Legislative Update for Week Ending April 28, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending April 28, 2017

This week, Members of Congress returned to Washington following a two-week recess and quickly began working on legislation to prevent a government shutdown. In addition, House Republicans revived the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would repeal and replace most of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if adopted. Finally, one House Subcommittee met to discuss fraud prevention within the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program.

Congress Averts Government Shutdown

This week, lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill following a two-week spring recess and quickly began working on legislation to fund the federal government past Friday, April 28th. At the time of writing this week’s update, a continuing resolution (CR) had not yet been adopted by either chamber, but votes are expected by Friday evening.

Lawmakers will likely pass a short-term bill that will provide funding through Friday, May 5th. The seven-day stopgap measure will buy time for lawmakers to continue working on a larger omnibus spending bill that will fund the government through September 30th – the end of the fiscal year.

Should lawmakers fail to reach an agreement before midnight on Friday, April 28th, a federal government shutdown will occur. TSCL hopes that Congress will avert a shutdown since Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries would see negative impacts if one were to occur. We will be monitoring the negotiations closely in the coming hours and days and will post progress updates on Twitter.

House Republicans Revive AHCA

This week, House Republicans revived the AHCA after lawmakers affiliated with the Freedom Caucus endorsed a new version of it. A new amendment put forth by Congressman Tom MacArthur (NJ-3) would allow states to opt out of the ACA’s essential health benefits mandate and allow them to do away with a provision that prevents insurers from charging sick individuals more for their coverage.

Despite the new endorsement from the Freedom Caucus, leaders in the House do not yet have the votes needed to win passage. On Thursday evening, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) told reporters, “We’ve been making great progress, and when we have the votes we’ll vote on it.”

The future of the AHCA remains uncertain in the House, and in the Senate, lawmakers have been even more cautious about its prospects. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (TX) said: “Once [House lawmakers] pass the bill, my assumption is, the Senate’s going to take a look at it but not necessarily be rubber-stamping what they’re proposing. I would anticipate that we’ll do what we used to do all the time which is, the House will pass a bill, we’ll pass a bill, and then we’ll reconcile those in a conference committee.”

Despite progress on the bill’s movement in the House this week, the AHCA appears to have a tough road ahead. TSCL will be keeping a close eye on it in the days and weeks ahead since its passage would negatively impact the health and financial stability of older Americans. For updates, follow TSCL on Twitter, or visit the Legislative News section of our website. In addition, we encourage our members and supporters to call their representatives in Congress to request their opposition to the AHCA. Contact information can be found HERE.

Social Security Subcommittee Discusses Disability Fraud

On Wednesday, the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee met to discuss fraud, waste, and abuse within the Disability Insurance (DI) program. Subcommittee members heard from two expert witnesses – Sean Brune of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Seto Bagdoyan of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – on recent progress the administration has made in detecting and preventing fraud.

According to Mr. Brune, SSA is making several organizational and technology-driven improvements that will lead to an increase in fraud detection. The administration is currently expanding its successful Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) program, which prevents benefit payments from being made in cases where fraud is detected. The CDI program is operating in thirty-three states this year, and it is expected to expand to the remaining seventeen states by 2022. Mr. Brune said, “Chairman Johnson and this Subcommittee have long championed this CDI program, and we thank you for that support.”

Despite increased efforts by SSA, Mr. Bagdoyan emphasized the need for better program evaluation. He said: “SSA has taken some steps to establish an organizational culture and structure conducive to fraud risk management in its disability programs … But it has yet to comprehensively assess these risks or develop a strategic approach to ensure its anti-fraud activities effectively mitigate these risks.”

Lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing seemed encouraged by Mr. Brune’s testimony, but agreed with Mr. Bagdoyan that more work remains. Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (TX-3) said, “We need to make sure fraudsters don’t continue to benefit at the expense of hardworking taxpayers … I’m committed to working with Social Security and all of my colleagues to make sure the agency has all the tools to stop fraud.” Ranking Member of the Subcommittee John Larson (CT-1) agreed with Chairman Johnson and emphasized the need for adequate staffing and funding for SSA in the years ahead. Administrative budget cuts and hiring freezes are currently impeding progress.

TSCL agrees with members of the subcommittee and we share their concerns about fraud within the DI program. We feel strongly that the federal government must administer the necessary oversight to ensure that scarce program dollars are being spent properly. In the months ahead, we will continue to advocate on Capitol Hill for fraud prevention and for the administrative funding needed to make meaningful progress.