Legislative Update for Week Ending June 13, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending June 13, 2014

This week, Members of one Senate Appropriations Subcommittee approved a spending bill that would fund the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs through fiscal year 2015. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain support.

Senate Appropriators Approve Funding Bill

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education approved a $156.8 billion fiscal 2015 spending bill by a voice vote. The bill provides funding to a wide range of health and education programs, and it also covers the administrative expenses of Social Security and Medicare. The Labor-HHS-Education bill is the largest domestic appropriations bill, accounting for nearly one-third of all non-defense discretionary spending.

The bill that was approved on Tuesday includes a $2 million boost in funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA), $10 million for a new initiative that would work to prevent elder abuse, and nearly $2 million in extra funding for the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which is currently struggling with a massive backlog of continuing disability reviews. Additionally, it includes $6.7 million for fraud prevention within Medicare and Medicaid – more than twice the level that was allocated in fiscal 2014. According to the Subcommittee, every $1 spent fighting fraud results in a return of $8.10. By increasing next year’s funding, appropriators expect to see $5.4 billion in savings.

While the bill did win approval by the Appropriations Subcommittee this week, its future remains uncertain. Typically, bills that are advanced by Appropriations Subcommittees on Tuesdays are considered by the full Committee on Thursdays. However, the Labor-HHS-Education bill is not currently on the schedule, and Sen. Tom Harkin (IA) – Chairman of the Subcommittee – has said “there are no plans” for a full Committee markup. Some are speculating that, with the November elections looming, lawmakers are hoping to avoid the politically tough votes on amendments that come along with Labor-HHS-Education spending packages.

Nonetheless, TSCL will keep a close eye on the bill’s movement in the coming weeks, since it could have a significant impact on the Social Security and Medicare programs. For updates, visit the Legislative News section of our website.

Three Bills Gain Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. David Loebsack (IA-2) – signed on to the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 1030), bringing the cosponsor total up to twenty-two. 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 – Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795), bringing the total up to one hundred and twenty-one. 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.

Finally, three new cosponsors signed on to the Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act (H.R. 1179), bringing the total up to one hundred and fifty-one. The new cosponsors are Reps. Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Leonard Lance (NJ-17), and Charles Rangel (NY-13). If signed into law, H.R. 1179 would amend current Medicare policy to count hospital stays under “observation status” towards the three-day requirement for skilled nursing care. Currently, those under “observation status” don’t qualify for coverage of the benefit, and they are often hit with large, unexpected bills after receiving necessary medical care.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1030, H.R. 1795, and H.R. 1179, and we were pleased to see support grow for each one this week.