Legislative Update for Week Ending February 2, 2018

Legislative Update for Week Ending February 2, 2018

Welcome to the month of February! This week, President Donald Trump addressed the nation in his first State of the Union, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) monitored negotiations at one Senate hearing. In addition, four key bills gained new cosponsors in the House and Senate.

President Gives First State of the Union

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump addressed the nation in his first State of the Union. In his speech, the President reflected on the strong economic growth of the country and he shared his hopes for the year ahead. The President said he plans to push $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments, to secure the southern border with Mexico, and to offer a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

The Senior Citizens League was disappointed that the President did not comment on Social Security or Medicare during his State of the Union address, but we were pleased that he spoke about the need to reduce prescription drug prices. The President said he was proud to have helped improve “access to breakthrough cures and affordable generic drugs” by speeding up the FDA approvals process last year. That move could increase competition and bring down prices by encouraging generics to enter the market more quickly.

Although the President did not offer specific policy recommendations, he did renew his commitment to lowering prescription drugs costs. He said: “One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. That is why I have directed my Administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down.”

TSCL is encouraged by the President’s comments on drug prices, and we urge the administration to do everything in its power to bring down costs for consumers in the months ahead. In the meantime, our legislative team will continue to advocate for legislation like the Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act (S. 771, H.R. 1776), which would take comprehensive steps to lower costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries.

To stay updated on the progress of prescription drug legislation, check back every Friday morning to read our weekly Legislative News summary.

Senate Aging Committee Holds Hearing

Last Wednesday, the Senate's Special Committee on Aging held a hearing titled "Turning 65: Navigating Critical Decisions to Age Well." The committee focused on the social and financial challenges that keep many seniors from living fulfilling lives in retirement. As Chairwoman Collins (ME) stated, "For the next 12 years, 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day.”

In particular, the expert witnesses at last week’s hearing focused on isolation from the community, Medicare penalties for late enrollment, and a lack of funding for State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs), which help older Americans navigate Medicare enrollment.

At the hearing, the Ranking Member of the Committee – Senator Bob Casey (PA) – presented a bill he introduced called the Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act. If adopted, his bill would simplify the Medicare enrollment process and help those nearing eligibility avoid costly penalties for late enrollment.

The Senior Citizens League is proud to have endorsed the BENES Act, and we hope the Senate Aging Committee will work to enact this legislation by the end of this year. To stay updated on the progress of the BENES Act, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.

Four Key Bills Gain Support

This week, TSCL was pleased to see four key bills gain new cosponsors in the House and Senate.

First, the bipartisan Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act of 2017 (H.R. 807) gained four new cosponsors in ​Representative Mike Capuano (MA-7), Representative Tom Rooney (FL- 17), Representative Linda Sanchez (CA-38), and Representative John Curtis (UT-3). The cosponsor total is now up to 236. If signed into law, H.R. 807 would repeal the Medicare outpatient therapy cap that currently limits coverage for rehabilitation services at $1,940.

Second, the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1902) gained one new cosponsor in Representative Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), bringing the cosponsor total to 164. If signed into law, H.R. 1902 would strengthen Social Security benefits by improving the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), increasing monthly benefits by 2 percent, creating a new Special Minimum Benefit equal to 125% of the poverty line, providing a tax cut to Social Security beneficiaries, applying the payroll tax to annual income over $400,000, and gradually increasing the payroll tax rate by 0.25%.

Third, Senator Casey’s BENES Act (S. 1909) gained one new cosponsor in Senator Susan Collins (ME), bringing the cosponsor total to two in the Senate. If signed into law, S.1909 would simplify the Medicare enrollment process and help prepare those approaching Medicare eligibility by educating them about the program’s benefits.

Finally, the Social Security Fairness Act of 2017 (H.R.1205) gained two new cosponsors in Representative Walter Jones (NC-3) and Representative Tony Cardenas (CA-29), bringing the cosponsor total to 171. If signed into law, H.R. 1205 would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two Social Security provisions that unfairly reduce the earned benefits of millions of teachers, police officers, and other public servants each year.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 807, H.R. 1902, S. 1909, and H.R. 1205, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week. For progress updates on these and other TSCL-backed bills, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.

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