The Senior Citizens League Legislative Update for Week Ending 10/18/19

The Senior Citizens League Legislative Update for Week Ending 10/18/19

There are numerous bills in the House of Representatives that have as their purpose the lowering of prescription drug prices.  The Senior Citizens League has endorsed and lobbied for passage of eight of those bills.  The most recent bill with that purpose is one introduced only a few weeks ago by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), which we have written about in previous updates.

That bill - H.R. 3 - is the one which has the most effort behind it for passage in the House of Representatives.  Pelosi’s bill would direct the Health and Human Services Secretary to negotiate with drug makers to lower the price of as many as 250 of the costliest brand-name drugs lacking generic or biosimilar competitors on the market.

This week the bill was changed to include increasing over time the minimum number of medicines subject to negotiation and subjecting some newly launched, high-price drugs to negotiation.

Others changes include: 1) allowing patients with high drug costs the option to pay for their prescriptions in installments once they meet the $2,000 annual out-of- pocket deductible in a single prescription; 2) expanding the prescription drug subsidy for low-income patients; and 3) under certain conditions requiring drug manufacturers to submit a report to the HHS Secretary 30 days before increasing the wholesale acquisition cost of qualifying drugs.

These changes were made in order to get more Democratic members of the House to support the bill because the House leadership wants a vote of the full House on the bill the last week of this month.  They also want to draw a contrast with Republicans, who widely oppose Medicare negotiation as a tool for lowering drug costs, which is the reason no Republicans have endorsed the bill.

Negotiators from the House have met with White House officials to discuss the bill and so far President Trump has been open about the possibility of working with the House to pass some kind of legislation to lower drug prices.  However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shown no willingness to put the Medicare bill up for a vote.

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Because Congress could not get its work done and finish passing legislation to fund the federal government for fiscal year 2020, which started on the 1st of this month, they managed to pass a “continuing resolution” (CR) that funds the government until November 21, only five short weeks from now.  Without that CR there would have been another government shutdown, and unless they can pass new funding legislation by November 21, they will either need to pass a new CR, or else there will be a government shutdown.

Congress came back from Washington this week after a two week recess, but it turns out there was no progress made during those two weeks on coming up with needed legislation.  Things were described as being in a "prolonged slump" according to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL).

One of the problems is that the Senate has yet to pass any of the 12 funding bills needed, while the House has passed 10 of the 12.  Late Thursday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced  that the Senate will take up and debate two packages of FY2020 spending bills next week in order to jump-start the appropriations process.

McConnell will use some of the funding bills the House has already sent to the Senate as vehicles for Senate action.  His plan includes taking action on eight of the 12 annual spending  bills.

Prior to McConnell's announcement Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) had said he doubts there will be any final bill before the stopgap legislation currently funding the government expires on Nov. 21.

“I’m hoping cooler heads will prevail but, having been here awhile, when you set a Nov. 21 deadline, be prepared for Dec. 21,” he said.

There is still major disagreement between the two parties in the Senate and once the Senate manages to pass their funding bills they will still need to negotiate with the House to reach final legislation to which both bodies can agree.  While the McConnell announcement is good news, there is still a long way to go.

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In case you missed it the Social Security Administration announced last week that the COLA for 2020 will be 1.6%.  The increased payments will begin in January of next year.

The military retiree COLA will increase by that same amount, as will VA disability payments.

The COLA is less than it was in 2018 and 2019 but more than the 0.3 percent COLA in 2017.    The current COLA reflects the cost of living for working age families, who typically have lower health care costs than retirees.  In addition, seniors face increased Medicare fees annually which frequently wipes out the COLA increase.  TSCL is leading the fight to change the formula used to calculate the annual COLA so that it more accurately reflects the actual costs that seniors pay.