The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) Weekly Update for Week Ending June 27, 2020

The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) Weekly Update for Week Ending June 27, 2020

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.

New Legislation to lower Drug Prices

The House of Representatives will vote on Monday of this week on legislation that its supporters say would lower the cost of prescription medicines.  Called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act, (H.R. 1425), the part of the bill dealing with prescription drugs is essentially the same as was in the earlier bill passed by the House (H.R. 3) but that legislation never was taken up by the Senate.

If passed, the bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate prices of drugs and biological products that lack competition from generic drugs or biosimilars (biological products), as well as insulin.

The measure would cap the prices of the drugs at 1.2 times the average price of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K.  Drug prices in the U.S. were nearly four times as high as average prices in 11 other countries in 2017 and 2018, according to a September 2019 report.

HHS would:

1) establish a Fair Price Negotiation Program, which would identify drugs eligible for negotiation and enter into price agreements with manufacturers.  Negotiated prices would apply to individuals enrolled in Medicare, as well as group or individual health insurance.

2) publish a list of at least 25 drugs and biological products that have only one manufacturer for the 2023 plan year, and at least 50 beginning in 2024, that will be subject to price negotiation. They would be selected from among the 125 prescription drugs with the greatest net spending under Medicare and the 125 drugs with the greatest overall spending in the U.S.

3) must select drugs with the greatest potential to result in savings for the federal government or individuals. It would have to consider the extent to which the drug’s net price exceeds its average international price, and the volume of payments made for the drug.

The chances of passing H.R. 1425 in the Senate are still very small.  The Senate has yet to develop legislation to lower drug prices that can pass even though Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has tried mightily to get Republican Senators on board with his bill.  But Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refuses to support the Grassley bill or bring it up for a vote.

TSCL is constantly monitoring and lobbying for new legislation dealing with prescription drug prices and we’ll keep you updated.  However, until there is legislation that can pass both the House and the Senate and be signed by the President things are not going to change.

* * * *

Avoiding care for Serious Diseases because of the Coronavirus

We have written about this previously, but it is an issue of continuing concern for many seniors, so we want to emphasize it again.

Stay-at-home orders and safety concerns have kept many people from seeking medical treatment during the past few months and doctors are voicing particular concern for those with cardiac disease and cancer.

The fact is, heart attacks, cancer and other medical emergencies have not mysteriously disappeared. Doctors believe that many patients have been fearful they would contract the coronavirus at a doctor’s office or hospital, so they have been waiting to seek care. For some patients with cardiac disease, this has led to more severe complications — and in some cases, doctors fear, even death.

Patients with cardiovascular disease are not alone in deferring care over concerns about COVID-19.  One doctor reports that she’s seen patients with diabetes avoid picking up insulin prescriptions because they were nervous about going to the pharmacy, and people with broken bones who delayed treatment for days despite being unable to walk or care for themselves.

One study found that of cancer patients who tested positive for COVID-19, 13% had died. That’s compared with the overall U.S. mortality rate of 5.9%.

Beyond the concern of cancer patients — with their already depleted immune systems — catching the virus, many doctors worry about people delaying their scans and checkups and missing time-sensitive diagnoses. One poll found that nearly half of Americans had skipped or postponed medical care because of the outbreak. Cancer patients seeking care face an array of obstacles as states reopen, such as heavily restricted in-hospital appointments and new clinical trials on hold.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices are making changes to protect patients from exposure to the coronavirus. Most are screening patients before they arrive for appointments, asking them to wait outside rather than crowd a waiting room, and designating separate areas for people who do and do not have the virus.

The new message is that hospitals are open, they're safe, and that not getting the care you need is far more dangerous than venturing out to fill a prescription or see a provider.

We at TSCL urge you to think carefully about avoiding going to your doctor if you have one of those serious diseases.  It’s up to you, of course, but going to your doctor might be the smartest thing you can do right now.

* * * *

Updated list of Coronavirus Symptoms

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has put out a revised list of the symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.  The list now includes:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The CDC cautions that this list "does not include all possible symptoms," and will continue to be updated as more becomes known about COVID-19. It still recommends that people seek medical attention immediately if they develop any of these emergency warning signs:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

The agency urges those who believe they are sick to stay home, except to seek medical care, and to separate themselves from others.

* * * *

There are some Hand Sanitizers you should Not use

The US Food and Drug Administration is advising the public not to use hand sanitizer products manufactured by Eskbiochem SA due to the potential presence of a toxic chemical.

The FDA has discovered methanol, a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through skin or ingested, in samples of Lavar Gel and CleanCare No Germ hand sanitizers, both produced by the Mexican company.

Exposure to methanol-based hand sanitizer can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, nervous system damage and even death, the FDA warns.

Here is the FDA's list of specific products to avoid:

  All-Clean Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-002-01)

  Esk Biochem Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-007-01)

  CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-008-04)

  Lavar 70 Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-006-01)

  The Good Gel Antibacterial Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-010-10)

  CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-005-03)

  CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-009-01)

  CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-003-01)

  Saniderm Advanced Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-001-01)

* * * *

Seasonal Flu plus COVID-19 Flu this fall Spells Trouble

U.S. health agencies are preparing for a flu season that will be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which they don’t expect to be mitigated by a vaccine anytime soon.

COVID activity is expected to “continue for some time” and “could place a tremendous burden” on an already stretched health-care system if coupled with the influenza season that comes each fall, top officials including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, toll House lawmakers last week.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Fauci and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn told Congress that the duration of the pandemic is unknown and that a vaccine that can be distributed widely isn’t imminent, despite the President’s push for one by the end of the year.

The CDC has developed a test that can check for both viruses at the same time and  requested emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week, according to their testimony.

“This will save public health laboratories both time and resources, including testing materials that are in short supply,” the officials said.

* * * *

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.