Legislative Update for Week Ending February 12, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending February 12, 2015

This week, President Obama unveiled his budget proposal for fiscal year 2017, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for one key bill that would strengthen Social Security.

While House Budget Proposal Unveiled

On Tuesday, President Obama released his budget request for fiscal year 2017, which will begin later this year, on October 1st. The proposal totals $4.1 trillion in federal spending, just up from the $4 trillion total of this year’s budget.

If adopted, it would cut $2.9 trillion from the deficit over the next ten years by implementing a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, around $375 billion of which would come from the health sector. Several proposed changes to the Medicare program are included in the package, including one important measure that would allow the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices for high-cost drugs on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Doing so would save billions of dollars each year.

In addition, it would close Medicare Part D’s “doughnut hole” two years earlier than under current law, and it would require drug manufacturers to provide new rebates to low-income beneficiaries. If adopted, the plan would also increase transparency in the prescription drug market by requiring manufacturers to publicly disclose the costs of research and development, discounts, and other data that determines drug pricing. In an attempt to increase competition within the drug market, it would also prohibit anti-competitive deals, reduce the period of market exclusivity for brand-name manufacturers from twelve years to seven, and eliminate rules that extend market exclusivity when manufacturers make minor changes to products.

TSCL enthusiastically supports these measures since they would go a long way in increasing access to more affordable prescription drugs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. However, President Obama’s budget request does include one reform to the Medicare program that TSCL opposes. It would increase means testing by requiring middle-class Medicare beneficiaries to pay higher Part B and Part D premiums. TSCL believes means testing within the program has gone far enough with recent increases under the Affordable Care Act, and we know that middle-class seniors simply cannot afford to pay higher out-of-pocket Medicare costs.

In the coming weeks, budget discussions will continue on Capitol Hill as committees in the House and Senate form proposals of their own. TSCL is hopeful that leaders in both chambers will consider measures that would improve the pharmaceutical industry and ensure access to more affordable prescription drugs for Part D enrollees. We will monitor the budget debate closely in the weeks ahead, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Key Bill Gains Support

This week, seven new cosponsors signed on to the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1391), bringing the total up to eighty-four. The new cosponsors are: Reps. Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Joyce Beatty (OH-3), and Peter DeFazio (OR-4).

If signed into law, the bill would take several steps to strengthen the Social Security program. It would make the cost-of-living adjustment more accurate by adopting an inflation index specifically for seniors, increase the minimum Social Security benefit to 125 percent of the poverty line, and enact an across-the-board benefit increase of approximately 2 percent, among other things. It would also responsibly strengthen the program’s finances and ensure that the trust fund is fully solvent through the year 2100.

TSCL was pleased to see seven new cosponsors sign on to the bill this week, and we will continue to advocate for it on Capitol Hill through the remainder of the 114th Congress.