This week, tax reform negotiations continued on Capitol Hill as lawmakers on the bicameral conference committee met for their first public meeting. In addition, two congressional committees held hearings to discuss prescription drug prices, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for three key bills.
Tax Committee Reaches Final Deal
On Wednesday, lawmakers on the bicameral conference committee met for the first time to iron out the differences between two different tax reform bills – once passed by the House last month, and one passed by the Senate two weeks ago. Republicans on the conference committee have reportedly reached a deal on the tax package, but the text has not yet been made public. The conferees will meet on Friday morning, and those who support the final deal will add their signatures to it. The text of the bill is expected to be made public by Friday evening.
As was mentioned in last week’s legislative update, TSCL is monitoring the negotiations closely since the bill will impact older Americans in several ways. It will repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which will likely make health insurance unaffordable for millions who are not yet eligible for Medicare. It will also index the individual tax brackets and the standard deduction to the slowly-growing “chained” Consumer Price Index (CPI), which will result in tax increases for most individuals over time since they will hit higher tax brackets faster than they would under current law.
In addition, because of the massive cost of the bill, its passage will trigger $25 billion in automatic spending cuts to Medicare. Other critical programs for seniors like Meals on Wheels will see their budgets slashed, and lawmakers have already begun discussing plans to reform Medicare and Medicaid next year in an attempt to reduce the deficit that the tax bill will create. Last week Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (WI-1) called Medicare “the biggest entitlement we’ve got to reform.”
In the days ahead, TSCL will continue to monitor the movement of the tax bill closely, and we will advocate against the provisions mentioned above that would jeopardize the health and financial security of older Americans. Lawmakers in the Senate are expected to vote on the tax bill early next week, and those in the House will take it up shortly thereafter. It is expected to be signed into law by President Trump before the end of next week.
Congressional Committees Hold Drug Cost Hearings
This week, two congressional committees met to discuss the prescription drug industry. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on Tuesday titled “Making Medicines Affordable: A National Imperative.” And on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee met to discuss the prescription drug supply chain with ten expert witnesses.
Tuesday’s Senate hearing focused on a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The Academies laid out several recommendations for reducing prescription drug prices, including eliminating tax breaks for the advertising costs of pharmaceutical companies, eradicating “pay-for-delay” deals that discourage generic drug competition, and prohibiting patent abuses that allow pharmaceutical companies to maintain monopolies on their profits. Learn more about the recommendations in the report by reading it HERE.
Each of the three witnesses at Tuesday’s Senate hearing agreed that more clarity and competition are needed in the pharmaceutical industry. David Mitchell, the President of Patients for Affordable Drugs, framed the issue best when he said, “Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.” Since older Americans take three times more prescriptions than younger folks and are more likely to live on fixed incomes, they are disproportionately and unfairly affected by high drug prices.
Wednesday’s House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing also focused on unaffordable drug prices. Lawmakers questioned ten witnesses from across the drug supply chain spectrum, including pharmacy benefit managers, primary care doctors, pharmaceutical manufacturers, health insurance negotiators, and patient advocates. Lawmakers and industry experts failed to pinpoint the cause of high drug prices at Wednesday’s hearing, but the discussion made clear that each group in the supply chain is to blame, and the true victims are the patients whose lives depend on high-cost prescription drugs.
TSCL’s legislative team was in attendance at both hearings this week, and we thank the two committees for focusing on this pressing issue. TSCL supports several bills currently before Congress that would reduce prescription drug costs, including the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act (H.R. 4138) and the Transparent Drug Pricing Act of 2017 (H.R. 4116). Learn more about these bills and their progress on our Track Bills webpage.
Key House Bills Gain Support
This week, the Social Security Expansion Act (H.R. 1114) gained one new cosponsor in Representative Lacy Clay (MO-1), bringing the cosponsor total to thirty-two. If signed into law, H.R. 1114 would enhance Social Security benefits by basing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), increasing monthly checks by around $65 per month, improving the Special Minimum Benefit, applying the payroll tax to income above $250,000, and applying a 6.2% tax on investment income for wealthy individuals.
The Notch Fairness Act (H.R. 867) also gained one new cosponsor this week in Representative Lacy Clay (MO-1), which brings the total up to eight. If signed into law, H.R. 867 would allow victims of the Social Security notch – those born between 1917 and 1926 who are receiving lower monthly checks than those born before and after them – to choose either a lump sum payment totaling $5,000 or an improved monthly benefit computation formula.
Finally, the SNAP Simplification for the Elderly Act (H.R. 4521) – a bill that was recently endorsed by TSCL – gained two new cosponsors in Representative Raul Grijalva (AZ-3) and Representative Seth Moulton (MA-6). The cosponsor total is now up to twenty-two. If enacted, H.R. 4521 would streamline the application process for senior citizens to receive help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill would also encourage collaboration between local Social Security offices and the SNAP program to help seniors at risk of hunger enroll in both benefits simultaneously.
TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1114, H.R. 867, and H.R. 4521, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week. For more information on these and other bills, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.