Weekly Update for Week Ending November 7, 2020

Weekly Update for Week Ending November 7, 2020

Senate Returns to Work this Week

The Senate returns to work this week in what is known as a “lame-duck session.”  The term refers to the fact that for some members of the current Congress, this will be their last few weeks to serve.  Some were defeated for re-election and some are retiring.  They will officially leave office when Congress finally adjourns in a few weeks.

The House of Representatives will be back in session next week.  The head start by the Senate probably reflects the fact that the Senate wasn’t able to get nearly as much work as the House did prior to the October election recess.

One of the top items on the agenda of Congress will be to pass fiscal year 2021 funding legislation for the federal government prior to Dec. 11.  That’s the date that current funding expires as a result of the continuing resolution Congress had to pass at the end of September in order to keep the government open.

While the House was able to pass all but 2 funding bills the Senate has not passed any.  So, the Senate must pass all the funding bills, then go into negotiations with the House to come to agreement on all of the bills before they can go to the President for his signature.

While it may seem that the Dec. 11 deadline should give them plenty of time there will be much disagreement about what to fund and how much to spend so coming up with the needed legislation will probably take every bit of the time between now and the mid-December deadline.

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Medicare Premium News

The government announced last Friday that the standard monthly premium for Medicare outpatient care, or “Part B” coverage, will be $148.50 in 2021. That’s up

$3.90 from the 2020 premium.

The annual deductible for recipients will be $203, which is up $5 from this year.  Medicare Part B covers medical services and supplies, preventive services, durable medical equipment, and ambulance services.

In case you’ve missed one of the massive number of ads on TV telling about it, Medicare open enrollment, which ends Dec. 7, allows more than 60 million Medicare beneficiaries to compare coverage options, including original fee-for-service Medicare, private Medicare Advantage plans that provide program benefits, and Medicare prescription drug plans.

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What to Expect Regarding Health Care Under President Biden

There is much speculation in the media about what President Biden’s agenda will be once he takes office.  The speculation includes what his health agenda will look like.  Much of that will depend on which party controls the Senate starting next year.  A continuing Republican majority, no matter how small the margin, will create very different circumstances for Mr. Biden.  Most reports believe that lowering drug prices will be a priority for him and we’ll see if he can be any more successful than President Trump was.

The rest of his agenda may include lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 60, expanding financial assistance for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and creating a “public option” government health plan.  Once again, all of that will depend on which party controls the Senate.  If Republicans do, little of that is likely to pass.

However, a GOP-led Senate may be willing to work with Mr. Biden on further relief to individuals, businesses and states hit hard by the coronavirus epidemic, and on an effort to curtail “surprise” out-of-network medical bills as well as getting a handle on prescription drug prices, which both parties have been working on this year and for which there are bi-partisan bills.

It is also expected that he will work to improve the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also know as “Obamacare.”  His efforts there will depend on how the Supreme Court rules after it hears a case to overturn Obamacare early next year.

Tomorrow (Nov. 10), the Supreme Court will start hearing oral arguments in a challenge to the ACA.  The court will decide the future of President Barack Obama's signature legislation, a law Republicans have long opposed but one that 20 million Americans now depend on for their health insurance.

Like everything else, the way the Supreme Court operates has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.  The Court will hear arguments by telephone conference call after Mr. Biden has been sworn into office.

Lastly, during the campaign Mr. Biden did not discuss any plans for dealing with the looming funding crisis for Medicare.  However, he will not be able to ignore it once he takes office.

TSCL will be closely watching what Mr. Biden proposes regarding Medicare and we will be in the middle of the fight for lower prescription drug prices, an end to surprise medical billing and fixing Medicare’s looming funding shortfall.

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President-Elect Biden and Social Security

During his campaign, Mr. Biden also did not offer specific plans for solving the Social Security funding problem.  He did lay out a series of Social Security proposals, ranging from payroll tax increases on Americans earning over $400,000 to increased benefits for low-income retirees, widows and widowers, and the oldest Americans.

With regard to those, the nonpartisan Urban Institute think tank analyzed what his plans would do regarding Social Security.  It concluded that if enacted, they would “close about a quarter of Social Security’s long-term financial shortfall.” And, the researchers say, “Social Security would still run a deficit every year under [Biden’s] plan, but not as much as it would under current law.” The analysis concluded that “His plan would extend the life of the program’s trust funds by five years, to 2040.”

While Mr. Biden’s proposals would be better than doing nothing, they clearly do not fix the problem.  Unfortunately, because of the damage the pandemic has done to the economy, fixing the financial shortfalls facing both Social Security and Medicare will be extremely difficult.

And in at least the first two years of his presidency, the question will always be: what will the Republican-controlled Senate agree to, assuming they still control it?

TSCL will continue our efforts to fix both Social Security and Medicare funding next year.  While we will have our hands full because of all the legislation that is needed, our fight on behalf of America’s seniors will continue.  That means, however, we need your continued support – both financially and help with sending the messages to Congress that we want them to stop fighting and start working together on behalf of all Americans, and especially on behalf of Seniors who depend so much on Social Security and Medicare.

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Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.  We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.

For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.