This week, the Senate Finance Committee met with a representative from the Obama administration to discuss alternatives to the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw five key bills gain new cosponsors.
Senate Committee Discusses SGR Alternatives
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to discuss improvements to the Medicare payment system. Currently, reimbursements are determined by the SGR, a flawed formula that regularly calls for steep pay cuts to physicians and threatens seniors’ access to medical care. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed a strong interest in repealing and replacing the formula in the coming months.
At Wednesday’s hearing, members of the committee heard from Jonathan Blum, the Deputy Administrator and Director of Medicare at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Blum stressed the need for Congress to act before January 1st, since the cost of repealing the SGR is the lowest it has been in years. He also asked members of the committee to build upon the work that CMS has already done instead of starting from scratch. “We shouldn’t step back, we should step forward,” he said. In addition, he urged committee members to advance a plan that would create a five-year transition period and allow CMS to continue experimenting with different payment models, like accountable care organizations and medical homes.
Members of the Finance Committee seemed receptive to Blum’s suggestions on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen whether they will act in the coming months. Thus far, one of the greatest hurdles for lawmakers has been coming up with an offset to cover the cost of the repeal – the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the price tag will be nearly $140 billion over ten years. TSCL is hopeful that lawmakers will repeal and replace the SGR by the end of this year in order to preserve seniors’ access to quality medical care. As the discussions evolve over the coming months, we will continue to post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.
Five Bills Gain Support
This week, three new cosponsors – Reps. Bradley Schneider (IL-10), Matt Cartwright (PA-27), and Andre Carson (IN-7) – signed on to Rep. Peter DeFazio’s (OR-4) Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 1030). The cosponsor total is now up to eighteen. If signed into law, Rep. DeFazio’s bill would base the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) upon the spending patterns of seniors. Currently, it’s based upon the way young, urban workers spend their money – a method that underestimates the spending inflation that seniors experience each year.
One new cosponsor also signed on to Rep. Eliot Engel’s (NY-16) Guaranteed 3% COLA Act (H.R. 1585) this week. His bill would ensure that the annual COLA is no less than 3 percent. Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-17) signed on, and he is the bill’s first cosponsor.
In addition, eleven new cosponsors signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (S. 1123 and H.R. 2305) this week, bringing the total up to seventeen in the Senate and nineteen in the House. If signed into law, the bill would take a number of steps to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse within the two programs. It would enact stronger penalties, curb mistaken payments, phase out the “pay and chase” method, reduce physician identity theft, and improve data-sharing, among other things. The new cosponsors are Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Mike Johanns (NE), and Reps. Tim Griffin (AR-2), Diane Black (TN-6), Tammy Duckworth (IL-8), Ed Whitfield (KY-1), Reid Ribble (WI-8), Steve Womack (AR-3), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Tom Latham (IA-3), and Markwayne Mullin (OK-2).
Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (PA-13) Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 574) also gained support this week. One new cosponsor – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-1) – signed on, bringing the total up to thirty-four. If signed into law, Rep. Schwartz’s bill would repeal and replace the SGR, bringing increased stability to the Medicare program for both physicians and beneficiaries.
Finally, six new cosponsors signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 896 and H.R. 1795) this week, bringing the total up to ten in the Senate and eighty-three in the House. The cosponsors are: Sen. Brian Schatz (HI), and Reps. Adam Kinzinger (IL-16), John Duncan, Jr. (TN-2), Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Bill Foster (IL-11), and Randy Neugebauer (TX-19). If signed into law, the bill would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of state and local government employees each year.
TSCL enthusiastically supports the bills mentioned above, and we were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week.