Legislative Update: February 2021

Legislative Update: February 2021

Will Our New Congress Pass a Benefit Boost?

By Shannon Benton, Executive Director

As our nation goes through the process of getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and getting our lives back on track, TSCL is working on a number of long-term issues that await Congressional attention.  We expect policy makers in Congress will be turning their attention to the question of boosting benefits and restoring the long-term solvency of the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds.

There is widespread support among older Americans for a benefit boost.  TSCL surveys have found that 83% of survey participants think Congress should increase Social Security benefits by about 2% of the average benefit, roughly $30 per month ($360) in 2021.  Sixty-two percent of survey participants also favor a more generous annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) by tying the annual inflation adjustment to the Consumer-Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), and 50% favor enacting a guarantee that COLAs would never be lower than 3%.

Congress has a number of options to pay for the higher benefits that drew strong support in our 2020 Senior Survey:

  • 72% support applying the Social Security payroll tax to all earnings (instead of capping the amount of wages to be taxed at $142,800), a move that would reduce Social Security’s long - term deficit by as much as 73%.
  • 43% support very gradually increasing the Social Security payroll tax rate paid by employers and employees.

Shoring up the Medicare Part A Trust Fund will be more difficult.  Simply cutting payments to hospitals would not be in the best interests of patients or hospitals, because many medical centers are already faltering financially.

During the pandemic, non-emergency elective hospital procedures were temporarily stopped to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission, to preserve scarce personal protective equipment and to keep hospital beds available for COVID care.  According to JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, hospitals across the country have taken a major hit to their normal operating income.  The American Hospital Association recently reported the average loss of revenues to U.S.  hospitals of $50.7 billion per month from March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020.  We don’t yet know how much more hospitals have lost through the end of 2020.

Policy experts question how patients will make up postponed care (some services can’t be made up) and the degree to which delays in getting care will have adverse health consequences.  Both of these concerns suggest that another type of surge for hospitals—the aftermath of postponed care — may be coming next.  Cutting hospital reimbursements now could potentially limit access to care when Medicare beneficiaries need it the most.

TSCL will be working for legislation to ensure both hospitals and Medicare Part A weather COVID-19 and its aftermath to keep both strong and working for all who depend on Medicare!