The autism bill increases federal funding by 50 percent for the disorder, which afflicts 1.5 million people in the United States.
Congress voted on Dec. 7 to significantly increase federal funding to identify the cause of autism, now diagnosed in one in 166 children. The Senate, acting a day after House passage, approved on a voice vote legislation that authorizes $945 million over five years for autism research, screening and treatment.
"We welcome this as a first step," says Marguerite Colston, Communications Director for the Autism Society of America. "One of the things we're really focused on are services... After age 18 or age 21, depending on the states, we need to find housing. We need to find insurance. We need to get Medicaid wavers for people with autism. We have a lot to do, and we're excited to work with the next Congress to do it."
The legislation provides the National Institutes of Health with a list of possible research areas related to autism spectrum disorder, including an examination of whether the increase in autism diagnoses is caused by environmental factors.
The AIDS legislation Bush signed will shift care and treatment money to rural areas and the South.
The House on Dec. 9 agreed by voice vote to renew the $2.1 billion-annual Ryan White CARE Act. The Senate passed the bill earlier after senators from New York and New Jersey dropped their opposition, accepting a compromise that settled months of dispute just as Congress adjourned for the year.
Lawmakers from some urban areas feared losing money under a five-year renewal of the law. The final deal renews it for three years. That allows earlier reviews of the formulas for distributing money and eliminates the large dollar cuts in the final years that threatened some areas.
AIDS began as a big-city epidemic affecting mainly gay white men. The updates, the first since 2000, aim to spread money more equally around the country. Current law had only counted patients with full-blown AIDS. The revision also counts patients with the HIV virus who have not developed AIDS. That change favors the South and rural areas, for example, where the disease is a newer phenomenon.
The president also signed a bill to create a new agency within the Health and Human Services Department to oversee the development of medicine and equipment to respond to a bird flu pandemic or a bioterrorism attack.