Legislative Update for Week Ending March 28, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 28, 2014

This week, lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill and continued their work on repealing and replacing the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, which is used to determine reimbursements to doctors who treat Medicare patients. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three key bills gain support.

SGR Talks Continue as Deadline Nears

Only three days remain before the current “doc fix” expires, and the fate of the SGR remains up in the air. Members in the House passed a bill two weeks ago to permanently repeal and replace the faulty formula, but it included a five-year delay of the individual mandate penalty as an offset, and it received an immediate veto threat from President Obama. Members in the Senate have been working on a bill of their own that would require $180 billion in offsets to cover the cost, but they have also been struggling to come up with politically neutral pay-fors.

At the time of writing this update, leaders in the House and Senate were busy negotiating a one-year payment patch that would allow lawmakers to revisit the issue after the November elections. However, many key players seemed hesitant to abandon the progress that has been made thus far. Sen. Ron Wyden (OR), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said late this week that he is still in favor of a permanent solution. “There is no reason to wait,” he said. He also stated: “If you just keep going with these temporary solutions, you waste time, you waste money, you threaten the access for seniors to their doctors, and the reality is, the patches … they’re not free either.”

TSCL agrees that Congress should replace the SGR with a permanent solution before the looming deadline, since it would bring much-needed stability to Medicare for both doctors and seniors. According to Sen. Wyden, the actual deadline for Congressional action is not March 31st, but a few days later, since administrators are capable of holding claims until a new patch is in place. We will keep a close eye on the evolving negotiations in the coming days, and we encourage our members and supporters to contact their Senators to request their support for a permanent path forward. For contact information, click HERE.

Three Key Bills Gain Support

This week, two new cosponsors – Reps. John Yarmuth (KY-3) and Elijah Cummings (MD-7) – signed on to the Notch Fairness Act (H.R. 155), bringing the total up to nineteen. The bill, if signed into law, would give individuals born between the years 1917 and 1926 an option of a $5,000 lump-sum benefit payment payable over four years or an improved monthly Social Security benefit. Just years before these individuals were set to retire, they learned that they would have significantly lower benefits than originally anticipated. The problem has grown and compounded with inflation, and to correct the injustice, TSCL believes Congress should pass H.R. 155 before the end of this year.

In addition, one new cosponsor – Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795), bringing the total up to one hundred and fifteen. 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, one new cosponsor – Rep. Adam Smith (WA-9) – signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up fifty-five. 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. H.R. 3118 would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 155, H.R. 1795, and H.R. 3118, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week.