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.
This past week the House of Representatives remained out of session, but committees continued to work remotely, holding briefings and forums over videoconferencing technology and conference calls. The House will hold votes next week on several issues that have come out of committees and are ready for a vote by the full body.
The Senate has been back in session for a few weeks and has held votes on some legislation but what we at TSCL are watching is what's been happening in both the Senate and House committees that deal with legislation of major concern to seniors.
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Will there be a COLA in 2021? Maybe not.
This week TSCL has been focused on two issues we are very concerned about. The first is the payroll tax cut that we told you about last week. As a reminder, President Trump has said he wants a payroll tax cut in the next financial relief legislation Congress develops in response to the coronavirus. TSCL opposes that because it would further damage the financial well-being of the Social Security and Medicare programs. Both programs already need fixing because the lack of financial resources in the coming years may result cutting benefits to seniors. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is among Congressional leaders who have already called for that, although they don't call it cutting benefits, they say there is a need to “reign in the costs” of the programs.
The second issue is the COLA – specifically next year's COLA.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the agency within the Department of Labor that gathers information about prices that consumers pay in order to determine the inflation rate, and therefore the COLA for next year, has let it be known that because of the virus they are going to have to estimate some of the costs of goods and services instead of finding out what they actually are.
In other words, next year's COLA could be calculated based at least in part on guesses. That could be disastrous for seniors.
On its website the BLS explains that it calculates the COLA this way:
* Commodities and Services Pricing Survey, an establishment survey of businesses selling goods and services to consumers, used to provide the price data for the CPI
* Housing Survey, a survey of landlords and tenants used to provide rent data for CPI’s shelter indexes.
Because of the coronavirus, however, the BLS has been unable to gather much of the information from those two categories. Therefore, although they do not use the word, they are going to guess at those costs. It may be an educated guess, but it is still a guess, nonetheless.
Unless something is done, TSCL calculates there may be no COLA for next year.
We will be putting out more information about this in the next few days and we are working on what we believe is a realistic solution to the COLA problem. Please be looking for that information.
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Nursing homes not being checked
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on nursing homes, leading to large numbers of residents and staff becoming become ill or dying. We hope that such catastrophes may help focus attention on long-term problems that plague these facilities.
Thousands of nursing homes across the country have not been checked to see if staff are following proper procedures to prevent coronavirus transmission, a form of community spread that is responsible for more than a quarter of the nation’s Covid-19 fatalities.
Only a little more than half of the nation’s nursing homes had received inspections, according to data released earlier this month, which prompted Medicare and Medicaid chief Seema Verma to direct that states complete the checks by July 31 or risk losing federal recovery funds.
Many states that were hit hard by the virus say they chose to provide protective gear to front-line health workers rather than inspectors, delaying in-person checks for weeks if not months. Some states chose to assess facilities remotely, conducting interviews over the phone and analyzing documentation, a process many experts consider inadequate.
In places where state officials claimed that in-person inspections have taken place, the reports found no issues in most cases, even as Covid-19 claimed more than 31,000 deaths in nursing homes. Less than 3 percent of the more than 5,700 inspection surveys the federal government released this month had any infection control deficiencies, according to a report on Thursday by the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a nonprofit patient activist group.
“It is not possible or believable that the infection control surveys accurately portray the extent of infection control deficiencies in U.S. nursing facilities," the report states.
Noting the vast and unprecedented danger that the coronavirus presents to the elderly and people with disabilities, patient advocates described the lack of inspections as a shocking oversight.
“If you’re not going in, you’re essentially taking the providers’ word that they’re doing a good job,” said Richard Mollot, the executive director of the Long-Term Care Community Coalition.
In March, the Trump administration paused routine nursing home inspections, which typically occur about once a year. Instead, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) asked that state agencies focus on inspecting facilities for their infection control practices, such as whether staff wash their hands or properly wear protective clothing before tending to multiple patients.
But for more than two months, state inspectors failed to enter half the country’s homes — a revelation that prompted CMS to crack down.
“We are saying you need to be doing more inspections,” Verma told reporters, explaining her message to states. “We called on states in early March to go into every single nursing home and to do a focused inspection around infection control.”
In some hard-hit states, inspectors conducted remote surveys rather than going into nursing homes, a process that involved speaking to staff by phone and reviewing records. In Pennsylvania, for example, inspectors conducted interviews and reviewed documents for 657 facilities from March 13 to May 15 — most of which was done remotely.
But critics say the failure to make in-person checks prevented states from identifying lapses at a crucial time. The fact that family members were blocked from visiting their relatives — a policy intended to prevent the virus from entering the facility — removed another source of accountability in homes, some of which ended up having more than half of their residents stricken with the coronavirus.
Last month, the Health and Human Services’ watchdog agency announced plans to review the pace of inspections in nursing homes and barriers to completing them — referring to such checks as a “fundamental safeguard to ensure that nursing home residents are safe and receive high-quality care.”
“There is no substitute for boots on the ground — for going into a facility to assess whether a facility is abiding by long-standing infection control practices,” Verma told reporters this month.
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Millions of Americans Forgoing Health Care
A Census Bureau poll of how households are handling their medical needs during Covid-related closures and stay-at-home orders found that millions are going without care. In the last four weeks to June 9 an estimated 87.7 million people across the nation delayed getting care, while nearly 71 million needed it for something unrelated to Covid-19, but did not get it,
This has led National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Ned Sharpless to worry that the trend of patients and physicians postponing essential cancer care will swap the ongoing pandemic for another public health crisis in the form of increased cancer cases and deaths. An NCI analysis estimated, for instance, that pandemic-related delays in breast and colon cancer diagnoses and treatment could lead to 10,000 more deaths over the next decade. “We’re very worried about the consequences of … delaying therapy on our patients," Sharpless said.
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For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org