Legislative Update for Week Ending May 22, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending May 22, 2015

This week, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee held a hearing on increasing competition within the Medicare program, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw two key bills gain support.

House Committee Discusses Medicare Competition

On Tuesday, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee met to discuss competition within the Medicare program. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady (TX-8) said, “More often than not, Medicare stifles competition and choice … The system is set up so that providers are more likely to fight rule-making decisions handed down from government agencies than they are to compete with each other to offer better services to Medicare patients.”

To increase competition, Chairman Brady focused on the expansion of physician-owned hospitals at Tuesday’s hearing. Currently, there are only 230 physician-owned hospitals across the country – versus 3,400 national acute care hospitals – due to restrictions in the Affordable Care Act. Chairman Brady touted them as “full-service community hospitals” that “specialize in providing essential heath services in areas that are considered ‘underserved.’” He would like to remove the ACA’s restrictions by passing the Patient Access to Higher Quality Health Care Act (H.R. 976), which Rep. Sam Johnson (TX-3) recently introduced.

However, support for that plan was divided at Tuesday’s hearing. Rep. Jim McDermott (WA-7), the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, said: “There is simply no good reason to reverse course and undo this progress … It will bring needless waste back into the health care system, and ultimately harm hardworking families.” One witness – Rich Umbdenstock, President and CEO of the American Hospital Association – agreed. According to him, physician-owned hospitals offer limited services, cherry-pick their patients, and provide only the most profitable services. He cited a report from the Congressional Budget Office that estimated the ACA’s limits on physician-owned hospitals will save $500 million over a decade.

At this point in time, it remains unclear whether H.R. 976 will gain the support needed for passage, and whether its effect on Medicare beneficiaries would be positive or negative if adopted. TSCL will monitor its movement closely in the coming months. We will also keep a close eye on the Health Subcommittee’s Medicare discussions, since Chairman Brady announced on Tuesday that he will hold several hearings on increasing competition in the near future. For updates, visit the Legislative News section or our website, or our new page on Facebook.

Two Bills Gain New Cosponsors

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-2) – signed on to the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1391), bringing the total up to sixty-one. H.R. 1391, if signed into law, would reform the Social Security program in a number of ways while extending its solvency through the year 2100. It would increase benefits by 2 percent, cut taxes for over 11 million seniors, increase the minimum benefit to 125 percent of the poverty line, and make cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) more fair and accurate.

In addition, one new cosponsor signed on to the FAIR Social Security Act (H.R. 1984), bringing the total up to six. The new cosponsor is Rep. Jerry McNerney (CA-9). If signed into law, H.R. 1984 would base Social Security COLAs on the CPI-E, making them more fair and accurate. It would also eliminate the cap on income subject to the payroll tax and address the Disability Insurance program’s insolvency responsibly, without taking funds away from the retirement program.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1391 and H.R. 1984, and we were pleased to see support grow for both of them this week.