May 15, 2017 /

McMorris Rodgers, Larson, Cassidy, and Klobuchar Introduce Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act

Legislation Makes Steve Gleason Act of 2015 Permanent

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 16, 2017) — Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and John Larson (D-CT), and Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) today introduced the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act (H.R. ___), which builds upon the successes of the Steve Gleason Act of 2015. The Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act permanently fixes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) policy that limited access to speech generation devices for people with degenerative diseases.

“The silence and isolation that comes from losing the ability to communicate does not discriminate between types of injuries, diseases, accidents, or conditions,” said Steve Gleason. “Most people who have severe disabilities are expected to fade away quietly and die. For me, that was not ok. With the right equipment and the right technology, these same people can live and be productive for decades. I know I speak for all who use this technology in saying – we cannot revert back to the changes that preceded the Steve Gleason Act of 2015.

I am grateful for Representatives McMorris Rodgers and Larson, as well as Senators Cassidy and Klobuchar, for their leadership on this issue. While this Act was passed unanimously in 2015, we ask Congress to join these sponsors to permanently ensure that people with the most severe disabilities have access to communication, and the tools to continue a productive and purposeful life.”

“Steve Gleason is a hero and inspiration to all of us, and especially to the thousands of Americans living with degenerative diseases who, like him, rely on speech generating devices to communicate with their family, friends, and doctors,” said Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). “When bureaucratic rules threatened to silence many of them, the Gleason Act gave these individuals the peace of mind to know that their voices will continue to be heard. The Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act ensures there are ‘no white flags’ and that access to speech generation devices continues permanently for those who need it most. This is about giving a permanent voice to the voiceless.”

“Steve Gleason is an inspiration to all people who want to live life to the fullest, and the Steve Gleason Act represents a huge victory for everybody who refuses to be defined by their disabilities. Steve Gleason’s “No White Flags” motto describes his persistence and leadership to stand up for everybody who wants to achieve their full potential despite life’s setbacks. Each year, over 5,000 people are diagnosed with A.L.S., and they all have something to say. Today, thanks to the 2015 Steve Gleason Act, thousands of people with disabilities who were once forced to suffer in silence now have a voice so they can live life to the fullest,” said Rep. Scalise. “With parts of this law set to expire, it’s critical that Congress acts now to ensure that patients can continue to benefit from this life-changing legislation, and so that people with disabilities have greater opportunities when seeking treatments, cures and independence. I look forward to working with my House colleagues to pass this bipartisan legislation so it can quickly be signed into law by President Trump.”

“I’d like to thank the Gleason family and the dedicated advocates with Team Gleason, the ALS Association, and Connecticut’s own Center for Medicare Advocacy for fighting alongside individuals and families living with degenerative diseases,” said Congressman Larson (D-CT). “As a member of Ways & Means, I will work to advance this must-pass bill through the Committee to ensure that people’s’ access to speech-generating devices are protected. I am proud to stand with Rep. McMorris Rodgers and our Senate colleagues on this important, bipartisan effort to make the Steve Gleason Act of 2015 permanent.”

“I am proud to continue the efforts of my former colleague, Senator David Vitter, who worked for years to allow those who could not speak to have a voice,” said Dr. Cassidy (R-LA). “These communication devices open up the world to the thousands living with speech and communication disabilities.”

“Speech-generating devices aren’t a luxury for people affected by diseases like ALS and Parkinson’s—they’re a lifeline. These tools are crucial to helping people lead independent lives and stay connected to their communities,” said Senator Klobuchar (D-MN). “Our bipartisan legislation will ensure access to these life-changing devices for those who need them.”

“This initiative builds on the great efforts we’ve already achieved in giving a voice back to those with degenerative disabilities,” said Congressman Paulsen (R-MN). “Thanks to the continued awareness raised by Steve Gleason and the countless advocates for those with ALS and other degenerative conditions, millions in need will now have permanent access to speech-generation devices, giving them the ability to be heard as well as communicate with loved ones.”

“The ALS Association strongly supports the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act,” said Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of the ALS Association. “The ability to communicate with family and friends – and express needs to medical professionals – should not be taken away from a person living with ALS. This bill will ensure that Medicare eligible patients are able to keep their speech generating devices – at home, in the community and in healthcare settings.”

“As advocates for people with Medicare, we are delighted that the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act will make the 2015 Act permanent. This law will provide peace of mind for extremely vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries and ensure they will never again lose their only means of communication if they need to leave home to live in a nursing facility, hospice or hospital,” said Judith Stein, Executive Director at the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

NOTE: After learning about CMS regulatory changes that limited access to Speech Generation Devices, affecting anyone who uses the device and has Medicare, Steve Gleason wrote an open letter to Congress and CMS in July, 2014. Steve’s mother, Gail Gleason, and members of the ALS Association then approached Representative McMorris Rodgers about these changes that could dramatically and negatively affect the lives of those who depend on these devices.

In September of 2014, more than 200 Members of the House and Senate—Democrats and Republicans—sent a letter to CMS to investigate this arbitrary decision. After CMS addressed only one of their concerns, Steve traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with the heads of CMS, Medicare and legislative leaders on what could be done when legislation was noted as the only the solution. Click here for a full timeline of the Gleason Act from start to finish.

ABOUT STEVE GLEASON
Steve Gleason, who was born and raised in Spokane, played for the Washington State University football team as a linebacker from 1996-1999. He played for the New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008 until retiring in 2008. In 2011, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS), which affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. That same year, Steve and his wife, Michel, founded Team Gleason to raise awareness of ALS and advocate for a cure.

Notable points about Steve Gleason:

  • He was born and raised in Spokane, where he attended Gonzaga Prep High School

  • He played in the 1997 Rose Bowl, WSU vs. Michigan

  • He famously blocked the punt of the Atlanta Falcons during the 2006 Superbowl between the Falcons and the Saints that symbolized a comeback for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. That punt has been immortalized in a statue outside of the Superdome erected in 2012.

  • He is the father of Rivers Gleason, born in 2011. According to the Team Gleason website:

    • The most significant accomplishment for Steve and Michel since Steve’s diagnosis was their decision to have a child. In October 2011, Rivers Gleason was born and is the center of their lives. When Steve was diagnosed, he famously said there will be “No White Flags”. This has become the Team Gleason mantra, but it is most important when applied to Steve as a father. No goal is more important to Steve and Michel than finding a solution for ALS, so they can share many, many years together and as parents to Rivers.

  • In 2014, he was inducted into the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame

  • In 2016, a documentary about Steve Gleason’s life, “Gleason,” was released, and was nominated for five Critic’s Choice awards.  

  • On January 5, 2017, six years after he was diagnosed with ALS, he shared on his Twitter his thoughts, writing in part, “…I am happy.”

More information about Steve and Team Gleason can be found here: http://www.teamgleason.org/about/

Learn more about the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act at mcmorris.house.gov/gleason.

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