Legislative Update for Week Ending January 27, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 27, 2017

This week, lawmakers in the Senate held confirmation hearings to question Congressman Tom Price (GA-6) and Congressman Mick Mulvaney (SC-5), who have been nominated by President Donald Trump to fill important positions in the administration.

Finance Committee Questions HHS Nominee

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to question Congressman Tom Price (GA-6), an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia who was nominated by President Trump to become the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If confirmed, Congressman Price will lead the agency that has jurisdiction over Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and many other critical health programs.

At Wednesday’s hearing, several lawmakers asked Congressman Price about his plans to implement a new executive order from President Trump – signed following his inauguration on January 20th – that will dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). To these and other questions about the ACA’s repeal, Congressman Price responded ambiguously by assuring lawmakers that he would “make certain that we have the highest-quality health care and that every single American has access to affordable coverage.”

Several lawmakers also expressed their concerns about rising prescription drug prices at Wednesday’s hearing. When asked whether the administration would take action to assist seniors who fall into Medicare Part D’s “doughnut hole,” Congressman Price said: “It is imperative that we provide the greatest amount of opportunity for individual seniors to be able to gain access to the drugs that they need.” Senator Bill Nelson (FL) expressed his dissatisfaction with that response, saying: “If I gave [seniors] that answer, I would get run out of the room.”

Senator Nelson also asked Congressman Price about his plans to privatize the Medicare program at Wednesday’s hearing. A recent reform plan authored by the Congressman would transform the traditional Medicare program into a “premium support” model, where beneficiaries would be given vouchers from the federal government to purchase private insurance. In the past, Congressman Price has claimed that such plans would result in lower costs for both Medicare and its beneficiaries, but at Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Nelson presented a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office that projected premium increases of at least 125 percent for seniors living in Florida and other heavily populated states. He expressed serious concerns about the privatization of Medicare since his constituents would see higher medical costs.

The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) shares Senator Nelson’s concerns, and we are hopeful that Congress will take action in the near future to ensure lower out-of-pocket spending for Medicare beneficiaries. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to monitor the confirmation of Congressman Price, and we post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Senate Committees Question OMB Nominee

On Tuesday, two Senate Committees – the Budget Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – held confirmation hearings to question Congressman Mick Mulvaney (SC-5), who was nominated by President Trump to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed, he would lead the office that develops the administration’s federal budget and advises the White House on fiscal matters.

Since he was first elected to Congress in 2010, Congressman Mulvaney – a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus – has been vocal about his support for reforming the Social Security and Medicare programs. In a 2011 interview, he told reporters: “We have to end Medicare as we know it. We have to fix it.” He has endorsed several proposals that would privatize the Medicare program by adopting a “premium support” model, and on Tuesday, he endorsed plans to increase means-testing within the program. Both of those proposals are opposed by TSCL since they would result in higher out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.

Congressman Mulvaney also expressed his commitment to reforming the Social Security program during Tuesday’s confirmation hearings. He recommended increasing the age of eligibility for Social Security benefits, and in the recent past, he has voted in favor of legislation that would reduce cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) by adopting the “chained” COLA. According to TSCL’s research, “chaining” the Social Security COLA would amount to an across-the-board benefit cut of around 8 percent.

Several lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearings voiced concerns about Congressman Mulvaney’s Social Security and Medicare reform positions. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) – Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee – said: “The opinions and views of Mr. Mulvaney are way out of touch with what the American people want. And more importantly, they are way, way out of touch with what President Trump campaigned on.” Congressman Mulvaney stated, “I haven’t exactly been a shy Member of Congress in my six years here, and I don’t expect to end that here today or if I am confirmed as Director of OMB.” He said he would be “completely and brutally honest” as a budget advisor to President Trump.

In the coming weeks, TSCL will be keeping a close eye on the confirmation of Congressman Mulvaney, and we will be posting updates about the process on Facebook, on Twitter, and here in the Legislative News section of our website.