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U.S. Congress Approves Federal Energy Initiatives, Dietary Supplement Legislation

On Dec. 9, the United States Senate approved several tax, energy and health initiatives.

And in the last vote of the 109th Congress, the House of Representatives endorsed legislation that would require manufactures to notify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of all serious adverse events for dietary supplements and over-the-counter drugs.

The federal legislation, HR-6111, would extend a series of tax, energy and health initiatives sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch.

The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives last Thursday and HR-6111 is expected to be signed into law by the president.

"Many of these provisions are vital to sustaining our economy, and I'm very glad that after months of effort, we were able to save Americans an enormous tax hike next year," Hatch said.

The tax package includes several provisions to make health savings accounts (HSAs) more user friendly for employees and businesses.

Approximately three million people have enrolled in the consumer driven health plans that allow participants and employers to save pre-tax dollars and withdraw the money tax-free for medical expenses.

The provisions enhance the availability and affordability of the plans for small businesses and individuals.

"HSAs are a great option for many people," said Hatch. "They address the chief health care concerns of families - price and portability. Putting health care decisions back in the hands of consumers will drive down costs by encouraging a more prudent use of health care dollars. And HSAs allow employees to take their health care savings with them when they switch jobs."

The HSA Improvement and Expansion Act provisions would:

•Allow rollovers to a health savings account from existing HRAs and FSAs.

•Simplify personal contribution limits.

•Require the federal government to complete cost of living adjustments earlier in the year to provide individuals and employers with more time to modify plans.

•Authorize full contributions for mid-year enrollees.

•Allow families to "seed" an HSA with funds from individual retirement accounts.

•Give employers the opportunity to make greater contributions to the accounts of non-highly compensated employees.

In addition, HR-6111 gives a boost to research based companies operating in Utah, noted Hatch.

Since its enactment in 1981, the research credit has become an effective incentive for firms to increase research spending, but was slated to expire Dec. 31.

The legislation approved last week by the U.S. Senate and House would extend the research credit retroactively through 2007.

"Many companies - especially in Utah - rely on this tax credit to remain competitive and innovative," said Hatch. "Research and development is the lifeblood of not only Utah's but the nation's economy. In short, our nation's future economic health depends on the innovations of today."

The legislation would also extend a provision providing school teachers a tax deduction for $250 for the costs of classroom expenses through 2007.

Last year, 3.3 million teachers working in schools at locations across the nation took advantage of the deduction.

"Dedicated teachers - who have enough challenges as it is - sacrifice by paying out of their own pockets for classroom supplies to meet the needs of their students," noted Hatch. "This deduction is a modest means of helping them cover their costs."

Experts indicate that Utah has one of the largest underground geothermal reservoirs in the nation.

Tax incentives for electricity produced from geothermal and renewable energy facilities - first enacted in the 2005 comprehensive - were extended through 2008 in HR-6111.

The U.S. has the reserves to provide energy from geothermal sources to more than 22 million homes if fully developed.

A July 2006 government accountability office study estimated that, due to the provision, future electricity production from geothermal resources could increase by 25 percent to 367 percent by 2017.

In addition, the tax package also prevents physician payment cuts in 2007 by freezing payments for medical services.

HR-6111 also provides a one-year extension of a provision that allows Medicare beneficiaries to apply for additional physical, occupational, and speech language therapy services.

In 2003, federal legislation changed the formula for Medicare reimbursements to physicians.

The 2006 bill extends the formula through 2007, which will continue to raise payments in certain rural areas.

Hatch also fought to extend the availability of the all-inclusive care for the elderly program.

PACE is of interest to people providing long-term, acute care for frail elderly in rural areas, continued the Utah senator.

Authored by Hatch and sponsored by Rep. Chris Cannon, the FDA dietary supplement and over the counter medication guidelines outlined in S-3546 is expected to be signed into law by the president.

"This bill strikes the right balance between necessary regulation and over-regulation," pointed out Hatch. "This new legislation complements the 1994 supplement law I authored by providing Federal authorities with an additional tool to identify when serious problems occur.

At the same time, the Utah senator insisted that the federal law not restrict consumers' access to supplements."

The Dietary Supplement and Non-prescription Drug Consumer Protection Act would require manufacturers, packers or distributors of over the counter drugs or dietary supplements in the United States to tell the FDA within 15 business days any reports of a serious adverse event associated with the products, according to the Utah senator.

Serious events include incidents that result in death, a life-threatening experience, inpatient hospitalization, disability or incapacity, birth defect or medical/surgical intervention to prevent one of the outcomes.

"Nearly 60 percent of Americans regularly use dietary supplements to maintain or improve their healthy lifestyles. They have benefited from a growing, vibrant supplement industry. This bill is the right thing to for a responsible industry to do for consumers. They should have the confidence that a significant mishap reported to a company will be taken seriously and that the government will take it seriously, too," concluded Hatch.

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