Legislative Update for Week Ending September 22, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending September 22, 2017

This week, lawmakers in the Senate ended bipartisan discussions to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) individual market and instead moved forward with a plan from Senators Bill Cassidy (LA) and Lindsey Graham (SC) that would repeal the healthcare law. In addition, one committee met to discuss disaster planning for older Americans, and The Senior Citizens League saw support grow for one new bill.

Senate’s “Graham-Cassidy” Plan Gaining Steam

Just last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (UT) and thirty others in the Senate seemed committed to bipartisan efforts that would stabilize the ACA’s individual market and reduce growing healthcare costs. However, this week, the future of the ACA looks very different.

Lawmakers in the Senate are moving as quickly as possible to push through legislation that would repeal the healthcare law before the new fiscal year begins on October 1st. Finance Committee Chairman Hatch has agreed to hold a hearing on the bill on Monday, September 25th, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) said he plans to bring it to the floor for a vote by the end of next week. In order to utilize the budget reconciliation tool that requires only fifty-one votes to pass the bill, lawmakers must vote on the measure by September 30th. However, the Congressional Budget Office will not be able release its full analysis of the legislation before the Senate casts their votes.

The bill, which was recently introduced by Senators Bill Cassidy (LA) and Lindsey Graham (SC), would overhaul the current healthcare system and impact older Americans in several ways. Among many other things, it would:

  • Cut Medicaid coverage and jeopardize access to affordable long-term care for one-in-five low-income Medicare beneficiaries by capping federal spending;
  • End Medicaid expansion, which currently insures 11 million Americans, many of whom are older adults not yet eligible for Medicare coverage;
  • Allow insurers to charge those between the ages of 50 and 64 higher premiums by limiting current age rating protections;
  • Increase health insurance costs for those with pre-existing conditions and allow insurance companies to choose whether they will include the ACA’s essential health benefits in their plans;
  • Increase premiums for older Americans not yet eligible for Medicare coverage by as much as $16,000 per year;
  • Do away with subsidies in the exchange and replace them with smaller, declining “block grants” from the federal government that will expire after 2026.

It remains to be seen whether leaders in the Senate will find the votes needed for the legislation to win passage. Recent efforts in the Senate to repeal the ACA have failed by very slim margins, and those proposals were not as far-reaching as the “Graham-Cassidy” plan. On Wednesday, Senator Graham told reporters: “We’re inside the five-yard line. We’ll see what we need to do to get into the end zone.”

TSCL will be keeping a very close eye on the “Graham-Cassidy” proposal since its passage would significantly jeopardize the health and financial stability of older Americans. For updates on its movement in the coming days, follow TSCL on Twitter.

Aging Committee Discusses Disaster Preparation

On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing titled “Disaster Preparedness and Response: The Special Needs of Older Americans.” The recent natural disasters of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma highlighted the special needs and considerations of elderly and disabled populations during emergencies. As Aging Committee Chairman Susan Collins (ME) said, “Older Americans are particularly vulnerable before, during, and even after a storm.”

Heartbreaking stories from Texas and Florida showed seniors in nursing homes and assisted living communities struggling to escape flooding and cope with power losses following the storms. In Hollywood, Florida, nine seniors residing in a nursing home tragically lost their lives due to poor planning and a lack of air conditioning.

In order to improve preparedness in vulnerable communities, one witness at Wednesday’s hearing – Dr. Karen DeSalvo, former Health Commissioner for the city of New Orleans – suggested using Medicare data to identify older Americans more accurately. Another witness – Dr. Kathryn Hyer, Director of the University of South Florida’s School of Aging Studies – recommended encouraging more seniors to shelter in place during storms when the risk of flooding is minimal and adequate supplies are provided.

In addition, Mr. Paul Timmons – CEO of Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies – powerfully reminded the committee that disabled and older Americans deserve to be treated with respect even during stressful situations. He said: “There is no disaster loophole that allows for a suspension of our civil rights.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle at the Wednesday hearing agreed that more must be done to protect vulnerable populations during natural disasters. Four members of the committee – Chairman Collins, Ranking Member Bob Casey (PA), Senator Marco Rubio (FL), and Senator Bill Nelson (FL) – introduced legislation called the Protecting Seniors During Disasters Act, which would create a new advisory committee so stakeholders can collaborate more easily in times of disaster.

TSCL hopes Congress will consider the measure quickly so that steps can be taken immediately to protect the most vulnerable populations. To read the bipartisan plan in full, click HERE.

Key Bill Gains Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Senator John Kennedy (LA) – signed on to Senator Sherrod Brown’s bipartisan Social Security Fairness Act of 2017 (S.915). The cosponsor total is now up to 9. If signed into law, S.915 would repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Office (GPO) – two provisions of the Social Security Act that cut the earned benefits of millions of teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and other public servants each year. Because these individuals receive pensions from their state or local governments, their monthly Social Security checks are arbitrarily reduced, often by one-half or more.

TSCL enthusiastically supports the Social Security Fairness Act of 2017, and we were pleased to see support grow for it in the Senate this week.