Legislative Update for Week Ending October 20, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending October 20, 2017

This week, one Senate committee held a hearing to discuss rising prescription drug prices, and President Donald Trump weighed in on the growing issue. In addition, President Trump signed two executive orders late last week that will impact older Americans, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for one key bill.

Senate Committee Discusses Drug Prices

On Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee met to discuss rising prescription drug costs. Lawmakers on the Committee heard from several expert witnesses, including Mr. Thomas Menighan – Executive Director of the American Pharmacists Association – and Ms. Lori Reilly – Executive Vice President of Policy at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

At the hearing, lawmakers focused on the prescription drug delivery system – the process a drug undergoes as it travels from manufacturer to consumer. In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) said: “My goal for this hearing is to continue in a bipartisan way, and learn the facts about what goes into the price patients pay when picking up their prescriptions and what, if any, steps this committee could agree on and take to lower that price.”

Lawmakers at the hearing expressed a number of concerns about the prescription drug delivery system. Chairman Alexander questioned the effectiveness of drug rebates, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) spoke about dangerous monopolies in the market, Senator Al Franken (MN) expressed his disapproval of anti-competitive deals between brand-name and generic manufacturers, and Senator Susan Collins (ME) voiced her opposition to the lack of transparency in the entire supply chain.

Several improvements to the industry were recommended by lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing, including two proposals that have been endorsed by TSCL – one which would allow individuals to import prescription drugs from approved pharmacies in Canada (S. 92), and one which would require the federal government to negotiate prices for Medicare Part D beneficiaries (S. 41). Both bills would increase competition in the prescription drug industry and result in lower costs for consumers.

TSCL is hopeful that both bills will be considered by the HELP Committee later this year and signed into law by President Trump. As Senator Patty Murray (WA) said in her opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing, “President Trump has talked a big game [on drug prices] on Twitter, but so far, he’s not taken any action to actually lower drug prices.”

At a cabinet meeting on Monday, President Trump reportedly spoke publicly about “out of control” drug prices. He said, “The same exact drug by the same exact company, made in the same exact box and sold someplace else, sometimes it’s a fraction of what we pay in this country … As usual, the world is taking advantage of the United States. They’re setting prices in other countries, and we’re not.”

TSCL agrees that steps must be taken to reduce prices in the United States, and in a tweet, we encouraged President Trump to endorse S. 92 and S. 41 and to sign them into law. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to work with lawmakers in Washington to advance common-sense solutions that would bring down rising drug costs for seniors. For progress updates, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.

President Trump Signs Healthcare Orders

Late last week, President Trump signed two executive orders that undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will likely harm the health and financial security of older Americans – especially those between the ages of fifty and sixty-four who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

The first order aims to create more flexibility for states to sell Association Health Plans, which will allow small businesses to band together to buy health plans that cost less and cover fewer services. Since those health plans will offer cheaper insurance policies, many young, healthy Americans will have an incentive to leave the individual market. As a result, older and sicker individuals – and those with pre-existing conditions – will likely be left to pay higher premiums for their coverage.

The second order seeks to end the cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) that help subsidize insurance coverage for low-income Americans. Approximately one-third of all individuals enrolled in CSR plans are between the ages of fifty and sixty-four, and they will be hit particularly hard by this policy change. To make up for around $10 billion in lost funds from the federal government, insurers will likely increase premiums for those in the individual market by 20 percent or more, and experts expect many will leave the market or offer fewer health plans in the years ahead.

The effects of the executive orders will not be seen for at least a few months, since the Department of Health and Human Services will need to write new rules to implement them. In the meantime, TSCL hopes Congress will pass new bipartisan legislation from Senator Murray and Senator Alexander that would guarantee CSR payments for two years and protect those with pre-existing conditions. For updates on the progress, visit the Legislative News section of our website.

Key COLA Bill Gains Support

 This week, one new cosponsor – Congressman Thomas Suozzi (NY-3) – signed on as the forty-fifth cosponsor of the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) Act (H.R. 1251). If adopted, H.R. 1251 would base Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) on the CPI-E – a more accurate measure of inflation for Social Security beneficiaries.

Currently, Social Security COLAs are based on the way young, urban workers spend their money, and they underestimate the inflation retirees experience since items like gasoline and electronics are given more weight than medical costs and prescription drugs.

TSCL was pleased to see support grow for H.R. 1251 this week, and we look forward to working with its sponsor – Rep. John Garamendi (CA-3) – in the months ahead to continue building support. For more information or progress updates, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.