Legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs remains one of TSCL’s top priorities. Although the House of Representatives has passed a bill to accomplish that priority, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continues to refuse to bring the bill up for consideration.
As we have previously written, there is a bill that has passed out of the Senate Finance Committee called the Grassley-Wyden bill but Senator McConnell also refuses to bring that bill to the floor for consideration. The Grassley-Wyden bill is co-sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Normally it would seem logical that a bi-partisan bill would have a very good chance of passing in the Senate, but these are not normal times. In fact, four of the five Republican Senators whose offices we visited this week, and who are on the Finance Committee, voted against their own chairman’s bill. The five Senate offices we met with were Scott (SC), Thune (SD), Toomey (PA), Alexander (TN), and Burr (NC). We picked these Senators because all are members of at least one of the committees that any bill to lower drug costs would have to go through.
By way of a quick explanation, except for special circumstances, any legislation that goes through Congress has to start in the committee of jurisdiction, meaning the committee that deals with legislation pertaining to a specific subject. In the case of prescription drug legislation, those committees are Finance, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Appropriations. That’s one of the reasons passing this legislation is so complicated.
One of our purposes in visiting with those offices was to find out why they do not support the bill and to see if there is any hope that some compromise to the bill could be reached. The main reason they do not support the Grassley-Wyden bill is because it has a provision that they believe would, in essence, result in government price-setting of drug prices and would be a first step toward a one-payer (meaning government) health care system. Each office mentioned other bills that they might support but there is not one bill that the Republican majority is currently in favor of and that might have a chance to pass. It was also stated that because this is an election year there is a very short timeline for action to be taken.
As opposed to previous years, the Senate leaders want any legislation they have to pass out of the way by the end of May. That means any bill has to pass the Senate, then the Senate and House would have to negotiate and reach agreement on one bill before it could be sent to the President for his signature.
To complicate it even more, because of the particular rules of the Senate regarding a filibuster, a bill that is controversial in any way must have 60 votes in order to pass. And with Republicans so divided about drug pricing legislation, the path to final passage is wrought with obstacles. The one possible way to pass something is by attaching drug pricing legislation to a bill dealing with surprise medical billing. That would not happen until late in the spring if it happens at all.
Although we didn’t hear what we had hoped to hear during our visits, at least we know where things stand and what must be done if anything is to be passed regarding lowering drug prices. TSCL will continue pressing Members of Congress to get drug price legislation passed but we will need the help of every TSCL supporter to get on the phone or send an email to your Senators and let them know you want something done this year. You can contact your Members office through our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org, or call toll free (the call will be paid for by The Senior Citizens League) at 844-455-0045.
Our next issue of interest this week is Surprise Billing. Surprise billing does not affect seniors on Medicare as much as it affects seniors under age 65 who still have health insurance through their employer or who are paying for their own health insurance. Surprise billing usually refers to expensive, unexpected medical bills that patients receive from hospitals and doctors’ offices even when they have health insurance that they expect will cover the majority of treatments cost. Congress has been getting an earful from voters who are very upset about this situation and there seemed to be a fair amount of optimism that legislation dealing with surprise billing may be able to pass. If it does, there could be an effort to attach legislation dealing with drug prices to that bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced earlier this month that the House will soon take up surprise billing legislation. TSCL waits with anticipation on legislation to end surprise billing practices as it is something we support and want to see stopped at the hospital doors.
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When he first ran for office, candidate Trump promised he would not make any attempt to cut Social Security or Medicare while he is President. But in an interview this week with CNBC’s Joe Kernan, and definitely something we will be keeping a close eye on, President Trump mentioned in a news conference that cutting entitlements (Social Security and Medicare) is not off the table.
We will be watching all of the candidates closely as we approach the November elections. Seniors are not being over-paid by Social Security and are not under-paying for Medicare. Getting Congress to pass a fair COLA that reflects the true cost of living for Seniors’ remain one of our top priorities and we will keep you informed about what the candidates say about the Social Security and Medicare issue and details on their platforms are released.
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.