Sometimes (maybe most of the time) when dealing with our government it seems like things move at a snails’ pace. But then, once in awhile, events move so quickly it's hard to keep up with them. The latter was certainly the case this week.
In just a matter of days it appears Congress will have passed legislation to deal with some of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. However, it's important to remember that whatever Congress passes will deal mostly with the economic effects of the pandemic. The medical side is going to take time.
Not all of what we are reporting here is legislative in nature, but we think all of it is important information for you to know.
Out-of-pocket costs for insulin to be limited
This week the government announced its plan to limit the out-of-pocket cost of insulin for those enrolled in Medicare to $35. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is lining up drug makers and the private insurers who manage Medicare drug benefits to volunteer to test out the new pricing in 2021.
The program would create a flat monthly co-payment rate of $35 for most types of insulin rather than all or a percentage of the cost of their medicines currently paid by patients until they pass a maximum spending amount and become fully covered.
On average, people enrolled in the federal healthcare program pay about $675 per year for insulin. This program could lower that to $229 per year, CMS said. The model would apply to a portion of Medicare plans that fall into the category of “enhanced” plans, which represents the majority of the plans.
The government program would increase the amount of money that the drug industry puts into the Medicare program during a coverage gap period, which is often referred to as the “doughnut hole.” As beneficiaries spend less money out-of-pocket, it will delay them reaching the catastrophic coverage point when the government picks up all drug costs, CMS said.
CMS said that could save the federal government $250 million over 5 years as drug companies pay more. Premiums for the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription plans that offer the set price for insulin could rise about $1 per month, according to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.
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President proposes payroll tax cut
Last week we reported to you that the President had again raised the issue of a pay roll tax cut as a way to help stimulate the economy. This week he officially proposed it, along with a number of other measures he believes will help restart the economy. However, members of both parties criticized the payroll tax cut plan as not being the right policy to use to try to deal with the economic crisis.
Sen Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “The payroll tax as a general stimulus, I’ll have to think about that. I don’t know if that’s the best way to do it.”
And House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said regarding the payroll tax cut, “That’s not on the table for us.”
TSCL will be in contact next week with both Chairman Neal and with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) in opposition to a payroll tax cut.
Our reasoning is simple. The latest information put out by the government is that the Social Security system is solvent until 2034 – just 14 years from now. After that the trust fund will be empty.
Because of that, some members of Congress have said that government entitlements, which means Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, have to be cut.
At least since 2018 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called for cuts in entitlements. And at a recent hearing of the House Budget 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.”
To now cut the payroll tax would put the Social Security system in an even more precarious financial situation and give lawmakers who want to cut it even more ammunition.
TSCL believes it's absolutely wrong to try and balance the budget on the backs of seniors who paid into the system their entire working careers based on the promise of our government that we would receive our full Social Security when we retired. And especially when so many seniors have Social Security as their main source of income, it is absolutely immoral to further risk the financial solvency of the system.
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Drug makers trying to speed up finding a vaccine, but there are dangers
There was a report this week that pharmaceutical manufacturers and government scientists are working as quickly as possible to develop a vaccine to combat the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
However, some scientists and medical experts are concerned that rushing a vaccine could end up worsening the infection in some patients rather than preventing it. Normally, researchers would take months to test for the possibility of vaccine enhancement in animals. Given the urgency to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, some drug makers are moving straight into small-scale human tests, without waiting for the completion of such animal tests.
Studies have suggested, however, that coronavirus vaccines carry the risk of what is known as vaccine enhancement, where instead of protecting against infection, the vaccine can actually make the disease worse when a vaccinated person is infected with the virus. The mechanism that causes that risk is not fully understood and is one of the stumbling blocks that has prevented the successful development of a coronavirus vaccine.
But according to one report, at a specially convened World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in mid-February designed to co-ordinate a global response to the new coronavirus, scientists representing government-funded research organizations and drug makers around the world agreed that the threat was so great that vaccine developers should move quickly into human trials before animal testing is completed.
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Important fraud warning
Most of us are aware that there are criminals who will take advantage of every crisis or tragedy to exploit people and cheat them out of money. The coronavirus pandemic is no exception.
According to NBC News, criminal hackers, scammers and even governments have been sending fake coronavirus-themed emails designed to trick people into opening attachments that download malicious software, allowing access to their data.
Some messages have impersonated the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while others have masqueraded as communications from health authorities in other countries, including Ukraine, Vietnam and Italy.
The FBI is tracking so-called phishing campaigns that seek to use people's interest in the coronavirus to get them to click on links that encourage them to reveal sensitive login information, a top FBI official said.
Leading cybersecurity firms say the coronavirus has become the top new theme in schemes that use social engineering to induce recipients to open attachments or click on links that then open their computer files to attackers.
There are several scams that are being used to try and trick people out of money or get them to downloaded extremely harmful viruses or malware. According to the the FBI, the Secret Service and security firms you should do the following:
- Avoid opening attachments and clicking on links within emails from senders you don't recognize.
- Always independently verify that any requested information originates from a legitimate source.
- Refuse to supply login credentials or financial data in response to an email.
- Visit websites by inputting their domains manually.
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.