Legislative Update for Week Ending June 15, 2018

Legislative Update for Week Ending June 15, 2018

This week, lawmakers on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee met to discuss the Trump Administration’s “American Patients First” blueprint. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for four key bills that would strengthen and improve the Social Security and Medicare programs.

Senate Committee Discusses Drug Blueprint

On Tuesday, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing titled “The Cost of Prescription Drugs: Examining the President’s Blueprint ‘American Patients First’ to Lower Drug Prices.” Those on the committee heard from Health and Human Services (HHS) Department Secretary Alex Azar about the Trump Administration’s proposal to reduce prescription drug prices.

In his testimony, Secretary Azar laid out four growing problems that the administration hopes to address: “high list prices set by pharmaceutical manufacturers; seniors and government programs overpaying for drugs due to lack of the latest negotiation tools; rising out-of-pocket costs; and foreign governments free-riding off of American investment and innovation.”

The “American Patients First” blueprint, released in May, proposed the following changes in prescription drug policy, among others: limiting the ways pharmacy benefit managers can negotiate discounts with drug manufacturers, preventing pharmacy benefit managers from making money from pharmaceutical companies, moving some prescriptions from the Medicare Part B program into the Part D program, increasing drug price transparency, and doing away with “gag rules” that prohibit pharmacists from telling patients when they could pay less for drugs without using their health insurance coverage.

Lawmakers on the HELP Committee questioned Secretary Azar about these and other potential solutions at Tuesday’s hearing. Senator Doug Jones (AL) said he is considering drafting a bill that would require HHS to demand drug prices that are similar to those paid by other developed countries like Canada and the United Kingdom. When Secretary Azar said he thought that would result in higher costs for Americans in the future, Senator Jones asked why it couldn’t simply be tested under a pilot program. He said, “Why don’t we give this a real-world trial instead of talking theoretically? If it doesn’t work, we can just stop it, right?”

Others at Tuesday’s hearing expressed their disappointment that the blueprint from the Trump Administration did not include prescription drug price negotiation in the Medicare Part D program. Instead, the proposal recommended moving some prescription drugs from the Medicare Part B program into the Part D program so that individual Part D plans could negotiate prices. Data shows that this change would likely result in higher out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries since co-pays are higher in the Part D program. At the hearing, Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) told Secretary Azar: “If a so-called negotiation ends up raising Medicare drug prices [for beneficiaries], it’s not a negotiation at all, it’s just a bad deal for seniors.”

The Senior Citizens League agrees that the policy solutions laid out in the Trump Administration’s “American Patients First” blueprint would not do enough to reduce prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. In the months ahead, we will continue to monitor prescription drug discussions on Capitol Hill, and we will advocate for legislation that would require the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries, along with other commonsense policy solutions. For updates, follow TSCL on Twitter or visit the Legislative News section of our website.

Four Key Bills Gain Support

This week, The Senior Citizens League was pleased to see support grow for several key bills that would strengthen and improve the Social Security and Medicare programs.

First, three new cosponsors – Representative Bobby Rush (IL-1), Representative Brendan Boyle (PA-13), and Representative Stephen Lynch (MA-8) – signed on to the Social Security Expansion Act (H.R. 1114), bringing the total up to thirty-nine. If adopted, H.R. 1114 would expand Social Security benefits by basing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) on the 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.

Second, one new cosponsor – Senator Tina Smith (MN) – signed on to the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act (S. 1600), bringing the total up to four in the Senate. If adopted, S. 1600 would base Social Security COLAs on the more adequate CPI-E and cover the cost by ensuring that high income earners pay their fair share of payroll taxes into Social Security.

Third, four new cosponsors signed on to the bipartisan Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1205), bringing the total up to 185. The new cosponsors are: Representative John Faso (NY-19), Representative Chris Smith (NJ-4), Representative Stephanie Murphy (FL-7), and Representative Conor Lamb (PA-18). If adopted, H.R. 1205 would repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset – two Social Security provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, police officers, and other public servants each year.

Finally, two new cosponsors – Senator Bob Menendez (NJ) and Senator Joni Ernst (IA) – signed on to the bipartisan CREATES Act (S. 974), bringing the total up to twenty-eight. 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.

The Senior Citizens League enthusiastically supports H.R. 1114, S. 1600, H.R. 1205, and S. 974, and we will continue to advocate for their passage in the months ahead. For more information about these and other bills that would improve the Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.