Legislative Update for Week Ending February 21, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending February 21, 2014

This week, Members of Congress adjourned for the holiday recess. In the meantime, a group of lawmakers expressed concerns about scheduled cuts to the Medicare Advantage program, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw one key bill gain support.

Lawmakers Seek to Block Medicare Advantage Cuts

Members of both the House and Senate adjourned this week to celebrate the Presidents’ Day holiday.  They are expected to return to Capitol Hill on Monday, February 24th. Despite this week’s recess, a bipartisan group of forty Senators turned their focus towards looming cuts to the Medicare Advantage (MA) program, which is the private alternative to traditional Medicare that covers almost 30 percent of seniors.

In a letter that the group sent to Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), they stated: “We urge you to maintain payment levels that will allow MA beneficiaries to be protected from disruptive changes in 2015.” CMS could reduce payments to MA plans by as much as 7 percent next year, which would likely result in premium increases and benefit reductions for seniors. Already, UnitedHealth, one of the largest providers of MA plans, has dropped thousands of doctors from its networks to deal with the cuts, leaving many enrolled seniors doctor-less.

The $156 billion in cuts to the MA program were called for in the Affordable Care Act, and they will be phased in over the next decade. Notably, the savings from the cuts will not go back into the Medicare Trust Fund. Instead, they’ll help pay for the health insurance of younger, working adults under Obamacare. CMS has not yet decided how much they will cut payment rates to MA plans in 2015 – that number will be released in the coming weeks. TSCL is hopeful that any cuts to MA will be insignificant, and that they will not negatively impact enrollees. We will continue to keep an eye on the evolving discussions, and we will post updates here as details emerge.

Key Bill Gains Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 896). The total is now up to seventeen. If signed into law, the Social Security Fairness Act would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two federal provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, fire fighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year. TSCL enthusiastically supports the Social Security Fairness Act, and we were pleased to see support grow for it in the Senate this week.