WASHINGTON — Americans who've lost their voices due to degenerative diseases would get expanded access to voice-generating devices through Medicare and Medicaid under a bill named for former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason and co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana.
The Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act — a follow-up to the Steve Gleason Act of 2015, which made the devices eligible for Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement — will do away with limits on access to the devices imposed under federal Medicaid and Medicare rules and make the changes in the 2015 law permanent.
The bill is included in a broad GOP-backed package in the U.S. House of Representatives to keep the federal government open by temporarily extending its budget.
The House passed the package — which includes a number of other measures, including two years worth of funding for federally qualified community health centers — on Tuesday evening.
Washington – A bill by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that liberalizes federal funding for speech-generating devices for the disabled was sign…
Gleason, a former defensive back for the Saints, became a team icon after blocking a punt during the Saints' first home game following Hurricane Katrina. Gleason's block gave the Saints their first touchdown of the game against the arch-rival Atlanta Falcons and spurred on a lopsided victory.
Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, not long after retiring from the NFL.
"Most people who have severe disabilities are expected to fade away quietly and die," Gleason said in a statement heralding the House vote on the bill. "For me, that was not OK. With the right equipment and the right technology, these same people can live and be productive for decades."
The fate of the overall package, which is wrapped up in bitter partisan disagreements over immigration and funding levels for domestic programs and the military, is unclear. The U.S. Senate is not expected to adopt the overall bill as-is.
The inclusion of the bipartisan Gleason Act, however, signals its backing by GOP leadership in the House and provides a potentially positive sign for its eventual passage into law. Cassidy wrote the Senate version of the bill with Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat. A companion bill in the House is backed by Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Democratic U.S. Rep. John Larson of Connecticut.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson Parish, touted the bill at a Republican leadership press conference Tuesday morning. Scalise, who co-sponsored the Gleason Act of 2015 and has been backing the latest effort, praised Gleason's activism and called the devices "critical to giving a voice to those people with diseases like ALS."
Cassidy said, "This legislation gives a voice to those who cannot speak and empowers those affected by degenerative diseases.
"I thank my House colleagues for advancing this bipartisan legislation to permanently fix this problem," Cassidy added. "I look forward to voting for its passage in the Senate."