Update for February 13, 2021

Update for February 13, 2021

Monday Holidays

This week most members of the House and Senate are back in their districts or states meeting with constituents or otherwise conducting business there.  A few have stayed in Washington to take part in hearings that are scheduled this week, although since many hearings are now held virtually, they do not necessarily have to be in Washington.

Many of you will no doubt remember that we used to celebrate both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays separately.  In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which moved several federal holidays to Mondays.

The change was designed to schedule certain holidays so that workers had several long weekends throughout the year, but it was opposed by those who believe that those holidays should be celebrated on the dates they actually commemorate.

During debate on the bill, it was proposed that Washington’s Birthday be renamed Presidents’ Day to honor the birthdays of both Washington (February 22) and Lincoln (February 12); although Lincoln’s birthday was celebrated in many states, it was never an official federal holiday. Following much discussion, Congress rejected the name change. After the bill went into effect in 1971, however, Presidents’ Day became the commonly accepted name, due in part to retailers’ use of that name to promote sales and the holiday’s proximity to Lincoln’s birthday. Presidents’ Day is usually marked by public ceremonies in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country.

Since 1893, the Senate has observed Washington’s birthday by selecting one of its members to read Washington’s Farewell Address. The assignment alternates between members of each political party. At the conclusion of each reading, the appointed senator inscribes his or her name and brief remarks in a black, leather-bound book maintained by the secretary of the Senate.

This year, on Tuesday, February 16, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, will be reading Washington’s address.  Portman has announced that he will be retiring from the Senate when his term expires next year.

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High Costs for Prescription Drugs – More than Just Prices

A new study has found that it is more than prices that are high when it comes to so many prescription drugs.  According to Modern Healthcare newsletter, “A $10.40 increase in out-of-pocket costs per prescription was associated with a 22.6% drop in consumption and a 32.7% increase in monthly mortality rates, an analysis of more than 358,000 relatively healthy 65-year-old Medicare beneficiaries found.”

"When we raise prices, they mess with people's ability to make good decisions about their health," said Ziad Obermeyer, co-author of the study and associate professor of health policy and management at the University of California at Berkeley. "Those decisions lead to more people dying—health costs need to be priced into these cost-sharing policies."

The study, which was conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that a Medicare beneficiary paid 25% of the price of their branded drugs until they reached $2,510 in total annual out-of-pocket spending. The patient then fell into the “donut hole” and had to pay for the full cost until they hit $5,726, after which they were responsible for a 5% copay.

As a result, the highest-risk patients were not filling their medication after prices jumped. Those most vulnerable to a heart attack and stroke cut back more on statins and anti-hypertensives than lower-risk patients—irrespective of socioeconomic status.

The riskiest one-third of patients were 280.6% more likely to drop cardiovascular drugs than the bottom two-thirds; there were similar results for those at high risk of diabetic and pulmonary complications.

Rather than cutting back on one or two drugs, there was a large group that stopped filling most if not all their prescriptions as copays went up.

And drug list prices continue to increase every year. As health insurers and employers pay more, they often pass those costs to consumers in the form of higher premiums, deductibles, and copayments.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers hiked the list price of a record 832 drugs last month —nearly 200 more than January 2020 and the highest since at least 2014. All but 10 were branded drugs and 175 of those were specialty drugs, according to the report.

List prices increased by an average 4.6% in January, which is the largest amount in years.  Most list price increases end up trickling down to patients in the form of higher cash and net prices, which is especially important for those who have high deductibles and the uninsured.

These price increases are very likely to block some patients from affording their medication, following instructions for taking the drugs, result in higher costs for treatment in the future because of not taking the prescriptions as directed, and cause higher incidents of additional health issues and death rates.

Half of the medications that saw price hikes followed price increases in 2019 and 2020, according to the report.

Fighting for legislation to lower the costs of prescription drugs is one of TSCL’s very top priorities this year and we will keep you informed as things progress.

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New Concern About Cuts to Medicare

A report came out this weekend about the possibility of new major cuts to Medicare.  This could result because of Senate rules about how many votes it takes to pass legislation.

Because just one Senator can stall legislation through what is known as a filibuster, it takes 60 votes to pass any bill unless it is through a process called “reconciliation,” which then requires only a simple majority of 51.

Rather than get into all the details of how this works, we will simplify it this way.  The Democrats now have the majority in the Senate because Vice President Harris can break tie votes, giving a majority vote of 51 to the Democrats.

Democrats want to be able to pass President Biden’s economic stimulus/COVID-19 relief bill, but it is highly unlikely they could get 10 Republicans to vote for the bill.

Therefore, they are considering using the “reconciliation” process because they would only need 51 votes.  But if they do that, legislation passed over ten years ago dictates that they must either raise taxes or cut spending on current programs to pay for the new spending in the President’s bill.

By using reconciliation, it would mean there would have to billions of dollars cut from current spending programs, including Medicare.

Because Medicare is such a crucial program, most members of Congress usually stumble over themselves to protect it.  However, if the situation ever presents itself, they will use threats to Medicare to bash the other party.

In normal political times neither party would allow Medicare to be cut.  But because of our current highly partisan times, it would require ten Republicans to join with Democrats to stop the cuts to Medicare with new legislation if reconciliation were used.

However, right now there is no guarantee Republicans would do that, and instead, it is probable they would blame the Medicare cuts on the Democrats.

This issue has just popped up and TSCL will be in contact with members of Congress to do all we can to prevent these looming cuts and we will keep you advised as to how things are going.

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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.

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.