Legislative Update for Week Ending July 26, 2013

Legislative Update for Week Ending July 26, 2013

This week, one House Subcommittee approved a draft Medicare physician payment reform bill. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) announced its support for legislation introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46), and four key bills gained new cosponsors.

Payment Reform Bill Passes First Hurdle

On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee approved legislation that would repeal and replace the sustainable growth rate (SGR), which is the flawed formula that is currently used to determine reimbursements for physicians who treat Medicare patients.  The SGR regularly calls for steep pay cuts for doctors and other providers, threatening beneficiaries’ access to medical care.

The subcommittee’s bill would repeal the formula and replace it with an enhanced fee-for-service system, while also allowing doctors to opt-out and participate in alternative payment models that emphasize quality. The bill was overwhelmingly approved by a voice vote on Tuesday, but much work remains to be done. Lawmakers have not yet determined how they will offset the full cost of the bill, although it does currently include funding for some provisions by authorizing transfers from the Medicare Part B Trust Fund.

The bill now moves on to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for a markup, and later it will likely move to the House Ways and Means Committee, where more offsets will be added. Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate hope to repeal and replace the SGR before January 1st – if they fail to act, doctors who treat Medicare patients will see a 25 percent pay cut. TSCL was pleased to see the subcommittee’s bill progress this week, and we are hopeful that Members of Congress will pass a permanent solution before the end of this year in order to preserve seniors’ access to quality medical care. As the negotiations evolve, we will continue to post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

TSCL Announces Support for New Bill

This week, TSCL announced its support for legislation that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46) recently re-introduced: the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745). Each year, millions of unauthorized workers use invalid, stolen, or fraudulent Social Security numbers to get jobs in the United States. Later, if they receive “green cards” or work authorization, they may file a claim for Social Security benefits based on those illegal earnings. TSCL feels that Congress should put an end to this practice in order to protect the integrity of the Social Security program and to prevent further strains on the Trust Fund. Rep. Rohrabacher’s bill – which was introduced with twenty cosponsors last week – would do just that, and we look forward to working with him throughout the 113th Congress to help build support for it.

Four Bills Gain Support

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 twenty in the Senate and thirty in the House. If signed into law, the comprehensive bill would take a number of steps to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse within the two programs – a problem that TSCL believes must be addressed in order to ensure that scarce program dollars are being spent properly. The new cosponsors are: Sen. John Boozman (AR), and Reps. Duncan Hunter (CA-50), Steve Stivers (OH-15), Dan Benishek (MI-1), Martha Roby (AL-2), Dennis Ross (FL-15), Thomas Rooney (FL-17), Shelley Moore Capito (WV-2), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Allyson Schwartz (PA-13), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), and Edward Royce (CA-39).

In addition, two new cosponsors – Sen. Tom Harkin (IA) and Rep. Michael Honda (CA-17) – signed on to the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act (S. 308 and H.R. 649), bringing the total up to two in the Senate and twenty-six in the House. If signed into law, the bill would base the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) upon the spending patterns of seniors, and it would gradually eliminate the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. It would reportedly add fifty years to the solvency of the Trust Fund, while also making the COLA more fair and accurate.

The Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act (H.R. 574) also gained a cosponsor – Rep. Pete Gallego (TX-23) – this week, bringing the total up to thirty-five. If signed into law, H.R. 574 would repeal and replace the SGR, bringing increased stability to the Medicare program for both physicians and beneficiaries.

Finally, two cosponsors also signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 896 and H.R. 1795) this week, bringing the total up to eleven in the Senate and eighty-five in the House. The new cosponsors are Sen. Bernard Sanders (VT) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47). If signed into law, H.R. 1795 would repeal two provisions of the Social Security Act that unfairly reduce the earned benefits of millions of state and local government employees each year. The provisions – the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset – prevent dedicated public servants from receiving the retirement security they have earned.

TSCL enthusiastically supports the bills mentioned above, and we look forward to helping build support for them in the coming months.