Legislative Update for Week Ending January 31, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 31, 2014

This week, President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address, and talks to repeal and replace the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for doctors who treat Medicare patients seemed to have stalled.

President Delivers State of the Union Address

On Tuesday evening, President Obama gave his fifth State of the Union Address before both chambers of Congress. To The Senior Citizens League’s (TSCL’s) surprise, the sixty-five minute speech included no mention of Social Security or Medicare, but the President did speak briefly about immigration reform and a new retirement savings plan called “myRA.”

Many expected immigration reform to be a focal point of the President’s speech, however, his remarks on the topic were vague and very brief. In one short paragraph, he said, “Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same … So let’s get immigration reform done this year.” TSCL has some serious concerns about comprehensive immigration reform, since it would further strain the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. We strongly feel that any efforts to reform the system should include loophole-closing legislation that would prevent immigrants from receiving benefits based on a history of illegal work.

In his speech, President Obama also spoke briefly about a new retirement savings plan that will allow citizens to invest in low-risk Treasury bonds through “myRA” accounts. Shortly after the speech, he signed a presidential memorandum directing the Treasury Department to create the new plans. While TSCL agrees that saving for retirement is crucial for younger generations, we were disappointed that the President did not propose any efforts to assist today’s seniors. Most Americans over the age of sixty-five rely heavily upon their Social Security checks to meet their daily needs. However, our research shows that seniors are unable to keep up with rising costs – their expenses are rising more than twice as fast as the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. We strongly believe that Congress should act soon to restore the purchasing power of Social Security benefits.

In the coming weeks, TSCL will continue to monitor the “myRA” and immigration reform issues that President Obama spoke about on Tuesday evening. We will provide updates here in the Legislative News section of our website as more details become available.

SGR Talks Stall as Deadline Looms

This week, talks between three committees – the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee – to repeal and replace the SGR seemed to have stalled. The three committees are currently working on merging their own separate bills to repeal the outdated formula and set up a sustainable path forward. They have until March 31st to do so. Should they fail to reach a compromise, doctors who treat Medicare patients will see a pay cut of approximately 25 percent, which could threaten seniors’ access to quality medical care.

In an interview this week, Rep. Charles Boustany (LA-3), who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, revealed that the negotiators have hit a road block. They are struggling to come up with an offset for the bill, which could cost as much as $153.2 billion. Rep. Boustany said, “We’re running out of time. We may end up with another one-year patch before it’s all over. But, you know, we’ll keep working, see if we can get to something.” TSCL sincerely hopes that those on the three committees will successfully merge their bills to create a permanent, sustainable path forward. We will keep a close eye on the evolving negotiations in the coming weeks, and we will continue to urge lawmakers to repeal and replace the SGR.