Legislative Update for Week Ending May 18, 2018

Legislative Update for Week Ending May 18, 2018

This week, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) monitored negotiations to reduce prescription drug prices, and one congressional subcommittee met to discuss the future of the Social Security number.

Trump Administration Releases Drug Proposal

Late last week, in a highly anticipated speech, President Donald Trump released a plan to lower prescription drug prices. The forty-four-page proposal titled “American Patients First” outlined several steps that the administration plans to take in the months ahead to reduce costs.

The plan includes 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 drugs 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.

Those changes could result in lower drug costs, but it remains unclear how much consumers would benefit from them. The Senior Citizens League believes much more could be done, and we were disappointed that the administration did not recommend price negotiation within the Medicare program. Allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries is a commonsense step that would drive down costs, and it has the support of more than 90 percent of The Senior Citizens League’s supporters according to a recent survey.

We were also disappointed that the Trump administration failed to recommend the legalization of prescription drug re-importation from licensed pharmacies abroad. Data shows that in recent years, the United States has spent 40 percent more on prescription drugs per person than Canada has, and twice as much as the average industrialized country. Allowing individuals, pharmacists, and wholesalers to safely import prescription drugs from Canada would bring increased competition to the American market while improving access to affordable prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries.

The Senior Citizens League will continue to advocate for these changes in the months ahead, and we will post updates on the evolving drug negotiations here in the Legislative News section of our website. For more information on prescription drug legislation that would reduce costs for older Americans, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.

House Subcommittee Holds Social Security Hearing

On Thursday, the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing on the future of the Social Security number (SSN). Members of the Subcommittee heard from seven expert witnesses, including Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) Nancy Berryhill.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (TX-3) stressed the importance of identity theft protection. He said: “After so many high-profile data breaches like those at Equifax, OPM, and Anthem, where hundreds of millions of SSNs were stolen, it is clear they aren’t a secret anymore. And it’s time we stop pretending like they are. Make no mistake, it’s still important to limit the unnecessary use of SSNs. But, if we want to keep pace with identity thieves, we need to think beyond just keeping them secret.”

Acting Commissioner Berryhill agreed with Chairman Johnson. In her testimony before the Subcommittee, she said: “We will continue to do what we can to prevent and mitigate the effects of SSN misuse and identity theft, and we will continue to evaluate new technologies and data to better secure the number. But just as we cannot control how other entities use the SSN for outside purposes, [the SSA] alone cannot solve the problem over-reliance on the SSN has caused.”

Witnesses at Thursday’s hearing suggested building upon recent changes made by Congress and the administration. For example, the Medicare program has begun mailing new cards that exclude SSNs, and last year, legislation endorsed by The Senior Citizens League was signed into law to restrict the inclusion of SSNs on documents mailed by the federal government. Several witnesses recommended replacing Social Security cards with smart cards that utilize embedded chips to better protect data. Others recommended moving away from SSNs altogether in the public and private sectors to reduce identity theft.

The Senior Citizens League agrees that Congress can and must do more protect the identities of Americans, and we look forward to monitoring this important topic in the months ahead. For updates on the future of the SSN, follow TSCL on Twitter.