Legislative Update for Week Ending August 1, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending August 1, 2014

This week, the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare programs released their annual reports on the long-term financial status of the trust funds. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) announced its support for one new piece of legislation, and two key bills gained support.

Trustees Release Annual Financial Reports

On Monday, the Social Security and Medicare trustees released their long-awaited reports on the long-term financial status of the two programs. According to the trustees, Social Security’s combined Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds will reach insolvency in 2033, which is unchanged from last year’s report. At that time, 77 percent of benefits will be payable. The status of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund is also unchanged from last year. It will become depleted in the fourth quarter of 2016 – in the heat of the general election season – and Congress will need to act soon in order to prevent a 20 percent cut in benefits.

Medicare’s finances improved slightly from last year’s report. The program’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will reach insolvency in 2030, which is four years later than the trustees estimated in 2013. Experts are unable to pinpoint the exact reason for Medicare’s improved financial status, but at a press conference, Charles Blahous – one of the six trustees – said a weak economy, greater pressure on providers to increase efficiency, and increased out-of-pocket costs might be playing a role. Because of the slower Medicare growth rate, Part B premiums next year are expected to remain at $104.90, which is where they have been for the past two years.

Despite Medicare’s improved outlook over last year’s report, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and other trustees of the two programs encouraged lawmakers to take action to ensure seventy-five-year solvency. Lew said on Monday, “We must make manageable changes now so we do not have to make drastic changes later.” TSCL agrees that both programs are on fiscally unsustainable paths, and in the months ahead, we will continue to advocate for legislation that would improve program finances without enacting benefit cuts for seniors.

TSCL Announces Support for New Bill

This week, TSCL announced its support for the Medicare Advantage Participant Bill of Rights Act (S. 2552 and H.R. 4998), which was introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH) in the Senate and by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) in the House. If signed into law, the bill would prevent Medicare Advantage plans from dropping physicians from their networks during the middle of the year, as UnitedHealth – the largest provider of Medicare Advantage coverage – did last year. In addition, it would require plans to finalize their provider networks at least sixty days prior to the open enrollment period so that seniors can be sure that their doctors will be covered before enrolling.

The bill would enhance beneficiary protections and improve transparency within the Medicare Advantage program. According to Rep. DeLauro, more than 32,000 Medicare Advantage enrollees in her home state alone were affected by the dropping of physicians from networks last year. Upon introducing the bill, she said, “Congress has to hold these companies accountable, and make sure they are putting the care of their enrollees ahead of their profits.” TSCL agrees, and we were pleased to announce our support for the Medicare Advantage Participant Bill of Rights Act this week.

Two Bills Gain Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Thomas Massie (KY-4) – signed on to the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745). The total is now up to thirty-one. If signed into law, the bill would prevent Social Security credits from being earned by work done illegally. Currently, those who receive “green cards” or work authorization may file a claim for Social Security benefits based on all earnings – even earnings from jobs where they used stolen, invalid, or fraudulent Social Security numbers. To protect the integrity of the Social Security program, TSCL believes this practice must be put to an end.

In addition, three new cosponsors – Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI), Rep. Michael Simpson (ID-2), and Rep. Tim Murphy (PA-18) – signed on to the Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act (S. 569 and H.R. 1179). The cosponsor total is now up to twenty-six in the Senate, and up to one hundred and fifty-eight in the House. If signed into law, H.R. 1179 would amend current Medicare policy to count hospital stays under “observation status” towards the three-day requirement for skilled nursing care. Currently, those under “observation status” don’t qualify for coverage of the benefit, and they are often hit with large, unexpected bills after receiving necessary medical care.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 2745, S. 569, and H.R. 1179, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week.