Legislative Update for Week Ending November 21, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending November 21, 2014

This week, lawmakers pushed for a repeal of Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw three bills gain critical support.

SGR Repeal Remains High on “Lame Duck” Agenda

In interviews this week, key Members of Congress assured physicians and beneficiaries that a plan to repeal and replace Medicare’s SGR during the “lame duck” session is still in the works. Rep. Charles Boustany (LA-3), who serves on the GOP Doctors Caucus, said this week, “I want to get this thing taken care of so badly. I’m hopeful that we can find a way.”

Lawmakers have been debating alternatives to the SGR – the flawed formula that sets reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients – for more than ten years. In March, they came closer than ever before to reaching a compromise, but they ultimately failed to settle on an offset to cover the cost of the $144 billion bill. Now, many key lawmakers are saying that an offset is not necessary, and that they’d like to pass an SGR repeal bill before the end of this year, even though the current “doc fix” doesn’t expire until the end of March.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee and expected Chairman in the 114th Congress, said the legislation could realistically be attached to a package of tax extenders next month. When asked whether the bill would need an offset, he said, “It might not, let me put it that way.” Similarly, Rep. Phil Roe (TN-1), Co-Chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus, stated this week, “The answer is yes, I’ll vote for it with no offsets.”

Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem to agree, and in a letter that 110 Members of Congress sent to House leaders last week, they stated: “Congress should act immediately to provide long-term relief to our seniors and their health care providers. The time for action is now. We encourage you to prioritize Medicare physician payment reform before the end of this year.”

TSCL is hopeful that lawmakers will reach a compromise before the 113th Congress comes to a close in December. Doing so would bring much needed stability to the Medicare program for both doctors and beneficiaries. We will be sure to follow the evolving negotiations closely in the coming weeks, and we will continue to encourage lawmakers on Capitol Hill to support efforts to repeal and replace the SGR formula. In addition, we urge our members and supporters to contact their Representatives to request their support for a permanent path forward. For contact information, click HERE.

Three Bills Gain Support

This week, three new cosponsors signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up to sixty-six. The new cosponsors are: Reps. Janice Hahn (CA-44), Elijah Cummings (MD-7), and Doris Matsui (CA-6). If signed into law, H.R. 3118 would reform the Social Security program in three ways: it would adjust the benefit formula, resulting in more generous monthly benefits; it would base COLAs upon the CPI-E, resulting in more accurate annual increases; and it would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. The bill would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.

In addition, two new cosponsors – Reps. Lloyd Doggett (TX-35) and Jackie Speier (CA-14) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 1795), bringing the total up to 136. If signed into law, the Social Security Fairness Act would repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) – two provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, fire fighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year.

Finally, one new cosponsor, Rep. Tim Griffin (AR-2), signed on to the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 2745). The cosponsor total is now up to thirty-three. If signed into law, H.R. 2745 would prevent Social Security credits from being earned by work done illegally. Currently, those who receive “green cards” or work authorization may file a claim for Social Security benefits based on all earnings – even earnings from jobs where they used stolen, invalid, or fraudulent Social Security numbers.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 3118, H.R. 1795, and H.R. 2745, and we were pleased to see support grow for each of them this week.