Legislative Update for Week Ending March 14, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 14, 2014

This week, talks to repeal and replace the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula continued, but lawmakers revealed that a temporary “doc fix” might be necessary. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) announced its support for a new piece of legislation, and one key bill gained support.

Offsets Complicate SGR Talks

This week, lawmakers involved in talks to permanently repeal and replace the SGR revealed that a temporary pay-patch will likely be necessary. Those serving on three committees – the House Ways and Means Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee – have successfully negotiated a legislative compromise, but they’ve been struggling for weeks to come up with offsets that will cover the cost of the $138.4 billion bill.

Members in the House have decided to offset the bill with a five-year delay of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Those in the Senate have acknowledged that its chances of passing through their chamber are slim. Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, said of the House’s approach:  “The House passes a law – they’re very good at legislation – but it dies in the Senate. The Senate won’t even bring it up.” Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) has said, “We’re going to move forward in our own way.”

Only two weeks remain before the March 31st deadline, and at this point, it appears as though a temporary “doc fix” will be necessary. Sen. Hatch mentioned on Tuesday that lawmakers are currently considering a nine-month pay patch, which would mean that lawmakers wouldn’t have to revisit the issue until after the November elections. Should lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on either a temporary or a permanent solution, doctors who treat Medicare patients will see a 24 percent pay cut, which would negatively impact seniors’ access to quality medical care.

TSCL is hopeful that lawmakers will successfully repeal and replace the SGR before the looming deadline, since doing so would bring much-needed stability to the Medicare program. We will continue to monitor the negotiations in the coming weeks, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

TSCL Announces Support for H.R. 4104

This week, TSCL announced its support for the Savings on Medical Expenses for Seniors Act of 2014 (H.R. 4104), which was introduced by Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35) on February 27th. The bill, if signed into law, would make permanent the 7.5 percent threshold for the medical expense tax deduction for those sixty-five and older. The threshold is currently scheduled to increase to 10 percent of adjusted gross income in 2017, which would mean that fewer seniors would qualify for much-needed relief.

Upon introducing the bill, Rep. Negrete McLeod said: “For seniors living on a fixed income, this could greatly impact their quality of life … We must protect seniors and ensure those who are most vulnerable do not face greater economic insecurity due to rising medical expenses.” By preventing the threshold hike from occurring, her bill would save the average senior nearly $900 a year in qualifying tax deductions. TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 4104, and we look forward to working with Rep. Negrete McLeod in the coming months to help build support for it. In the meantime, we encourage our members and supporters to contact their representatives to request their support for it. To find contact information for your elected officials, click HERE.

Key Bill Gains Support

This week, two new cosponsors – Reps. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (NY-25) and Joyce Beatty (OH-3) – signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up fifty-four. If signed into law, the bill would reform the Social Security program in three ways: it would adjust the benefit formula, resulting in more generous monthly benefits; it would adopt the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E), resulting in more accurate cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), and it would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 3118 since it would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors. We were pleased to see support grow for it this week.