Legislative Update for Week Ending January 26, 2018

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 26, 2018

This week, lawmakers voted to end the three-day government shutdown, and those in the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Mr. Alex Azar for the Department of Health and Human Service Secretary. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) announced its support for two bills, and several pieces of legislation gained support in the House and Senate.

Government Reopens After Brief Shutdown

On Monday, lawmakers in the House and Senate voted to end a three-day government shutdown by passing a short-term continuing resolution (CR). They now have until February 8th to negotiate a long-term spending bill. According to the House calendar, only six legislative days remain before the next budget deadline, since lawmakers are scheduled to be in recess and on legislative retreats in the weeks ahead.

Should lawmakers fail to negotiate a long-term deal by the February 8th deadline, they will need to pass yet another short-term funding patch or the government will shut down once again. At this point, another CR seems likely.

TSCL is hopeful that lawmakers will successfully negotiate a long-term deal to keep the government funded fully and responsibly so that programs like Social Security and Medicare can operate as smoothly as possible. For updates on the negotiations in the coming days and weeks, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.

Senate Confirms HHS Nominee

On Wednesday, with a bipartisan vote of 55-43, lawmakers in the Senate voted to confirm Mr. Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive who was nominated by President Donald Trump to become the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

As HHS Secretary, Mr. Azar will oversee the department that runs major health programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and he will be tasked with monitoring the pharmaceutical industry, which he recently helped lead. TSCL will be monitoring his work as Secretary closely, and we will urge him to take steps that would reduce prescription drug costs for older Americans while protecting and strengthening Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

TSCL Endorses Two Important Bills

This week, TSCL announced its support for the Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act (H.R. 807) – a bill that currently has the bipartisan support of more than 230 cosponsors in the House. If enacted, it would repeal the Medicare outpatient therapy cap, which currently limits coverage of rehabilitation services for older Americans at $1,940.

In a letter of support, TSCL’s Board Chairman – Art Cooper – wrote: “With over 44 million Americans enrolled in Medicare, countless numbers of older Americans depend on the program to insure them after a calamitous medical episode. However, due to the therapy cap, many seniors must choose between necessary rehabilitation services … Your bill would go a long way in ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries do not have to choose between rehabilitation services following a traumatic event.”

TSCL thanks Congressman Erik Paulsen (MN-3) for introducing this critical bill in the House of Representatives, and we look forward to working with his office to help build support for it in the coming months.

This week, TSCL also announced its support for the CREATES Act (S. 974, H.R. 2212), a bipartisan bill that was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) and Representative Tom Marino (PA-10). If adopted, the bill would increase competition in the prescription drug industry by encouraging generic and biosimilar drug manufacturers to introduce their products to the market more quickly.

In a letter of support to the bill’s sponsors, Art Cooper wrote: “In a recent survey of our members, as many as one-third of respondents said they postponed filling their prescriptions or took less than prescribed due to high costs. They question why Congress has not acted to ensure that drug manufacturers do not abuse patent protections and maintain monopolies over lucrative brand name drugs. As such, TSCL salutes you for introducing the CREATES Act.”

TSCL appreciates the leadership of Senator Leahy and Representative Marino on this important issue, and we look forward to advocating tirelessly for their bipartisan bill in the months ahead.

Key Bills Gain Cosponsors

This week, TSCL was pleased to see four key bills gain new cosponsors. First, the Social Security Fairness Act (S. 915) gained three new cosponsors in Senator Ed Markey (MA), Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT), bringing the cosponsor total to eighteen. If signed into law, S.915 would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

In addition, the Transparent Drug Pricing Act of 2017 (H.R. 4116) gained four new cosponsors in Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Representative Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Representative Hank Johnson (GA-4), and Representative Judy Chu (CA-27), increasing the cosponsor total to eighteen. If signed into law, H.R. 4116 would mandate pharmaceutical manufacturing companies to report how and why they set drug prices to help bring more transparency to the industry.

The Nursing Home CARE Act (H.R. 4704) also gained three new cosponsors this week in Representative David Price (NC-4), Representative G.K. Butterfield (NC-1), and Representative Debbie Dingell (MI-12), bringing the cosponsor total to eight. If signed into law, H.R. 4704 would protect Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries by more quickly codifying emergency preparedness rules for nursing home facilities that receive funding from the federal government.

Finally, the Competitive DRUGS Act of 2017 (H.R. 4117) gained one new cosponsor in Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), increasing the new cosponsor total to twenty-three. If signed into law, H.R. 4117 would prohibit brand name pharmaceutical companies from paying generic drug companies to delay the introduction of their products to the market, an anti-competitive tactic known as "pay-for-delay."

TSCL enthusiastically supports S. 915, H.R. 4116, H.R. 4704, and H.R. 4117, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week. For more information about these and other TSCL-backed bills, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.