Legislative Update for Week Ending December 13, 2013

Legislative Update for Week Ending December 13, 2013

This week, the co-chairs of the bicameral conference announced a budget deal and lawmakers in the House voted to advance it on Thursday. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain support.

Conference Co-Chairs Reach Budget Agreement

On Thursday, Members of the House voted in favor of the deal that the co-chairs of the budget conference – Sen. Murray (WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1) – put forth on Tuesday evening. The deal would lessen the impact of the harmful sequester cuts for twenty-one months, and it would raise the federal government’s budget cap by $63 billion for the next two fiscal years.

TSCL was pleased to see that the deal does not touch Social Security and Medicare benefits, but military retirees will be affected. The annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) of working-age military retirees under the age of sixty-two will be reduced beginning in December of 2015. Their COLAs will be 1 percentage point less than the true increase in annual consumer prices. In addition, newly hired employees of the federal government will be affected by the deal – they will be required to contribute more to their pension plans.

In addition to these changes, the deal also includes an amendment to provide a three-month “doc fix,” which will temporarily prevent a 24 percent pay cut that was scheduled to hit the doctors of Medicare patients on January 1st. The amendment will increase payment rates by 0.5 percent through March, but it will also extend the 2 percent pay cut that providers saw under the “sequester” for an additional two years, through 2023. The three-month pay patch will allow lawmakers to continue their discussions of a more permanent solution, which many on Capitol Hill feel optimistic about.

Since the measure was advanced by lawmakers in the House, it now moves to the Senate, where it will likely come up for a vote early next week. Leaders there expect it to pass despite harsh criticism from some, and the White House has also signaled its support for it. In the meantime, TSCL will keep a close eye on the deal’s movement, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Three Bills Gain Cosponsors

This week, two new cosponsors signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up forty-four. The new cosponsors are Reps. Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) and Michael Doyle (PA-14). If signed into law, the bill would reform the Social Security program in three ways: it would adjust the benefit formula, resulting in more generous monthly benefits; it would adopt the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E), resulting in more accurate cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), and it would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. The Strengthening Social Security Act would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.

In addition, three new cosponsors signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (S. 1123 and H.R. 2305), bringing the total up to twenty-five in the Senate and fifty-one in the House. The new cosponsors are Sen. Kay Hagan (NC), and Reps. Aaron Schock (IL-18) and James Himes (CT-4). If signed into law, the PRIME Act would take a number of steps to comprehensively prevent fraud, waste, and abuse within the two programs – a problem that TSCL believes must be addressed in order to ensure that scarce program dollars are being spent properly.

Finally, one new cosponsor – Rep. James McGovern (MA-2) – signed on to the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 574) this week, bringing the total up to forty. If signed into law, the bill would repeal and replace the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, which is currently used to determine reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients. If enacted, the bill would bring much-needed stability to the Medicare program for both physicians and beneficiaries.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 3118, S. 1123, H.R. 2305, and H.R. 574. We were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week.