Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We've had to make some adjustments in the way we work but we have not, and will not, stop our work on your behalf.
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Surviving the coronavirus and keeping the economy from collapsing have been the issues that are front and center among federal, state and local lawmakers for the past several weeks. Staying healthy and paying bills have, no doubt, also been foremost on the minds of many, if not most, Americans as well.
Although nearly all the news coming out of Washington has involved dealing with those issues immediately, other types of actions have been occurring behind the scenes.
Congress continues to work – even when not in Washington
We have reported before that Congress is not scheduled to come back to work in Washington until April 20. However, that doesn't mean they have not continued to work. The obvious legislation they've passed in recent weeks are the emergency bills dealing with the coronavirus and the economy.
However, they still have all the other issues they were dealing with before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. Chief among them is funding the federal government for the fiscal year 2020 which begins October 1.
Because there are so many issues that Congress must deal with, it's simply not possible that every member can know enough about each one to make an intelligent decision about what should or should not be done. In addition, because there are 535 members, they must try to spread the workload. And, of course, issues of concern vary from state to state.
For Congress to conduct its business in as orderly a fashion as possible they work through committees and subcommittees. The main, but not the only, committee in the House that deals with funding issues is the Appropriations Committee, while the main (again, not the only) committee in the Senate is the Finance Committee.
The leaders of the House Appropriations Committee have begun putting together legislation to fund the federal government for the next fiscal year, even as the coronavirus complicates their work by keeping them out of Washington. One of the important concerns they have is a law passed two years ago which limits the amount of money they are allowed to spend.
That law was superseded because of the coronavirus emergency, which is how they were able to pass the record-setting legislation in response to the virus. But now they must go back and stay within those guidelines. However, if they do that it would prevent them from spending additional amounts of money for biomedical programs, like vaccine development, that are needed to fight the coronavirus and other potentially deadly viruses that have not yet hit us.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, National Strategic Stockpile, and Infectious Disease Rapid Response Fund will all likely need significant funding increases on a regular basis.
TSCL is, and will be, closely monitoring this as we progress through this year. Despite the current coronavirus situation, we are continuing to fight for lower drug prices and an end to surprise medical billing, as well as a new formula for calculating the annual COLA that realistically reflects the costs that seniors face.
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Effects of the Coronavirus Emergency on Social Security
Social Security will be affected by the coronavirus emergency and some of the changes will matter to you. The good news is that you will continue to receive your Social Security payment on an uninterrupted basis each month. Secondly, the program is solvent currently, so don't worry about that.
The first effect is that there will be lower payroll tax collections. President Trump wanted to have some sort of payroll tax holiday, which TSCL opposed, as did members of both parties in Congress.
However, because of the massive unemployment that has resulted from the crisis payroll taxes will dramatically decrease. Any significant hit to payroll tax collection would fundamentally weaken Social Security. Additionally, the Social Security Board of Trustees has predicted that 2020 will be the first time since 1982 that the program will expend more than it collects. And that was before the massive unemployment that we now see.
As we said, the system will is solvent, but it will increase pressure on Congress to fix the program as soon as possible.
The second effect is that the COLA in 2021 is likely to be reduced.
While there has been a rather healthy bump up in inflation regarding shelter, medical care, and food costs in recent months, energy prices have fallen through the floor as crude oil demand has plunged. Considerably weaker energy prices, compounded with recessionary fears, could very well result in a low or nonexistent COLA for beneficiaries in 2021.
The last effect is the closure of Social Security offices, something you may have already experienced. While it is still possible to conduct business with the Social Security Administration, it will be over the phone until otherwise announced. In many places, however, scheduling an over-the-phone appointment is better than having to stand in line waiting to see someone in person.
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Government decides to allow drug imports from previously sanctioned companies.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to allow overseas pharmaceutical plants, with checkered safety and quality records, to make prescription drugs for Americans to fill supply gaps caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Medications needed to care for the sickest virus patients are becoming scarcer while a surge in U.S. infections is forcing hospitals to stretch staff, beds and supplies of protective equipment. In an attempt to bolster the drug supply, companies in India are stepping in despite U.S. inspectors having sanctioned their facilities for poor sanitation, manipulation of quality-control data and other infractions.
The FDA doesn’t have the capacity to test every drug sent to the U.S., but it does have broad authority to inspect overseas manufacturers that sell drugs to American consumers. However, the agency has had to pull nearly all its inspectors from the field to shield them from the coronavirus. That has limited its ability to make sure basic safety and sanitation standards are being observed in pharmaceutical plants around the world.
About 90% of the drugs Americans take are generics, and many are made in India, either by companies that sell directly to the U.S. market, that make active ingredients, or that make drugs under contract for other pharmaceutical companies.
In recent years, questions have been raised about the safety and efficacy of pills made in India and other countries.
One company in India, Cipla Ltd., was warned by the FDA in February for failing to sanitize its equipment appropriately to prevent contamination at one of its factories and decided to suspend production of some sterile products.
While TSCL has long-advocated for drug importation from other countries as one way of lowering the cost of drugs in this country, we have always insisted that there be the strictest quality-control to make sure the drugs as as safe as any manufactured in the United States.
What does recovery from the coronavirus flu look like? How often do people who are critically ill recover?
Those are questions on the minds of many of us. Here is a report from Kaiser Health News with information on this subject. While the entire article is copyrighted and too long to post here, you can read it by clicking on this link:
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.