Legislative Update for Week Ending January 12, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 12, 2017

This week, one Senate committee met to discuss the nomination of Alex Azar, who was selected to become the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) endorsed two new bills that would improve the Medicare program, and two key Social Security bills gained cosponsors.

Finance Committee Discusses HHS Nomination

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive who was selected by President Donald Trump to become the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Tuesday’s hearing was the second time the Senate had met to question Mr. Azar on his ability to lead a department that, as the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch (UT) described, will “impact the lives of every single American.”

At the hearing, Mr. Azar discussed four improvements to HHS he would like to see while leading the department: lowering drug prices, making healthcare more affordable for patients, expanding value-based payments in the Medicare program, and tackling the opioid crisis.

Despite Mr. Azar's stated commitment to lowering drug prices, many Senate Democrats raised concerns about his time as a pharmaceutical executive at the drug company Eli Lilly. In particular, Senator Ron Wyden (OR) and Senator Claire McCaskill (MO) questioned why drugs used to treat diabetes and ADHD more than doubled in cost while Mr. Azar lead Eli Lilly’s committee on drug pricing.

Mr. Azar stated that his knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry will enable him to focus on the specific problems that are leading to high drug costs. He said that as Secretary, he would like to increase transparency in the pharmaceutical industry, create more competition in the form of generic and biosimilar drugs, and decrease list prices on new drugs.

TSCL was disappointed to hear at Tuesday’s hearing that Mr. Azar does not support proposals that would allow the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare Part D beneficiaries, although he said he is open to negotiating drug costs for in-patient care. Research shows that authorizing price negotiation would result in savings for beneficiaries and for the Medicare program, and TSCL believes it is a common-sense step that must be allowed.

The Senior Citizens League is hopeful that if confirmed as HHS Secretary, Mr. Azar will uphold his promises to reduce drug costs and make healthcare more affordable for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Our legislative team will continue to monitor the nomination proceedings in the Senate, and we will urge lawmakers in Washington to take steps that would reduce prescription drug costs for older Americans. For updates in the weeks ahead, follow TSCL on Facebook or Twitter.

TSCL Endorses Two New Medicare Bills

This week, TSCL announced its support for two new House bills that would improve the Medicare program: the Medicare Adult Day Services Act of 2017 (H.R. 3098) and the Creating Access to Rehabilitation for Every Senior (CARES) Act of 2017 (H.R. 4701).

If signed into law, the H.R. 3098 – which was introduced by Representative Linda Sanchez (CA-38) – would provide support to seniors and their caregivers by allowing Medicare to pay for adult day care services for beneficiaries. H.R. 4701, introduced by Representative Jim Renacci (OH-16), would remove the three-day requirement of inpatient hospital treatment before Medicare will cover long-term care at a skilled nursing facility.

TSCL thanks Representatives Sanchez and Renacci for introducing these two important pieces of legislation in the House, and we look forward to working with them in the months ahead to help build support for their bills.

Key Bill Gains Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Representative Marcy Kaptur (OH-9) – signed on to the bipartisan Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 1251), bringing the total up to forty-nine. If signed into law, the bill would base the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) on a more adequate and accurate inflation index that tracks the spending patterns of older Americans.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-9) also signed on to the Guaranteed 3% COLA Act (H.R. 991) this week, bringing the cosponsor total up to seven. If signed into law, H.R. 991 would base the Social Security COLA on the CPI-E, and it would guarantee an annual benefit increase of at least three percent.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1251 and H.R. 991, and we were pleased to see support grow for both of them this week. For more information about them, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.