Legislative Update for Week Ending January 20, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 20, 2017

This week, four congressional committees began crafting legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In addition, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a courtesy confirmation hearing to question Congressman Tom Price (GA-6), the nominee for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) position.

Committees Craft ACA Repeal Legislation

Late last week, lawmakers in the House passed a budget resolution that lays the groundwork for a repeal of the ACA. Now that both chambers of Congress have adopted the resolution, four committees – the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Senate HELP Committee – will begin drafting legislation to repeal the health care law.

Once the committees finish their work, those in the House will vote on the bill drafted in their chamber, and those in the Senate will vote on theirs. Lawmakers will then be tasked with reconciling the differences between the two. As was mentioned last week, through the budget reconciliation process, the ACA could be repealed by the end of the month with a simple majority in the Senate.

According to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday, a full repeal of the law without a replacement would result in a loss of insurance coverage for 18 million individuals, and premium increases of around 25 percent for those who purchased coverage through the individual market. In response to the new report, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) said: “The numbers are even worse than experts could have imagined.”

In the weeks ahead, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) will be closely monitoring discussions in the House and Senate to repeal the ACA since they will impact older Americans in several ways. For instance, Medicare Part D beneficiaries who fall into the coverage gap – or “doughnut hole” – will face higher costs for their prescription drugs, and the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund that finances Medicare Part A will lose a critical stream of funding. For updates on the repeal of the ACA, visit the Legislative News section of our website, or follow TSCL on Facebook or Twitter.

Senate Committee Questions HHS Nominee

On Wednesday, lawmakers on the Senate HELP Committee held a courtesy hearing to question Representative Tom Price (GA-6), a Congressman from Georgia and an orthopedic surgeon who has been nominated to fill the position of HHS Secretary. Both the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) fall under the jurisdiction of HHS, and the agency has one of the federal government’s largest budgets at $1 trillion.

Much of Wednesday’s hearing was focused on the repeal of the ACA. Several lawmakers in the majority party – including Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) – called for the establishment of a solid ACA replacement plan. He said: “The American people deserve health care reform that’s done the right way, for the right reasons, in the right amount of time. It’s not about developing a quick fix, it’s about working toward long-term solutions that work for everyone.” Congressman Price seemed to agree, and he expressed his support for a health system that ensures health insurance access – but not a guarantee of coverage – for all.

Several lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing also asked Congressman Price whether he supports legislation like the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act, which would allow HHS to negotiate prescription drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Doing so would save the Medicare program billions of dollars annually and would reduce drug costs for older Americans. TSCL was disappointed that Congressman Price refused to answer these inquiries directly, instead expressing his commitment to ensuring that “drug pricing is reasonable.”

Several lawmakers also asked Congressman Price about comments he recently made to reform the Medicare program before the end of the year. Congressman Price told the HELP Committee Members that there are no immediate plans to reform the program, and that he has not yet discussed the topic with the new administration. Congressman Price has authored several proposals in recent years that would transform the traditional Medicare program into a “premium support” model, where beneficiaries would be given vouchers to purchase private health insurance. TSCL opposes such plans since we believe they would result in higher out-of-pocket costs for seniors, and we will continue to advocate against them in the months ahead.

Next week – on January 24th – the Senate Finance Committee will be holding a formal confirmation hearing to question Congressman Price. TSCL will be monitoring discussions about the ACA and the future of the Medicare program, and we will post a summary of the hearing here in the Legislation News section of our website.