Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.
* * * *
As we have reported recently, Congress is not scheduled to return to Washington and go back to work until May 4. But most members of the House of Representatives returned this week in order to vote on new legislation to provide nearly a half-trillion dollars to the federal small business aid program, U.S. hospitals, and testing efforts.
The bill passed 388 to 5, with four Republicans and one Democrat voting against it. The members of the House took extraordinary measures to protect themselves from the virus, entering the House chamber alphabetically, 60 at a time, then leaving when they finished voting so the next group could come in. There was even a break in the middle of the voting to disinfect the chamber. Barring new emergency legislation, they will next return on that May 4 target date, although that could be changed if conditions warrant.
* * * *
TSCL Lobbies for free vaccines for seniors
This week TSCL contacted four members of the House of Representatives and three Senators in support of a bi-partisan bill called the Protecting Seniors Through Immunization Act. In the House of Representatives, the bill number is H.R. 5076, and, in the Senate, it is S.1872.
The bill, which we told you about last week, would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for vaccines to everyone under Medicare. Currently, Medicare vaccine coverage is split between Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D. Seniors can access vaccines covered under Part B—such as flu, pneumonia and Hepatitis—with no out-of-pocket costs. However, under Part D, vaccines such as shingles (herpes zoster) and pertussis (Tdap) often include a cost to beneficiaries.
We ask you contact your own Representative and Senators and urge them to support the bills. Both Democrats and Republicans support the measures and they should be priority legislation in this time of the coronavirus pandemic.
* * * *
Government appears to have ordered a stop to surprise medical billing
Stopping the practice of surprise medical billing has become a top concern for TSCL. In a report this week from Kaiser Health News, “Federal officials offering emergency funding to hospitals, clinics and doctors’ practices have included this stipulation: They cannot foist surprise medical bills on COVID-19 patients.
“But buried in the Department of Health and Human Services’ terms and conditions for eligibility is language that could carry much broader implications. It says 'HHS broadly views every patient as a possible case of COVID-19,'” the guidance states.
“Some say that line could disrupt a longtime health care industry practice of balance billing, in which a patient is billed for the difference between what a provider charges and what the insurer pays, a major source of surprise bills ― which can be financially devastating ― for patients. It is banned in several states, though not federally.”
This is good news because another report came out this week that said treating coronavirus patients is much more expensive than treating patients who have had the traditional flu.
You can read the entire article by clicking here.
* * * *
Social Security and Medicare Trustee reports released this week
The annual reports that provide a financial analysis of both the Social Security and Medicare programs were released this week.
We have seen two reports regarding Medicare’s trust fund. One says Medicare will stay solvent until 2065—13 years longer than forecast last year. However, the other report says it will become insolvent in 2026, just six years from now.
We will be investigating those discrepancies and find out why there are such major differences in reporting on what the Trustees report says.
The report from the Social Security Board of Trustees also anticipates that Social Security can continue paying full benefits until 2034, the same as projected last year.
However, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on both programs have yet to be calculated.
Social Security and Medicare together accounted for 41% of total federal spending in fiscal 2019. That has made them a prime target of certain elected officials who want cutbacks because of the growing federal debt. Now, with the probable worsening of the financial position of both programs because of the coronavirus, as well as the massive increase in federal spending and increase in the debt, also because of the coronavirus, there is sure to be even more pressure on the part of some politicians to cut one or both of the programs. That is why TSCL is here and why we so urgently need your continued support.
Because of our efforts, and those of other seniors’ groups to fight the high costs of prescription drugs and the fight to stop surprise billing, pharmaceutical and insurance companies have poured millions of dollars into their lobbying efforts.
There are also powerful business and ideological groups that pour additional millions into lobbying for cuts in federal spending, especially Medicare and Social Security.
Neither TSCL nor any seniors group has money like that to put into our lobbying efforts. But what we do have is you – our supporters who are also voters.
It is critical that going forward we have your support as we fight to protect those programs that you paid into your entire career and that you were promised would be there in your retirement years.
Especially when the savings of so many seniors are dependent on a strong economy and stock market, which have taken huge hits and are likely to take several years just to get back to where we were at the beginning of this year, it would be immoral to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
We must not let that happen. TSCL will continue our fight for you but we are counting on your help and support as we move forward.
* * * *
Social Security COLA likely to fall but impact on Medicare is uncertain
We are still working on our projections and, of course, we are still in the middle of the pandemic with no certainty as to the ultimate effect on the economy. But the crash of oil prices and the shutdown of so much of the economy is almost certain to result in a lower inflation rate this year, meaning the annual Social Security COLA will be minimal, at best.
In addition, Medicare’s Part B premium for outpatient care is projected to go up by about $9 next year, to $153.30 a month.
However, the financial impact of the coronavirus on Medicare is harder to gauge. While older Americans are most affected by the virus resulting in significant costs for hospitalizations, elective surgeries such as hip and knee replacements, which are most needed by seniors, have been put on hold. In fact, there are reports that many hospitals are facing severe financial problems because of that. As a result, Medicare spending on those types of procedures will be much lower.
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.