Legislative Update for Week Ending March 24, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 24, 2017

This week, lawmakers in the House postponed a scheduled vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and leaders made last-minute changes to the text of the bill. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) delivered letters to Congress urging leaders to address the looming debt ceiling crisis.

House Postpones Thursday AHCA Vote

On Thursday – seven years to the day that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law – lawmakers in the House were scheduled to vote on the AHCA. However, lacking the 218 votes needed to win passage, leaders postponed the vote. After last-minute changes were made to the text – including a repeal of the ACA's “essential health benefits” requirement – President Trump demanded a Friday vote.

At the time of writing this update on Friday morning, the vote had not yet occurred. It is expected to take place on Friday afternoon, before the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has a chance to evaluate the final version. It remains unclear whether or not the AHCA will gain the support needed to win passage. If adopted, the AHCA will move to the Senate, where its future remains even more uncertain. If it fails, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have said they will move on to other legislative priorities, like tax reform.

TSCL is hopeful that the bill will fail to win passage in the House since it would negatively impact older Americans if adopted. The AHCA would restructure the Medicaid program, which helps fund health care for 11 million – or around 1 in 5 – Medicare beneficiaries. It would also base premium subsidies on age instead of income, and allow private health insurers to charge older Americans more than they charge younger folks for their coverage. In addition, it would deplete Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by eliminating a key revenue source, and the program would face an immediate funding crisis.

In a press release, Mary Johnson – a policy analyst for TSCL – recently said: “Anyone who cares about his or her health coverage, Medicaid, or Medicare should contact their Members of Congress now.” Since many in Congress are undecided on the AHCA, it is not too late for grassroots advocates to make an impact. TSCL encourages its members and supporters to call their representatives in Congress immediately to request their opposition to the AHCA. Contact information can be found HERE.

TSCL Urges Action on Debt Ceiling

This week, TSCL delivered letters to several leaders in Congress – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-1), and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (NC-11) – urging immediate action on the looming debt ceiling crisis.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned lawmakers that the suspension of the debt limit would expire on March 15th. That deadline has come and gone without congressional action, and the Treasury Department is now using “extraordinary measures” – like postponing contributions to retirement accounts for federal employees – to prevent a default.

Congressional inaction on the debt ceiling is a growing concern of TSCL’s for several reasons. If a default on the federal debt occurs, Social Security benefits would likely be delayed, and millions of seniors living on fixed incomes would suffer financially. In addition, doctors who treat Medicare patients would likely see postponements in their reimbursements from the federal government, and access to quality medical care would be jeopardized for beneficiaries.

TSCL is also concerned about the debt limit because in prior debates to lift the ceiling, Social Security benefits have been used as a bargaining chip, and retirees have seen unexpected benefit cuts. For example, in 2015, following the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act, millions of seniors already eligible for Social Security benefits learned a popular claiming method called “file and suspend” would no longer be available to them. The unexpected change received no public debate, it went into effect almost immediately, and it hit seniors who were just months away from retirement.

The letter that TSCL delivered to congressional leaders this week urged lawmakers to begin immediate discussions about lifting the debt limit and preventing a default on the federal debt. Art Cooper – Chairman of TSCL’s Board of Trustees – wrote: “Our supporters nation-wide hope you will act swiftly and responsibly to avert delays in Social Security benefits and payments to Medicare providers, and they will not tolerate additional cuts to their earned Social Security benefits.”

In the days and weeks ahead, TSCL encourages its members and supporters to contact their elected officials to request their support for a clean and immediate increase in the debt ceiling. For frequent updates on this important issue, follow TSCL on Facebook or Twitter.

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