Members of Congress spent their final week before the month-long August recess focusing on the federal budget. In addition, one House committee marked up a draft Medicare physician payment reform bill, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw one key bill gain support.
Lawmakers Consider Sequester Replacement Options
This week, Members of Congress turned their focus toward the federal budget. Once they return from their month-long August recess – which begins on Monday – they will have a short three weeks to work out a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running into fiscal 2014. While many lawmakers hope to simply keep the funding level dictated by the sequester, others want a grand bargain that would replace the automatic spending cuts that went into effect on March 1st.
A group of influential Senators has reportedly been meeting with members of the Obama Administration to iron out a compromise that would replace the sequester. According to recent reports, the group favors two major cuts to Social Security and Medicare that would together save approximately $235 billion: the adoption of the “chained” CPI, and increased means testing within Medicare for individuals making more than $85,000 and couples making more than $170,000. Although the meetings have been held behind closed doors, one anonymous participant told reporters last week, “It’s starting to take shape.”
TSCL strongly believes that lawmakers should not balance the budget on the backs of seniors, and we oppose the two proposals that the group has reportedly settled on. The adoption of the “chained” CPI would result in a Social Security benefit cut that most seniors simply cannot afford to lose – after ten years, the average married couple would receive nearly $90 less in benefits each month. Increasing means testing within Medicare is also a major concern, since new measures were recently introduced with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. We fear that if costs continue to rise for high earners, some may abandon Medicare, driving up costs for those who cannot afford to purchase private insurance. TSCL will continue to monitor the ongoing budget negotiations over the coming weeks, and we will work to ensure that harsh benefit cuts for seniors are not included in a final package.
Committee Approves Draft SGR Repeal Bill
On Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce Committee met to markup the Health Subcommittee’s legislation that would repeal and replace the sustainable growth rate (SGR), which is the flawed formula that is currently threatening Medicare beneficiaries’ access to quality medical care. The Committee approved the bill with overwhelming support this week, and it will likely move on to the House Ways and Means Committee next, where lawmakers will add offsets to cover the cost of the $139.1 billion bill.
Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate hope to repeal and replace the SGR before the end of this year – if they fail to act before January 1st, doctors who treat Medicare patients will see a 25 percent pay cut. TSCL was pleased to see the bill progress this week, and we are hopeful that Members of Congress will pass a permanent solution before the end of this year in order to preserve seniors’ access to care. We will continue to post updates on the bill’s movement here in the Legislative News section of our website.
Key Bill Gains Support
This week, three new cosponsors – Reps. Mike McIntyre (NC-7), Tim Huelskamp (KS-1), and Tom McClintock (CA-4) – signed on to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (CA-48) No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745). The total is now up to twenty-three. If signed into law, Rep. Rohrabacher’s 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. TSCL believes that this practice must be put to an end in order to protect the integrity of the Social Security program, and we were pleased to see support grow for it this week.