The Senior Citizens League Weekly Update for March 6, 2020

The Senior Citizens League Weekly Update for March 6, 2020

President thinks about taking money from Social Security to pay for economic stimulus

TSCL is troubled to learn that earlier this week the President tweeted that a short-term payroll tax cut should be considered, fueling a conversation around the potential for a temporary stimulus package.

What that means, in plain language, is the President is suggesting that for an unspecified “short term,” taxes paid by workers into the Social Security system be suspended, further weakening the Social Security system.

In January the President had said he would “take a look” at cutting entitlement spending, which is Washington talk for cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  However, the next day after the interview he backed off his statement and tweeted that he would save Social Security.

Conservatives and budget hawks have long sought to roll back large government programs like Medicare and Medicaid to rein in the debt.

There were reports recently that Republicans in the House of Representatives are insisting that stemming the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid costs is necessaryBloomberg news reported on a House Budget Committee hearing about a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that projects trillion-dollar deficits for the next decade.

At the hearing the top Republican on the committee, Steve Womack of Arkansas and other Republican lawmakers said that Congress will need to limit the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which they referred to as “major mandatory programs.”

According to the CBO report, the fiscal shortfall is largely due to the growth of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest payments as a share of the country’s gross domestic product, while tax revenue stays relatively steady and spending for other programs drops.

However, what the CBO report apparently does not point out is that major corporations in this country pay no taxes at all.  That is happening because of the way the laws are written.

The coronavirus emergency spending bill that Congress just passed was not “paid for,” in Washington's language.  It was added to the deficit, which means the government will borrow the money to pay for it.

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 Senator says the Senate will not get its work done on time – (again)

Already Senate leaders are making in known that they won't get their work done on time again this year.  Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he’s ready to move ahead with fiscal 2021 spending bills. But he told his subcommittee chairmen the Senate isn’t likely to pass those measures until after the election, in December. Lawmakers expect to pass another stop-gap to prevent a funding lapse in September.

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New study says drug prices really have been increasing

According to STATnews, “Amid intensifying anger over the rising cost of medicines, a key piece of data has been missing from the debate — the actual prices after accounting for rebates and discounts offered by drug makers to payers. Now, a new analysis has come up with some numbers and the results are illuminating: Over a recent 11-year period, net prices for hundreds of drugs rose 60%, which was 3.5 times the inflation rate.

Here are the numbers: From 2007 to 2018, list prices on 602 medicines rose by 159%, or 9% per year. However, after accounting for rebates and discounts, net prices for the same drugs increased by 60%, or 4.5% per year.”

In a way that's not news.  You already knew prices had been going up and so did we at TSCL.  But it's nice to have the facts to back us up.

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Why is the coronavirus so different from previous flu outbreaks?

The purpose of this update each week is to give our supporters like you information about issues that are important to seniors, but that do not make the headlines.  They are usually issues we are working on to ensure our elected officials keep faith with the commitments that were made to each of us during our lifetimes of work, especially concerning Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

We normally try to stay away from items that are covered in the news during the week.  There would be no point in sending this out of all we did was repeat what you already know.  But this time we have decided we need to talk, at least a little, about the subject that has captured the attention of the major and local news media, and the government this week.

That subject is the coronavirus flu. We wrote a little about it last week, but we still have questions and concerns and we think you probably do, also.  Let's start by pointing out the following: even the world’s top infectious-disease specialists still aren’t sure how lethal a threat the coronavirus presents.

One of the big questions we have is why this flu is so different from the regular seasonal flu, or even the flu viruses we've experienced in the past years such as swine (H1N1) flu, SARS, MERS or Ebola.  After all, whether we like it or not, it's a fact that seniors are among the most vulnerable when it comes to theses flus, especially if someone has other serious underlying illnesses.  It's also a fact that significant numbers of people die each time there is a flu outbreak, and seniors make up a large portion of those deaths.

As far as we can tell, the answer to the question of why this coronavirus is getting so much more attention and such extraordinary measures are being taken as compared to previous flu outbreaks is the fact that this flu apparently spreads so quickly.  Because of that, it can overwhelm the ability of local health systems to handle all of those who come down with the flu.

In addition, it appears that public health preparedness has not been a priority among government officials for several years and funding for public health programs has been cut.

It also seems to be a more severe flu strain than the seasonal flu which means more people require greater medical care.  For most people this flu is survivable but without the extra medical care that someone might normally need they may succumb to it.

Finally, because it started in China and it is a new strain of flu, health care officials in the U.S. are still learning about it and uncertainty exists.

We hope this has been a little helpful to you.  Certainly, we all need to follow the recommendations of our own doctors and the advice from public health officials about taking commonsense precautions as we go about our daily lives.

If you would like more information other than what you see on TV or in the newspaper you can go to the website of the Center for Disease Control:

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Coronavirus may derail Senate plans for other legislation

Even though Congress passed and sent to the President this week an emergency supplemental spending bill to deal with the coronavirus, the issues caused by the outbreak may result in the failure to pass other legislation that had been planned on.

It is possible there could also be another emergency spending bill or, as we reported above, even a full-blown stimulus to try and keep the economy going.

According to Bloomberg News, “The preoccupation with addressing the crisis could well crowd out other legislation that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has planned to give his members a boost in the election year.

“'The Senate’s immediate role is clear: we need to support the federal, state, and local public health officials and healthcare professionals who are working overtime to blunt, delay, and mitigate the spread of the virus,' McConnell said. 'The American people deserve for their Congress to meet this subject head on.'”

Senate leaders were already having a hard time pushing through their priorities, including drug pricing legislation.  In fact, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), head of the Republican Policy Committee, said some bills -- including drug pricing legislation -- are far from ready to move to the floor, which is what we have been reporting to you for the last few weeks.

Despite the fact that so much urgently needs to be done, it is disturbing that the Senate plans to be out for at least 13 of the 34 weeks between now and the election.

Nonetheless, TSCL will not let the Senate forget that the need to pass legislation to help bring down the prices of prescription drugs must not be set aside because of the coronavirus threat.  Many, many seniors are at risk because they can't afford the drugs they need, and the situation must be dealt with now.

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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 the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.