This week, the Social Security Administration announced the 2019 cost-of-living adjustment, and President Donald Trump signed into law legislation that will result in lower out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at pharmacies. In addition, The Senior Citizens League saw three key bills gain support in Congress.
SSA Announces 2019 Social Security COLA of 2.8 Percent
On Thursday, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that beneficiaries will receive a 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2019. It will be the largest Social Security COLA since 2012, but around 5 million seniors with the lowest Social Security benefits are expected see no net increase in their monthly checks after Medicare Part B premiums are deducted. Those with benefits of around $635 per month or less are expected to see no net increase.
In a statement that was released on Thursday, Mary Johnson – Policy Analyst for The Senior Citizens League – said: “The bottom line is that Medicare Part B premiums rise several times faster than COLAs, and those premiums are now high enough to cause the net Social Security benefits of millions of people to remain flat for years at a time … This would make the fourth year in a row that this particular group has not seen a boost in their net Social Security benefits.”
The Social Security Administration also announced on Thursday that the Social Security payroll tax cap will rise from $128,400 in 2018 to $132,900 in 2019. Most American workers contribute 6.2 percent of every paycheck to the Social Security program, but high earners will stop contributing to the program once they reach $132,900 in income next year. That means the wealthiest American CEOs – many of whom are billionaires – will be finished paying into the Social Security program just a few hours or days into 2019.
To make the Social Security program fairer, The Senior Citizens League is advocating for legislation that would give beneficiaries a more adequate annual COLA. Under current law, the COLA is based on the spending patterns of young, working Americans. It fails to capture the true inflation seniors experience since it does not include major expenses like rising Medicare premiums. The bipartisan CPI-E Act (H.R. 1251) would base the COLA on the spending patterns of older Americans, and it’s a change that is backed by 81 percent of The Senior Citizens League’s supporters according to the results of our 2018 Senior Survey.
To cover the cost of CPI-E Act’s adoption and to improve the solvency of the Social Security program, The Senior Citizens League supports an increase in the payroll tax cap. Nearly 75 percent of our supporters agree that the wealthiest Americans must begin contributing to the program more fairly, based on the results of our 2018 Senior Survey. Several bills now before Congress would increase or eliminate the payroll tax cap, and The Senior Citizens League will continue to advocate for their passage tirelessly in the months ahead.
“Gag Clause” Legislation Signed into Law
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed two bills – the Know the Lowest Price Act (S. 2553) and the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act (S. 2554) – into law that will protect Medicare beneficiaries and privately insured individuals from “gag clauses” at pharmacies. “Gag clauses” prevent pharmacists from telling consumers when it would be cheaper to purchase their prescriptions out-of-pocket than through their Medicare Part D or health insurance plans.
Both bills were adopted by the Senate earlier this year and by the House two weeks ago. At a signing ceremony on Wednesday, President Trump said: “This is very strong legislation to end these ‘gag clauses’ once and for all … Our citizens deserve to know the lowest price available at our pharmacies, and now that’s what they’ll be getting.”
The Senior Citizens League is pleased that lawmakers successfully advanced legislation that will result in lower out-of-pocket costs at pharmacies, but we believe Congress can and must do more to reduce prescription drug prices. In the months ahead, we will continue to advocate for comprehensive legislation like the Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drug Prices Act (S. 771, H.R. 1776), which would lead to significantly lower costs for seniors if adopted. For progress updates, follow The Senior Citizens League on Twitter or visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.
Three Key Bills Gain Support in Congress
This week, The Senior Citizens League was pleased to see support grow for three key bills that would improve the Social Security and Medicare programs if adopted.
First, one new cosponsor – Representative Mike Bishop (MI-8) – signed on to the Audiology Patient Choice Act (H.R. 2276), bringing the total up to thirty-three. If adopted, H.R. 2276 would improve Medicare coverage for hearing services that are performed by licensed audiologists. Under current law, audiologists are not recognized as providers of health-related hearing services, and the Medicare program will only reimburse them for their services when patients are referred by physicians or nurse practitioners.
Second, four new cosponsors – Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT), Senator Roy Blunt (MO), Representative Bill Posey (FL-8), and Representative Maxine Waters (CA-43) – signed on to the CHANGE Act (S. 2387, H.R. 4957), bringing the total up to ten in the Senate and twenty-four in the House. If adopted, the CHANGE Act would promote early identification of Alzheimer’s disease, improve support for family caregivers, and provide continuous care for those battling many forms of dementia.
And third, one new cosponsor – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) – signed on to the Social Security 2100 Act (S. 2671), bringing the cosponsor total to two. If adopted, S. 2671 would comprehensively strengthen and reform the Social Security program by basing COLAs on the CPI-E, increasing monthly benefits by 2%, creating a new Special Minimum Benefit equal to 125% of the poverty line, providing a tax cut to Social Security beneficiaries, applying the payroll tax to annual income over $400,000, and gradually increasing the payroll tax rate by 0.25%.
The Senior Citizens League enthusiastically supports H.R. 2276, H.R. 4957, S. 2387, and S. 2671, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week. For more information about these and other TSCL-backed bills, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.