Once again this week the impeachment of President Trump dominated the news involving Congress and Washington in general. Even so, work continued on a host of other issues, many of which are of great importance to seniors.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) laid out the priorities for the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives this year. The good news is that more health care legislation is on the list.
Included is the issue of surprise billing, in which patients are charged out-of-network prices for services they thought were in-network. This issue has gained great urgency because so many people are ending up with bills for thousands of dollars even though they have health insurance which they thought would cover the expenses for which they are being billed.
Thankfully, those covered under Medicare are not as susceptible to this, although it can still happen, even when it comes to such things as dental care. Hoyer said it’s “possible” the House could act on surprise billing legislation before May although he didn’t definitely commit to it.
In addition, prescription drug pricing is still on the priority list.
The House will also pursue legislation to strengthen the 2010 health care law, Hoyer said. “We’ve already passed bills on protecting preexisting conditions, but that was a very high priority for us, and we may do something else,” he said.
Another possibility for House legislative action is subsidies to make health care more affordable.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not announced his health care priorities for the Senate this year. He still refuses to bring the bi-partisan Grassley-Wyden bill that would lower prescription drug prices up for debate on the Senate floor so that may be one of the reasons he has not issued information about his priorities.
If he or a member of his leadership team in the Senate announce their priorities for health care in the Senate The Senior Citizens League Legislative Team (TSCL) will let you know.
Also, TSCL plans to be on the Hill next week visiting with the staffs of Republican Senators to find out where they are with regard to health care legislation, and in particular the Grassley-Wyden bill.
* * * *
A new bill was introduced in the Senate this week that would lower costs for Americans with diabetes and other chronic diseases who have high-deductible health plans. This legislation would not affect seniors who are covered by Medicare, but it could be very helpful for seniors who are under 65 and still working and who only have high-deductible health insurance. Authored by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), the bill, called the Chronic Disease Management Act, would lower health care costs by allowing high-deductible health plans to provide chronic disease prevention services—including insulin for diabetes—to plan enrollees before they reach their plan deductible.
In July of last year, the Internal Revenue Service issued a notice expanding its interpretation of what constitutes preventive care. As a result it now includes certain items and services that can be considered preventive when they are prescribed to an individual with certain chronic conditions and if they are low-cost and prevent the worsening of a chronic condition or the development of a secondary condition. The notice also contained a list of specific items and services that meet the new criteria for preventive care for chronic conditions. Co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Tina Smith (D- Minn.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
* * * *
Perhaps the greatest difference between the Republican and Democrats in Congress when it comes to legislation to lower prescription drug prices is whether the federal government should impose some kind of price control or regulation.
The Pelosi bill (H.R. 3) if enacted would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies in order to lower them. (That is what the Dept. of Veterans Affairs does now for the drugs it provides to veterans.)
The Republicans say that is a form of government price controls and interferes with the free market. That’s why Majority Leader McConnell refuses to bring the Grassley-Wyden bill up for debate in the Senate. That bill differs in how it would lower drug prices but Senator McConnell opposes it because it would, in his opinion, still interfere with the free market and also because health care will be a big issue in the elections this year.
So it could be significant this week that a Republican member of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Christine Wilson, stated that she believes Medicare should have more power to negotiate drug prices. She acknowledged that her position would be controversial among her fellow Republicans because they argue that allowing Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies would essentially allow Medicare to set drug prices and stifle development of innovative new drugs. As the year progresses, we shall see if her views make any difference.
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.