Despite the coronavirus emergency, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We've 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.
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Good news is hard to come by these days. While a pandemic has hit our nation at least once before, none of us alive have ever experienced anything like this. In addition to the concern over catching the virus, the economy continues to take a huge hit, and no one knows how long this will last or how bad it's going to get.
Congress is now in recess and is not scheduled to start again until April 20. Of course, that could change, depending on the situation with the spread of the virus.
As you might imagine, the Congressional schedule has been totally rearranged. They had scheduled recesses for the national party conventions, their usual August recess, and then for the elections. We assume those are all up-in-the-air now.
Those members up for re-election would have used the recesses for campaigning, but campaigning has also been totally changed because of the pandemic. It is likely we will see even more campaign ads on TV this fall but who knows? There is no playbook for these circumstances, and everyone is still trying to figure it out.
Congress still must fund the federal government for FY2021. They are supposed to do that by the end of September since the new fiscal year starts October 1. But that hasn't been accomplished for the last several years and it is almost certain they won't do it again this year.
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There were certain federal health programs set to expire at the end of May, but the expiration date was extended to Nov. 30 in one of the recently passed bills to deal with the coronavirus situation.
TSCL has been pushing members of Congress to include legislation to reduce the price of drugs and pass legislation to deal with the practice of surprise medical billing. We were hoping those issues would be addressed at the same time as the legislation to extend the federal health programs mentioned above.
The good news is that key members of Congress now say they will push for surprise billing legislation to be part of the next bill that deals with the coronavirus emergency.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) has been working with the top Republican on that committee, Greg Walden of Oregon, on what measures need to be included in the next coronavirus bill. Walden is pushing for a surprise billing measure to be in the bill, but Pallone has yet to commit to it.
There is real concern that many people who are treated for the coronavirus could end up with surprise medical bills. Because of that Democrats want to make health-care services free to people who contract the new coronavirus. If treatment were free, those with the virus wouldn’t have to fear surprise medical bills. That would, of course, still leave unsolved the issue of surprise billing for other types of treatments.
Walden tried to include in previous coronavirus legislation an agreement he and Pallone struck with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) late in 2019 designed to end “balance billing” (surprise billing) practices and cap some out-of-network charges insured patients faced when seeking emergency room care. Senate leaders decided against including this provision in any of the three bills that cleared Congress, according to reports.
The fight over ending surprise billing has sparked a costly lobbying fight from hospital and doctors groups as well as insurers which oppose ending the practice. That's who TSCL is up against in this fight and it's why your support is so important to our work.
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Bill to Give Free Vaccines for Seniors
Representatives Donna E. Shalala (D-Fla.), Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), and Larry Bucshon M.D. (R-Ind.) have introduced legislation to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for vaccines to everyone under Medicare. Currently, Medicare vaccine coverage is split between Medicare Part B (which covers physician services, outpatient services, certain home health services, and durable medical equipment) and Medicare Part D (which covers drugs). 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.
According to an article they wrote in The Hill, “Ten thousand Americans turn 65 every day, which means the number of Medicare beneficiaries who need easy access to vaccines is constantly increasing. Vaccines are particularly important for older adults because our immune systems weaken with time. Adults age 50 and over are particularly susceptible to many vaccine-preventable diseases and account for a disproportionate number of the deaths and illnesses they cause. This is why older adults are most at risk of developing severe illness from coronavirus.
“Improving adult access to vaccines can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. The health care costs associated with low adult vaccine rates are high—each year, the U.S. spends $15 billion treating Medicare beneficiaries alone for four vaccine-preventable diseases (Flu, Pneumococcal, Shingles, Pertussis). Cost-sharing and co-pays for vaccinations recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices were removed for all Affordable Care Act compliant private plans in 2010; however, Medicare beneficiaries were left out of this change and can still face high out-of-pocket costs for vaccinations.”
Bits and Pieces
In case you haven't already heard, Treasury Dept and IRS have announced that Social Security beneficiaries who are not typically required to file tax returns will not need to file an abbreviated tax return in order to receive their stimulus payments.
The payments will be automatically deposited into their bank accounts.
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The chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee plan to have a draft of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill ready to go by May 1. We are reporting this because the measure may also include provisions to cut the U.S. dependence on Chinese pharmaceuticals to reduce national security risk, which TSCL thinks is a good move.
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We continue to caution you to be aware that there are lots of scams out there by unscrupulous people who are trying to cheat worried citizens out of there money because of the coronavirus. Recently, a Los Angeles man posted videos online of a “Coronavirus Prevention Pill” and syringe while asking people to invest in his startup. His pitch was viewed almost two million times.
Don't pay attention to these kinds of scams.
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put out a list of products that will kill the coronavirus. You can go here to view the list.
It turns out that the virus is fairly easy to kill. The problem is that it is also easy to catch, and no one has immunity to it.
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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.