The Senior Citizens League Weekly Update for Week Ending December 6, 2019

The Senior Citizens League Weekly Update for Week Ending December 6, 2019

You wouldn't know it by watching the news or reading your newspaper but things besides the impeachment hearings are actually happening in Washington.  In fact, there are areas in which members of both parties are working together to get some problems fixed.

This week a bi-partisan bill to clarify the requirement for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to mail an annual Social Security Statement to all workers ages 25 and older with covered earnings but who are not receiving Social Security benefits was introduced in Congress. Since Fiscal Year 2011 SSA has failed to mail annual Statements to these Americans, citing limited operating budgets, even though in 1989 and 1990 Congress enacted requirements for SSA to provide a Statement annually.  TSCL endorsed the legislation in a letter signed by TSCL Chairman Rick Delaney that said in part:

The Senior Citizens League lends its enthusiastic support to the “Know Your Social Security Act”. Every American who pays into Social Security has a right to see a written statement from Social Security to ensure their record is accurate, and to learn the estimated amount of their benefits. A printed record is important for those who do not have the means to routinely access their record electronically and it serves as a critical planning tool for determining the best retirement dates. Regular receipt of these statements serves to remind and educate older workers of the benefits of staying in the workforce.

Doing so strengthens retirement benefits, strengthens Social Security and strengthens our national economy. As such, TSCL salutes you for introducing legislation that clarifies that the requirement in the Social Security Act for SSA to provide an annual Social Security Statement means providing it by mail. The bill also clarifies that SSA may provide an on-demand statement electronically when the individual chooses electronic delivery for that request; and that SSA has met its requirement to mail an annual Statement if an individual has accessed their Statement electronically in the prior year and has declined to receive their Statement by mail for that year.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), Chairman of the Social  Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee; Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), member of the House Ways and Means Committee; Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee; Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D., (R-La.), member of the Senate Finance Committee.

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Both parties in Congress are also working on legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. However, that's not going quite so well.  As we've reported in the past, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a bill (H.R.3) that would allow Medicare to negotiate some drug prices and use fees to pressure drug companies to offer lower prices to private insurers.  Republican members of the House all oppose the bill as does President Trump.

However, there are also differences in opinion on this legislation among Democratic members of the House.  Some members want to add language to the bill that would direct the federal government to study how to require drug makers to refund money to employer-sponsored health plans when the companies raised prices above the rate of inflation.  The government would then have to issue regulations based on its study.  But the latest reports are that the final bill will drop the mandate that the government impose new regulations — and instead only require it to only conduct a study.  And, another provision some Democrats want added would make the prices that the government does negotiate under the legislation available to the uninsured.

Expectations are that the bill will be voted on by the full House next week.  It is likely to pass without any Republican votes in favor of it.

Republicans in the Senate are having the same sorts of problems as the Democrats are in the House.  As we've reported in the past, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Members of the Finance Committee, introduced a bill in July meant to lower prescription drug prices, a bill which President Trump has since decided to support.  However, that bill is now stalled in the Senate because of objections from Republican Senators.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R- Ky.), has said the bill is bad policy.

Other Republican Senators object to a key provision in the bill that would require drug companies pay money back to Medicare if their prices rise faster than the rate of inflation. They argue that constitutes a “price control” that violates traditional GOP free-market thinking.  The bill also contains a provision that would cap seniors’ out-of-pocket costs for Medicare drugs.  However, that provision is less controversial.

When the measure came up for a vote in the Finance Committee over the summer, nine Republicans voted against it, compared with just six who backed it.

Senator Grassley is determined to keep pushing for support of the bi-partisan bill and is hopeful of winning support from more Republican Senators next year.

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Lastly, there is still the issue of funding the federal government for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year.  As we've reported in the last few weeks lawmakers gave themselves another extension last month to try and get the job done.  But, we are now just 14 days away from a possible government shut-down and they still are trying to work out a funding agreement.  Just today there are reports that they are close but we've heard those types of optimistic reports in the past and it seems clear that we can't count on anything until they actually produce legislation to fund the government and both houses of Congress vote to pass it.

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.