Legislative Update for Week Ending March 20, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 20, 2015

This week, The Senior Citizens League’s (TSCL’s) Board of Trustees hosted a successful reception on Capitol Hill and met with several lawmakers and their top aides. In addition, leaders in Congress introduced legislation to permanently repeal and replace Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.

TSCL on Capitol Hill

This week, TSCL’s Board of Trustees traveled to Washington, D.C. for their first meeting of 2015. TSCL’s Board of Trustees includes the following members: Edward Cates, Chairman; Charlie Flowers, Vice-Chairman; Arthur Cooper, Secretary; John Martinez, Treasurer; Michael Gales, PAC Treasurer; and Larry Hyland, Liaison and President of TREA: The Enlisted Association.

On Wednesday, the Board of Trustees – along with Shannon Benton (Executive Director), former Congressman Van Hilleary (Legislative Consultant), and TSCL’s staff – hosted a breakfast reception on Capitol Hill for all Members of Congress and their staff. We were pleased to have the chance to speak with numerous lawmakers and/or their aides about the issues that matter most to seniors. To see photos from the breakfast reception, visit our new Facebook page.

Following the reception, the Board of Trustees and TSCL’s legislative team spent the afternoon meeting with four Congressional offices. Support was expressed for a number of key bills, including the Notch Fairness Act and the Social Security Fairness Act. TSCL would like to thank the following for taking time out of their busy schedules to discuss issues of critical importance to seniors: Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-6), Congressman Jimmy Duncan (TN-4), Congressman Walter Jones (NC-3), and Dr. LaTasha Lee (Policy Advisor for Congressman Alcee Hastings (FL-20)).

SGR Debate Progresses

Negotiations to repeal and replace the SGR – the flawed formula that determines payment rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients – continued to evolve quickly this week. On Thursday, House and Senate leaders introduced a bipartisan bill that would permanently repeal the SGR, provide doctors with modest payment updates over the next five years, and incentivize payment models that reward quality over quantity.

The agreement is nearly identical to legislation that was introduced last year in both chambers. That bill gained strong, bipartisan support, but it ultimately stalled because leaders were unable to negotiate offsets to cover its cost. This time around, leaders have agreed to offset $70 billion of the $210 billion price tag. Offsets were not included in the legislative language that was released on Thursday, but those close to the negotiations have said they will likely include two provisions that would impact beneficiaries – increased Part B and Part D premiums for wealthier seniors, and a new $250 deductible for Medigap plans.

The offset plan seems to have mixed support on Capitol Hill. Rep. Phil Roe (TN-1) – Co-Chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus – called it “the best piece of policy work I’ve seen since I’ve been here.” Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Wyden (OR) – Ranking Member of the Finance Committee – has been hesitant about expressing his support, saying the package contains “major health policy issues … and we’re just not there yet.”

TSCL also has serious concerns about the offset plan that was revealed this week. While we believe lawmakers must repeal and replace the SGR in order to bring greater stability to the Medicare program, we are opposed to any offsets that would reduce Medicare benefits or require seniors to pay more for their health care. We feel strongly that beneficiaries should not be required to pay for the poor policy-making decisions that were made by Congress nearly two decades ago.

TSCL will continue to monitor the evolving discussions very closely in the coming days, since the package is expected to move quickly once it is finalized. Lawmakers will adjourn for a two-week spring recess next Friday, on March 27th, and they will need to act before then to prevent a 21 percent pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients. For updates on the negotiations, visit the Legislative News section of our website.