Legislative Update for Week Ending September 21, 2012

Legislative Update for Week Ending September 21, 2012

This week, Members of the Senate focused on a six-month stopgap funding bill and one full committee met to discuss waste and fraud within Medicare. In addition, deficit reduction talks continued and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw two key bills gain critical support.

Senate Committee Discusses Medicare Fraud

On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging met to discuss the elimination of waste and fraud within the Medicare program. At the hearing, Members of the Committee focused specifically on fraud associated with power mobility devices, including power wheelchairs and scooters.

According to Deborah Taylor, Chief Financial Officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), 80 percent of the reimbursements that CMS made for motorized wheelchairs last year should not have been approved because they lacked documentation or the patient did not actually need the device. Those improper payments totaled $492 million – a large sum for a program that is facing serious financial troubles.

To address the issue, CMS has launched a “prior authorization” demonstration program in seven states to “help ensure that a beneficiary’s medical condition warrants the medical equipment under existing coverage guidelines,” Taylor said.

However, those on the Senate panel seemed anxious to expand upon CMS’s fraud prevention efforts. Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT) mentioned that he would like to see CMS cracking down on misleading television ads for power mobility devices, and Senator Bob Corker (TN) spoke about the possibility of strengthening regulations for medical device federal contractors. While it is too early to tell whether efforts to expand fraud prevention will be implemented in the near future, TSCL will continue keep an eye on any movement.

Lawmakers Seek to Avoid “Fiscal Cliff”

Budget hawks spoke optimistically this week about the likelihood of reaching a “grand bargain” to overhaul the tax code and certain spending policies by the end of the year. Lawmakers hope to vote on a deal during the lame-duck session in order to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” that will hit on January 1 if Congress fails to act.

According to one insider, former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, lawmakers are considering a form of reconciliation – a legislative tool used to speed budget bills through Congress. “It’s being shopped around,” he said at a conference this week.

Although it remains unclear what might appear in a grand bargain later this year, one Member of Congress told reporters last week to expect “structural changes in entitlements.” Others hope to keep Social Security out of deficit reduction negotiations, however. Twenty-nine Senators signed a letter this week that read: “Under long-standing Federal law, Social Security is not part of the Federal budget and cannot contribute to the federal deficit … In our view, it is essential that Social Security’s status as a separate entity be fully maintained.” TSCL strongly agrees, and we hope to see a package later this year that is free from any cuts to Social Security benefits.

Two Bills Gain Critical Support

This week, one new supporter signed on to Rep. Charles Gonzalez’s (TX-20) Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 456), bringing the cosponsor total up to thirty-six. The new cosponsor is Rep. Ron Barber (AZ-8). The CPI-E Act, if signed into law, would amend the Social Security Act with regard to the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Currently, the COLA is based upon the spending patterns of young, urban workers, resulting in inaccurate adjustments each year. Rep. Gonzalez’s bill would provide a much-needed fix to this inaccuracy by basing the COLA upon the spending patterns of seniors.

TSCL also saw support grow for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (CA-46) No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 787) this week. One new cosponsor – Rep. Kevin Yoder (KS-3) – signed on, bringing the cosponsor total up to seventy-four. If signed into law, Rep. Rohrabacher’s bill would prevent Social Security credits from being earned by work done illegally. TSCL is very supportive of this bill, since it would protect the Trust Fund from further threats to financial insolvency. We were pleased to see support grow for it this week.