Social Security Benefit Cuts Need to be Stopped
Last week House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) reiterated the need for Congress to prevent an unintended and unanticipated Social Security benefit reduction – caused by the pandemic recession — that will affect certain beneficiaries, after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an updated estimate of this effect.
As a result of the COVID-19 economic crisis, Social Security’s Average Wage Index is likely to drop in 2020. Because of how Social Security benefits are calculated, this will reduce Social Security benefits for future retirees who were born in 1960, as well as others who become eligible for Social Security in 2022. Affected beneficiaries would face a permanent reduction in benefits.
“CBO’s updated estimate, based on the latest economic data, continues to show that the Average Wage Index will likely drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and millions of Americans will receive lower Social Security benefits unless Congress acts. A medium earner in the affected cohort could lose $120 a year for the rest of their lives. While this is a smaller cut than initially estimated, Congress must still fix this flaw in the benefit formula. These are earned benefits, and already many seniors are just scraping by with the current modest benefits. That is why I will be reintroducing the Social Security COVID-19 Correction and Equity Act to fix the benefit formula and ensure it does not happen again,” said Larson.
Larson will soon be reintroducing the Social Security COVID-19 Correction and Equity Act. This bill prevents an unintended and unanticipated cut to Social Security benefits for those affected; it also expands benefits for those who need it most during COVID who have faced long term systemic economic inequalities.
TSCL has been working with Rep. Larson the past few years to expand Social Security benefits, strengthen the Social Security Trust Fund and correct the flaw in the way annual COLAs are determined. We look forward to his reintroduction of the Social Security COVID-19 Correction and Equity Act.
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Dental Coverage Under Medicare
Two bills that would provide for coverage of dental services under the Medicare program were introduced in Congress last week. H.R.502, authored by Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-Calif.) has been introduced in the House of Representatives, while S.97, authored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has been introduced in the Senate.
As of yet, the text of the bills has not been released but TSCL will be closely monitoring these bills to determine if we will be supporting them. Coverage of dental and hearing care are two of our priorities and we are hopeful this legislation will provide the solution for one of those goals.
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Which COVID-19 Vaccine Should You Take?
Consumers in the U.S. are used to have many choices when it comes to the products we buy. Usually that is a good thing. But sometimes it creates a dilemma in deciding which is the right one to get. It turns out that the problem of choice is creating concerns about which of the vaccines against the coronavirus we should take.
Currently, the two vaccines available are produced by Moderna and Pfizer. However, a vaccine from Johnson and Johnson could become available within the next few days. And there could be one or two more available in a few more weeks.
So, which one should you take?
According to an article last week in StatNews, a newsletter that covers health and medical issues, the answer seems to be “whichever one is available to you first.”
“In the event that you have the choice to get vaccinated, I’d encourage you to take the vaccine that you’re given,” John Brooks, the chief medical officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid-19 response, said at a briefing Friday.”
Studies show the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, the only two approved by the U.S. so far, are fully effective at one to two weeks after the second dose, depending on the vaccine; while they prevent disease, it is not clear whether they prevent asymptomatic infection
But as the StatNews article said, “… some people might remember the headlines of Moderna’s and Pfizer’s product offering greater than 90% effectiveness against Covid-19 and question J&J’s announcement of 66% effectiveness.
“Public health officials were quick to tout J&J’s data as a strong result, particularly given that regulators initially said a vaccine would only have to be 50% effective to be authorized. A vaccine that is 66% effective is an incredibly powerful tool in fighting respiratory viruses, they stressed. ‘We would be celebrating a seasonal influenza vaccine with 60% efficacy,’ Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, told reporters.
“In the U.S. arm of the clinical trial, J&J’s vaccine was 72% effective, which, in the absence of the mRNA data, ‘one would have said this was an absolutely spectacular result,’ Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a separate White House briefing. What is more, the immunization was 85% effective at preventing severe disease and, in the trial, all hospitalizations and deaths occurred among people who got the placebo. None of the vaccinated people diagnosed with Covid-19 got sick enough to need hospital care.
“ ‘If it comes to getting my family members vaccinated, and all that’s available is J&J or Novavax, I’d tell them to take it,’ said Robert Hancock, president of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians.”
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Report Says Drug Prices in U.S. Almost 3 Times Higher than Other Countries
As debate intensifies over the cost of medicines, a new analysis found that prescription drug prices were on average 2.5 times more expensive in the U.S. than in 32 other countries. And that gap widened to 3.4 times costlier when looking specifically at brand-name medications.
At the same time, prices for generic drugs were slightly lower in the U.S. than in most other nations. Specifically, the U.S. spent an average of $0.84 cents for a generic that would have cost an average of $1 elsewhere, according to the report from RAND Corporation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization.
Generic drugs account for 84% of drugs sold nationally, but only 12% of spending.
"Brand-name drugs are the primary driver of the higher prescription drug prices in the U.S.," report co-author Andrew Mulcahy said in a press release.
"We found consistently high U.S. brand-name prices regardless of our methodological decisions," said Mulcahy, a senior health policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.
The new RAND report is based on 2018 data and compares U.S. drug prices to those in other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Britain, France, and Italy generally have the lowest prescription drug prices, while Canada, Germany and Japan tend to have higher prices, the data showed.
Meanwhile, some of the highest-priced drugs in the United States are brand-name drugs that can cost thousands of dollars per dose and are used to treat life-threatening illness such as hepatitis C or cancer, the researchers said.
Drug spending nationally increased by 76% between 2000 and 2017, and the costs are expected to increase faster than other areas of healthcare over the next decade as new, expensive specialty drugs are approved, according to the researchers.
"Many of the most-expensive medications are the biologic treatments that we often see advertised on television," Mulcahy said.
The gap between prices was even higher for brand-name drugs, with U.S. prices 3.44 times more than those in the other countries. Meanwhile, prices for generic drugs are slightly lower in the U.S. than in most other countries. Unbranded generic drugs account for 84% of drugs sold in the U.S. by volume, the researchers found, but only 12% of U.S. spending.
“The vast majority of prescription drugs [in the U.S.] are for generic, and there, the U.S. does pretty well,” says Andrew Mulcahy, PhD, a senior policy researcher at RAND and the lead author of the report. “But for brand-name drugs, we pay much higher.”
One of TSCL’s top priorities again this year is for legislation to reduce the costs of prescription drugs. It is outrageous that we in the United States pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for the prescription drugs that we urgently need to preserve our health.
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Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.
For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.