospital program and Medicare Dependent Hospital Program.

The bill, which runs for 4,155 pages, includes about $772.5 billion for domestic programs and $858 billion for defense and would finance federal agencies through the fiscal year at the end of September.

The bill passed by the Senate, 68-29. Eighteen Republican senators joined with Democrats in voting for the bill. The House vote was mostly along party lines, 225-201.

Information from the Associated Press and Kaiser Health News was used in this report.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.