Congressional Corner: Preserving The Safety Net For Our Seniors

Congressional Corner: Preserving The Safety Net For Our Seniors

Representative Tim Murphy, Ph.D. (PA-18)

Milk or medicine?  This unfair choice is forced upon thousands of senior citizens every day.  They must choose between basic necessities like food, monthly electricity bills, doctor visits and prescription drugs. With rising healthcare costs consuming more of each senior’s modest income, the 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2013 for Social Security beneficiaries won’t make a significant dent in everyday expenses.

As co-chair of the Congressional Doctors Caucus, making sure seniors have the access they need to affordable, quality care is one of my top priorities.  With the typical senior citizen spending over $650 each year out-of-pocket on prescription drugs, expanding access to affordable medications is critical.

That’s why I’m excited to announce my bipartisan ‘Generic Drug and Biosimilar User Fee Act’ was recently enacted into law.  This historic legislation establishes the first-ever program to bring life-saving generic medications to market faster and closes a major safety gap in the global drug supply chain.

Signed into law in July, this new FDA program expedites approval of generics and clears a backlog of over 2,800 generic applications.  Due to a lack of resources, the FDA currently takes 30 months – nearly twice as long as it should – to review and approve generic applications.  By giving the FDA the resources needed to inspect factories and approve medications, the law brings new life-saving medications to market quickly.  In addition to reducing costs for seniors, who already save up to $1,000 annually from access to generics, the law forces the FDA to inspect foreign factories with the same rigor and biennial frequency as domestic plants.

In another effort to protect our elderly patients, I introduced the ‘Strengthening Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers Act’ (SMART Act, H.R. 1063), which collects billions owed by private insurance companies to the Medicare Trust Fund by removing bureaucratic delays that can lead to seniors losing their health benefits.

Here’s how it works.  Medicare is entitled to be repaid for any expenses incurred as a result of injury caused by someone else’s negligence.  Under current law, Medicare’s bureaucracy prevents you from collecting a settlement until the Medicare Trust Fund was reimbursed for your medical bills.  But since Medicare won’t give an accurate account of how much is owed, insurance companies, retailers, and attorneys who currently try to repay hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the Trust Fund are blocked by government bureaucracy.  Without Congressional action, this convoluted process puts legal settlements at risk and evens lead to instances where Medicare shuts off seniors’ health benefits and garnishes their Social Security checks.

After receiving unanimous support from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the SMART Act awaits a full vote on the House floor, where I expect strong bipartisan support.  Seniors have worked and paid into Social Security and Medicare their entire lives.  They deserve this critical safety net that they earned.  Since coming to Congress, I have voted repeatedly to save and strengthen Medicare and Social Security for current and future generations, and I pledge to continue to do so.