Legislative Update for Week Ending July 25, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending July 25, 2014

This week, one House Subcommittee met to discuss the future of the Medicare Advantage (MA) program, and The Senior Citizens League’s (TSCL’s) legislative team met with several Members of Congress and their top aides. In addition, three key bills gained support.

Health Subcommittee Examines Status of MA

On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee met to examine the current status of the MA program – which currently covers one in four Medicare beneficiaries – and the impact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had on it thus far. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the ACA will cut $308 billion from MA over the next decade, and consequently, beneficiaries will lose access to more than $800 in supplemental benefits that they would have otherwise received in 2019.

In recent years, enrollment in MA plans has nearly tripled, but the Trustees of the Medicare program have said they expect enrollment to begin declining in 2015. To prevent the decline and to strengthen the program, Kevin Brady (TX-8) – the Health Subcommittee’s Chairman – said “understanding the successful structure of the MA program and the compounding challenges the program is facing” is key.

Members of the Subcommittee heard testimony from four expert witnesses in the MA field at Thursday’s hearing. Three of them expressed serious concerns about the cuts to the program, saying that they will need to make adjustments that will impact beneficiaries in order to offset the ACA’s cuts.

One witness, Chris Wing – CEO of SCAN Health Plans – said his MA plans will not be able to absorb the cuts, and they will likely have to trim provider networks or withdraw from some markets altogether in the coming years. Another witness, Robert Book, the Senior Research Director for Health Systems Innovation Network, estimated that MA beneficiaries would see an average reduction of $3,700 in benefits in 2017 – a startling amount. However, a third witness at Thursday’s hearing said seniors should not worry about benefit cuts because plans will be able to innovate quickly and absorb the reduced funding that the ACA calls for.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for the MA program, but TSCL encourages its members and supporters to be diligent about examining their plan offerings this fall in order to avoid potential cost increases. This year, the open enrollment period begins on October 15th and ends on December 7th. In the meantime, TSCL will continue to keep an eye on the status of the MA program, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

TSCL Meets with Congressional Offices

This week, TSCL’s legislative team, which is led by former Congressman David Funderburk and Mrs. Betty Funderburk, met with several Members of Congress and their top staff to discuss issues of critical importance to seniors. The following bills, among others, were discussed this week: the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 1030), the CPI for Seniors Act (H.R. 2154), the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795), the Notch Fairness Act (H.R. 155), the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745), and the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 574).

TSCL would like to thank the following Members of Congress and their top aides for taking time out of their busy schedules to discuss issues of critical importance to seniors: Rep. Joe Pitts (PA-16), Rep. Jason Smith (MO-8), Rep. Grace Meng (NY-6), Bekah DeMordaunt (Senior Legislative Assistant for Rep. Raul Labrador (ID-1)), Jonathan Serager (Legislative Assistant for Rep. Matt Salmon (AZ-5)), Nicholas Spencer (Legislative Assistant for Rep. Trey Gowdy (SC-4)), Mark Brebberman (Legislative Director for Rep. Curt Clawson (FL-19)), Karen Summar (Legislative Assistant for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN-7)), and Michelle Jelnicky (Legislative Assistant for Rep. Robert Pittenger (NC-9)).

Three Bills Gain Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. William Lacy Clay (MO-1) – signed on to the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 1030), bringing the cosponsor total up to twenty-three. If signed into law, H.R. 1030 would adopt the CPI-E for the purpose of calculating Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Currently, COLAs are based upon the way young, urban workers spend their money – a method that underestimates the spending inflation seniors experience. H.R. 1030 would address this issue, resulting in more fair and accurate COLAs for seniors.

In addition, one new cosponsor signed on to the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745), bringing the total up to thirty. The new cosponsor is Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN-7). If signed into law, H.R. 2745 would prevent Social Security credits from being earned by work done illegally. Currently, those who receive “green cards” or work authorization may file a claim for Social Security benefits based on all earnings – even earnings from jobs where they used stolen, invalid, or fraudulent Social Security numbers. To protect the integrity of the Social Security program, TSCL believes this practice must be put to an end.

Finally, two new cosponsors – Sen. Mary Landrieu (LA) and Rep. William Lacy Clay (MO-1) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 896 and H.R. 1795). The cosponsor total is now up to nineteen in the Senate, and one hundred and twenty-nine in the House. 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.