Legislative Update for Week Ending March 27, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 27, 2015

This week, legislation to repeal Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula continued to progress, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) announced its support for three new bills.

SGR Repeal Bill Advances

This week, the House Rules Committee advanced legislation to repeal and replace the SGR – the flawed formula that sets payment rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The panel approved the bill by a voice vote on Wednesday. Shortly thereafter, President Obama endorsed the package, and he said he looks forward to signing “a good bipartisan bill” into law.

At the time of writing this week’s update, the House had not yet voted on the bill, but it is expected to pass easily with bipartisan support on Thursday afternoon. Its fate in the Senate is more uncertain at this point, even though opposition seems to be lessening. The Senate could take up the bill late Thursday or early Friday morning – before they adjourn for a two-week recess – but that seems unlikely since some are still hesitant about it.

Leaders in the Senate will likely choose to adjourn as planned on Friday and consider the legislation when they return to Capitol Hill on April 14th. The current “doc fix” officially expires on April 1st, but officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said they could delay the 20 percent pay cut for physicians until April 14th, which would give the Senate one day once they return to pass the bill.

At this point, it appears as though lawmakers will successfully repeal and replace the SGR without passing an eighteenth pay patch, or “doc fix.” Even though TSCL has advocated for a permanent repeal for more than a decade, we have mixed feelings about the package that lawmakers have put together this month.

We believe that the SGR must be replaced in order to bring increased stability to the Medicare program. However, we are opposed to the offsets that leaders in the House included in the bill last week since they would require beneficiaries to pay more for their health care. We feel strongly that seniors should not be required to cover the cost of the poor policymaking decisions that were made twenty years ago.

In the days ahead, we will continue to monitor the bill’s movement closely, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website. In the meantime, we encourage our members and supporters to call their Members of Congress to express their disapproval of offsets that would increase cost-sharing for Medicare beneficiaries. For contact information, click HERE.

TSCL Supports Three New Bills

This week, TSCL announced its support for the Social Security Expansion Act (S. 731), which was recently introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (VT). If signed into law, the bill would strengthen the Social Security program by making cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) more fair and accurate, updating the benefit formula, and asking wealthier individuals to contribute more to the program. Upon introducing the bill, Sen. Sanders said, “At a time when over half of the American people have less than $10,000 in savings and senior poverty is increasing, we should not be talking about cutting Social Security benefits. We should be expanding benefits to make sure that every American can retire with dignity.” TSCL agrees, and we look forward to working with Sen. Sanders in the coming months to help build support for his bill.

TSCL also announced its support for the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1391) this week, which Congressman John Larson (CT-1) introduced with the support of more than fifty other legislators. The bill, if signed into law, would increase Social Security benefits by 2 percent, cut taxes for over 11 million seniors, increase the minimum benefit to 125 percent of the poverty line, and make COLAs more accurate. It would also take measures to increase the solvency of the trust fund beyond the next seventy-five years, through the year 2100. TSCL enthusiastically supports Rep. Larson’s bill since it would strengthen the program responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.

Finally, TSCL announced its support for the Protecting Seniors’ Access to Medicare Act (S. 141 and H.R. 1190), which was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (TX) and Rep. Phil Roe (TN-1). Their bill, if signed into law, would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) – the controversial Medicare cost-cutting board that was created by the Affordable Care Act back in 2010. It would prevent Medicare beneficiaries from changes to the program that could impact them negatively, and it would return the policymaking authority to Congress, where TSCL believes it belongs. We look forward to working with Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Roe through the remainder of the 114th Congress, and we hope to help build support for their bill in the months ahead.