Legislative Update for Week Ending April 4, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending April 4, 2014

This week, Members of Congress passed a one-year "doc fix" to prevent a 24 percent pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released his fiscal 2015 budget resolution. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw one key bill gain support.

One-Year "Doc Fix" Signed into Law

On Monday, just hours before a 24 percent pay cut was scheduled to take place, Members of the Senate cleared a temporary pay patch for doctors who treat Medicare patients. President Obama signed it into law shortly thereafter.

TSCL was pleased that lawmakers successfully averted a pay cut for doctors that could have jeopardized seniors' access to quality medical care. However, we were disappointed that leaders in the House and Senate failed to compromise on a permanent solution. Shortly before the Senate vote on Monday evening, Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (OR) expressed his concerns as well. He said, "I think there's a growing awareness that simply extending what we already have and punting on the need to fix the urgent structural problems … it can't be ducked much longer." Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) seemed to agree. Following the vote, he told reporters: "I hope it's our last patch."

TSCL is also hopeful that this year's "doc fix" will be the last, since a permanent path forward would bring much-needed stability to Medicare for both doctors and patients. Over the next twelve months, we will continue to lobby Congress for a permanent path forward, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Fiscal 2015 Budget Resolution Released

On Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (WI-1) released his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal. His plan, which will serve primarily as a priority-setting document and will not be taken up by the Senate, calls for $5.1 trillion in spending cuts. If enacted, it would balance the budget by the end of the decade.

The proposal does include some measures that TSCL supports – including a long-term "doc fix" and reform of the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which is expected to go bankrupt in less than two years. However, it also includes a major overhaul of the Medicare program, which TSCL is adamantly opposed to.

The budget proposal would reform Medicare by turning it into a premium support program in 2024. Under such a program, seniors would receive set payments from the government that they would put towards premiums for a health plan on a new private exchange. The overhaul proposal would also gradually increase the Medicare eligibility age beginning in 2024, it would put limitations on supplemental Medigap plans, and it would increase means testing for Medicare Parts B and D. In addition, it would repeal most of the Affordable Care Act, but it would keep in place the law's $716 billion in cuts to Medicare.

TSCL opposes such changes to Medicare, and in our most recent annual survey, 80 percent of our members agreed that Congress should not move forward with a premium support model. Members of the House are expected to vote on the budget proposal next week, and in the coming days, we will continue to inform lawmakers about the effects that a Medicare overhaul would have on seniors.

Key Bill Gains Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35) – signed on to Rep. Peter DeFazio’s (OR-4) Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 1030). The total is now up to twenty-one. If signed into law, the CPI-E Act would base the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) upon the spending patterns of seniors. Currently, it is based upon the way that young, urban workers spend their money – a method that underestimates the spending inflation that seniors experience. A study conducted by TSCL this year found that seniors have lost 31 percent of their purchasing power since 2000 – a clear sign that the current COLA is growing too slowly. TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1030, and we were pleased to see support grow for it this week.