The Senior Citizens League Weekly Update for Week Ending February 28, 2020

The Senior Citizens League Weekly Update for Week Ending February 28, 2020

Congress was back at work this week and they hoped to move ahead with the legislation needed to fund the government for fiscal year 2021, lower prescription drug prices and many other things.  But the coronavirus situation, including the fall of the stock market, had them spending a lot of time instead working on legislation to deal with what many view as a crisis.

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Coronavirus Advice

The coronavirus is new, of course, and up until just the last couple of weeks did not seem to be a legislative issue.  But that has changed.  Like everyone else right now, TSCL is relying on government health officials to do what is necessary in the face of this situation.

As a service to you, here is an article that we found from a National Public Radio station WBUR in Boston that gives advice on what you can do now to prepare for the virus: Click here. Even though it’s very long you should be able to just click on the link and go directly to the article.

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Coronavirus Legislation

Also, just to give you a brief update on legislation involving the coronavirus outbreak, here’s where things stand at this time.

Earlier this week President Trump proposed spending $2.5 billion on a response to the coronavirus situation but Congressional leaders in both parties said that wasn’t enough.  Subsequently, the President said he would follow Congress’ lead in coming up with new legislation.

Congressional leaders have said they’ll provide more money than Trump’s plan, and members in both parties mentioned around $4 billion.

Vice President Mike Pence will be in charge of the coronavirus response, Trump said, rather than Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Trump said the coronavirus hasn’t forced him to rethink proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health, saying the administration can ramp up activities when necessary to respond to crises. Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal called for $5.6 billion in CDC funding, a $1.3 billion drop from fiscal 2020, and for NIH funds to fall to $38 billion, $3.7 billion lower than fiscal 2020.

Both the stock market fall and the fact that an individual, who had no contact with anyone who had come from an area where the Coronavirus has been found, but has now come down with the disease, should result in members of Congress working together to come up with needed legislation very soon.

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Prescription Drug Prices

The high cost of prescription drugs is an issue that TSCL has been working on for a long time.  One of the solutions we believe could help reduce prices is for Medicare to be able to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers the same way the Department of Veterans Affairs does.

In an article this week in The Hill newspaper by a former spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Policy and the U.S. House Committee on Narcotics and another who is a policy analyst, they point out that the Secretary of  Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilke, recently said that the VA program has been working well.

According to the article, Wilke said “he ‘hasn’t seen any’ negatives that may arise should the model be implemented nationally.  He stressed that it ‘works for veterans and taxpayers’ and that the VA has a ‘great relationship’ with the pharmaceutical companies, allowing them to negotiate and purchase drugs in large volume at an affordable cost to veterans.

“The VA’s bulk volume prescription drug purchasing infrastructure could be the key to a sorely needed bipartisan pathway toward affordable prescription drugs for those in need. “

They go on to say that “The crux of the model’s success is its ability to competitively negotiate prices directly with drug companies with the hope of reaching fair ‘Blanket Purchase Agreements’ (BPAs), in which the purchaser and vendor agree on a set price for bulk amounts of various qualities and quantities.”

It is very positive that a member of the President’s cabinet is agreeing with what TSCL has believed for a long time.  His statements give us even more ammunition as we continue to push Congress to enact legislation as soon as possible that will effectively and sensibly reduce the high prices that seniors now pay for the prescription drugs they need.

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President Urges Republican Senators to Pass Drug Legislation

TSCL has written in the last few weeks about our meetings with Republican Senators during which we learned that the problem with getting a bill through the Senate that would lower drug prices is the division between Republican Senators about what to do.

This week President Trump sent two of his top advisors to meet with Republican Senators to discuss the need for them to act on legislation before the fall elections.

Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale, and son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, spoke favorably at the meeting about Senator Chuck Grassley’s legislation, which we have also reported on in recent weeks.

As we have said, the White House is supporting a bill from Grassley and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to lower drug prices, but many GOP senators are opposed to the bill because they say it comes too close to “price controls.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that Republican divisions over the Grassley-Wyden bill means it is too soon to know if the bill will get a vote in the Senate.  We learned in our meetings that McConnell will not bring the bill up for a vote if it does not have enough Republican support to pass.

Republicans have been shifting away from a focus on ObamaCare as the law gains in popularity and its polling rises after the party’s failed repeal attempt in 2017 and instead are focusing on lower drug prices.

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.