The Senior Citizens League begins this update by wishing each of you the very best in this New Year. We took a break last week from publishing our update since most people's days were filled with activities more important to them than anything that went on in Washington – Friends, family, looking back and looking ahead!
Members of Congress were out of town last week also spending the holidays with their families and that continued through this week. Congress is set to get back to work on Tuesday of next week and TSCL will get back to work fighting for the legislation you, our supporters, want us to fight for including lower prescription drug prices, a new and fairer COLA for Social Security recipients, enhancing both Social Security and Medicare benefits, and finally getting equity for Social Security Notch victims.
When Congress does get back to work there is a lot for them to do including what they all said they wanted to do last year: pass legislation to lower the costs of prescription drugs. Toward that end the House passed legislation championed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and sent it to the Senate for action. In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley worked with Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on his committee, and developed a bill of their own to lower drug prices. President Trump signaled his support for that bill.
But the person blocking any further progress on new legislation is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). According to a report from Bloomberg News, “Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pushing for major changes for the pharmaceutical industry meant to lower what Americans pay at the pharmacy have said McConnell stands as a major barrier to clearing their legislation.
“Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), said earlier this month McConnell was telling Senate Republicans not to support the drug-pricing package Grassley put together with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), his Democratic counterpart.
“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) similarly has said McConnell’s rejections of her Medicare negotiation bill (H.R.3), which the White House also opposes, is keeping the legislation from becoming law.”
While the Grassley-Wyden bill is very different from the Pelosi bill, we would hope that if the Senate would pass its bill there could be negotiations between the House and the Senate to come up with a bill that both the Democrats and the Republicans could agree on to lower drug prices. But as long as Senator McConnell refuses to allow the Grassley-Wyden bill to proceed in the Senate, things are stuck in place. TSCL will be working hard this year to try and end the road block and get things going once again.
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Bloomberg News also reported this regarding new prescription drug legislation: “The pharmaceutical industry worries that response [to the demand to lower drug prices] will include pricing controls like those in Pelosi’s negotiation legislation, which would peg the price tag for certain medicines to their prices in other countries and levy hefty fines on drug companies that refuse to reduce the cost of their products.”
According to one health policy expert, “If you’re the pharmaceutical industry and you’re worried about where this is going to take you, then you support the party that opposes price interventions.”
That is what makes the following information so interesting. According to another Bloomberg report, in an analysis of the Federal Election Commission records for 2019, the top executives of 5 of the top pharmaceutical companies gave nearly $305,000 of their personal money to top members of the Senate and House. Although most of the money went to Republicans, a few top Democrats in the House and Senate also received large amounts of cash.
In addition, political action committees (PACs) connected to 21 major pharmaceutical companies operating in the U.S. and the pharmaceutical industry’s two largest lobbying organizations gave $6.7 million total between January and December of 2019 to a long list of campaigns. At the top of that list were the election committees for both Democrats and Republicans, followed by Republican leaders and one lone Democratic Senator.
We tell you this for one reason: this is what makes getting legislation to lower drug prices so difficult. TSCL does not have either the means of making contributions to Congressional candidates nor do most other groups that lobby on behalf of seniors. That's why we rely on you to support us and to contact your Senators and Representatives when we alert you to important legislation that needs support. While money certainly talks in Washington, the wishes of voters count even more.
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As you may know, the beginning of a new year means reports of various kinds are announced concerning different issues in the previous year. That includes things like crime statistics, auto accidents, inflation rates, etc.
One such report came out from the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, which ranks 169 economies according to factors that contribute to overall health. In the report, Spain has now surpassed Italy to become the world’s healthiest country. It placed sixth in the previous report published in 2017. Four additional European nations were among the top 10 in 2019: Iceland (third place), Switzerland (fifth), Sweden (sixth) and Norway (ninth). Japan was the healthiest Asian nation, jumping three places from the 2017 survey into fourth and replacing Singapore, which dropped to eighth. Australia and Israel rounded out the top 10 at seventh and 10th place.
As far as the U.S. goes, it ranks 35th, while Canada ranks 16th and Mexico ranks 53rd. Cuba placed five spots above the U.S., making it the only nation not classified as "high income" by the World Bank to be ranked that high. One reason for the island nation’s success may be its emphasis on preventative care over the U.S. focus on diagnosing and treating illness.
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Finally, one thing all of us can cheer about. President Trump signed into law on Monday legislation passed by Congress that should reduce the number of “junk” phone calls that all of us are sick of. CBS News reports that although the new law won't make all such calls disappear, it gives authorities more enforcement powers and could speed up measures the industry is already taking to identify robocalls. In addition, when phone companies block robocalls, they must do so without charging consumers.
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.