New Laws Passed By Congress
Toward the end of 2018, before the midterms, Congress passed a proliferation of bills, many of which were bipartisan. The following is a roundup of recent legislation designed to provide economic stimulus and additional protections heading into 2019.
The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to embark on more than 100 water resource projects, ranging from water-pollution control to conservation and development of water resources for rivers and harbors throughout the United States. The bill also enables states to borrow money to develop clean drinking water systems and establishes new federal programs to help communities address water contamination – in hopes of avoiding situations like the one in Flint, Michigan, where improperly treated water leached lead from old pipes into the drinking water.1
The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018 was introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) in April 2017 and enacted in September 2018. The bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire at least 50 Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists to help veterans who become involved in the criminal justice system. These licensed social workers will help veterans be referred to veterans treatment courts, which are specialty courts with experience dealing with issues such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. They are dedicated to helping veteran offenders address underlying issues and get the help they need. A VJO specialist is empowered to customize a rehabilitation program for the unique needs of each veteran defendant and monitor his or her progress through the veteran court system.2
Until now, many health insurance plans and pharmacy benefit managers, including those offered through Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans, negotiated “gag clause” agreements with the pharmacies in their network. These agreements prevented pharmacists from letting customers know that a drug they purchased at the store would be less expensive if they purchased it out-of-pocket rather than using their insurance. The Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act, effective immediately, officially prevents this practice among insurance plans offered by employers and purchased on the individual market. The Know the Lowest Price Act of 2018 bans this practice among Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans effective January 1, 2020. Both bills were signed into law in October 2018.3 Under the new legislation, pharmacists will not be required to tell patients about a lower cost option. If they don’t, it’s up to the customer to ask.4
The Justice Served Act of 2018 amends the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 to allocate federal grants to help address the backlog of violent crime cases involving suspects identified through DNA evidence, including cold cases.5
The Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act of 2018 makes it easier for streaming music providers, such as Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music Unlimited, to license music for their subscribers. This bill updates licensing agreements to include digital reproduction and distribution and establishes a nonprofit mechanical licensing collective to administer a blanket statutory licensing system for streaming providers. This entity will be responsible for collecting and distributing royalties for both pre- and post-1972 sound recordings.6
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1 John Barrasso and Tom Carper. USA Today. Oct. 23, 2018. “Water Infrastructure Act is a bipartisan win for all Americans, from farms to cities.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/10/23/americas-water-infrastructure-act-protects-families-bipartisan-flint-flood-column/1669902002/. Accessed Oct. 31, 2018.
2 Austin Igleheart. National Association of Counties. Aug. 28, 2018. “Congress passes bill to expand Veterans Justice Outreach Program and incentivize new veterans treatment courts.” https://www.naco.org/blog/congress-passes-bill-expand-veterans-justice-outreach-program-and-incentivize-new-veterans. Accessed Oct. 31, 2018.
3 Susan Morse. Healthcare Finance. Sept. 27, 2018. “House passes bills prohibiting pharmacy gag clauses on drug prices.” https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/house-passes-bills-prohibiting-pharmacy-gag-clauses-drug-prices. Accessed Oct. 31, 2018.
4 Advisory Board. Oct. 11, 2018. “Trump signs bill to ban ‘gag clauses in Medicare, private health plans.” https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2018/10/11/gag-clauses. Accessed Nov. 16, 2018.
5 Deborah McKeon. Temple Daily Telegram. Oct. 11, 2018. “Justice Served Act to provide funds to prosecute cases.” http://www.tdtnews.com/news/article_4246638a-cd9a-11e8-a3c1-b3ac4a1a5875.html. Accessed Oct. 31, 2018.
6 Bill Rosenblatt. Forbes. Oct. 11, 2018. “Here Are The Loopholes Closed By The Music Modernization Act.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/billrosenblatt/2018/10/11/music-modernization-act-now-law-leaves-one-copyright-loophole-unclosed/. Accessed Oct. 31, 2018.
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