Legislative Update for Week Ending July 20, 2012

Legislative Update for Week Ending July 20, 2012

This week, The Senior Citizens League’s legislative team met with several Members of Congress and their top staff to discuss key issues affecting seniors. In addition, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a hearing on the Medicare physician reimbursement system, and TSCL saw support grow for two key pieces of legislation.

TSCL on the Hill

This week, TSCL’s legislative consultants, Former Congressman David Funderburk and Mrs. Betty Funderburk, along with TSCL’s legislative analyst, Jessie Gibbons, held meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress and their top staff.

TSCL would like to thank Representatives Kristi Noem (SD-AL), Sean Duffy (WI-7), and Mick Mulvaney (SC-5) for taking the time discuss the issues that matter the most to our members and supporters. TSCL also met with top staffers in the offices of the following Members of Congress: Jim Matheson (UT-2), Linda Sanchez (CA-47), Norm Dicks (WA-6), Steve Stivers (OH-15), William Keating (MA-10), Janice Hahn (CA-36), and Robert Hurt (VA-5).

During the meetings, the following issues were discussed: Social Security cost-of-living adjustments, Social Security Notch fairness, Social Security Totalization agreement reform, Social Security credits earned for work done illegally, and repeal of both the windfall elimination provision (WEP) and the government pension offset (GPO). Support was expressed for many of these key issues, and TSCL looks forward to working with these offices in the future.

House Subcommittee Holds “Doc Fix” Hearing

On Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee met to discuss reform of the Medicare physician payment system with a panel of five experts. The hearing, entitled “Using Innovation to Reform Medicare Physician Payment,” focused on ideas from the private sector.

One witness, Scott Serota, President and CEO of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, suggested a gradual shift from the current fee-for-service system toward a series of new payment models that would allow for geographic variability. Another witness, David Bronson, President of the American College of Physicians, suggested a patient-centered medical home model, where each patient would choose a physician with a specific team of caregivers. He explained that his model would result in better coordinated care for seniors.

Despite the optimistic attitudes of the five expert witnesses, those on the Subcommittee seemed hesitant about revamping the payment system this year. One Subcommittee Member, Rep. Michael Burgess (TX-26) stated: “This term, I’ve seen more work done on this problem than I have any other time that I have been in Congress, but we’re still pretty far away from the goal that we all expect to achieve.” He went on to say, “We’re not likely to end up doing something that will provide that … long-term replacement for the SGR by December 31.”

Unfortunately, many Subcommittee Members seemed to agree with Rep. Burgess, who plans to introduce legislation that would provide a one-year pay patch for Medicare physicians. TSCL hopes that Congress will continue to work toward a permanent solution, and we will continue to monitor the SGR discussion in the coming months.

Members of Congress Support Key Bills

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Dennis Ross (FL-12) – signed on to Rep. Ron Paul’s (TX-14) Social Security Preservation Act (H.R. 219). The cosponsor total is now up to eleven.

If signed into law, the Social Security Preservation Act would require that all annual surpluses of the Social Security Trust Funds be invested in marketable interest-bearing obligations of the United States or obligations guaranteed by the United States. It also outlines certain requirements for determining the annual surplus of the Trust Funds. With the Social Security Trust Funds set to expire in 2033, TSCL believes that it is now more important than ever for Congress to protect and secure the program’s monies. Rep. Paul’s bill would do just that, and we were pleased to see support grow for it this week.

Also this week, two new cosponsors signed on to Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (PA-13) Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 5707). Reps. Tim Walz (MN-1) and Eliot Engel (NY-17) signed on, bringing the cosponsor total up to twenty-six.

The Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act, if signed into law, would repeal the SGR and set up a five-year trial period during which physician payments would stabilize and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would test new payment and delivery models. TSCL strongly believes that the SGR breeds uncertainty in the Medicare program for both physicians and beneficiaries. Many doctors have stopped accepting Medicare patients, and many more are threatening to do so if a permanent solution is not established soon. We believe that Rep. Schwartz’s bill would bring increased stability to the program, and we urge Congress to pass it by the end of this year.