Update for May 8, 2021

Update for May 8, 2021

New Bills Regarding Medicare/Social Security Benefits Introduced in Congress

The following legislation of interest to TSCL and our supporters has been introduced recently in Congress.  Unfortunately, there is no additional information available regarding the contents of the bills other than what is printed below.

Because legislation sometimes contains provisions that we believe are actually contrary to what the title seems to imply, TSCL will look at these bills once more information is available and then make a determination as to whether we will support any or all of them.  We present them here to make you aware they are now under consideration in Congress.

H.R. 1587 - Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2021

This bill provides for Medicare coverage of certain audiologist services. Specifically, the bill expands coverage to include diagnostic and treatment services that are furnished by audiologists and that would otherwise be covered if provided by a physician, including incidental services, regardless of whether such services are provided pursuant to a referral from, or under the supervision of, a physician or other health care practitioner.

H.R.2484 - To amend title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act and title XVIII of the Social Security Act to require pharmacies to disclose any differential between the cost of a prescription drug based on whether certain individuals use prescription drug coverage to acquire such drug.

H.R.2881 - To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for an option for individuals who are ages 50 to 64 to buy into Medicare, to provide for health insurance market stabilization.

H.R.2654 - To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide Medicare coverage for all physicians' services furnished by doctors of chiropractic within the scope of their license.

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Legislation Would Allow Some Medicare Services to be Given at Pharmacies

There has also been new bi-partisan legislation introduced that would permit certain basic medical services to be given by pharmacies.

Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and Representative David McKinley (R-W.Va.) have introduced a bill called the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act,which will make it easier for Medicare patients in underserved communities to receive care.”

According to a press release from Butterfield’s office, “The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act would allow Medicare beneficiaries to receive basic care such as immunizations, diabetes management, blood pressure screenings and routine checks from pharmacists.  There is currently no avenue for Medicare to directly reimburse pharmacists for providing this care.  As a result, Medicare patients in underserved areas, often rural communities, are forced to travel to the doctor for these basic services. This creates substantial burdens in many cases, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where access to healthcare providers are severely limited. The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act would allow Medicare to reimburse pharmacists who provide care in these underserved communities.”

As with the other legislation listed above, TSCL will look at this bill very carefully before we decide whether to support.  Our biggest concern is that Congress should NOT ignore sound funding for rural and underserved community health clinics centers and branches of hospitals by expanding funding for pharmacy clinics.

Pharmacies are not a substitute for actual medical clinics and this is not how we believe Congress should be trying to save money.  We are fine with expanding basic services through pharmacies as long as the community health resources are getting properly funded.

That said, we realize some communities probably don’t have a lot of resources and therefore a pharmacy may be the only option Medicare patients have in that area.

As we said, we will take a careful look at the bill once more information is available.

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Biden Plan Leaves out Drug Price Reductions

One of the disappointments in President Biden’s new social safety-net proposal, called the American Families Plan, was that it didn’t contain any mention of reining in the price of prescription drugs.

The American Families Plan, the second part of Biden’s expansive “infrastructure” agenda, includes programs aimed at boosting access to child care, higher education and paid family leave.

Initial reports suggest that Biden and his aides did not want to pick a fight now with the powerful prescription drug industry, which is riding high in public opinion after producing COVID vaccines in record time. They worry that the industry’s impressive lobbying clout could endanger the rest of the program.

But it appears an even bigger reason is division among the Democratic majority as to how to spend the money that prescription drug cost reduction would save Medicare.

The disagreement seems to be over enhancing Medicare benefits or boosting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

According to one report, this particular disagreement is like what happened in the 1980s and ’90s, when generations were pitted against each other in a sometimes-ugly way. Younger Americans, worried about rising rates of the uninsured, accused Medicare beneficiaries who wanted better benefits of being “greedy geezers.”

A law Congress passed in 1988 that would have boosted Medicare benefits and added a cap on catastrophic expenses caused a backlash when Congress decided wealthier seniors should pay for it themselves via added taxes. Seniors angry that younger people would not help foot the bill rebelled, and the entire program was repealed in 1989 before it ever took effect.

This disagreement, coupled with a major increase in lobbying efforts on the part of the big drug companies, be part of the fight over reducing drug costs this year.

The pharmaceutical industry keeps turning up the dial on lobbying, setting massive new spending records in its intensive effort to influence Congress and the Biden administration.

The industry increased its lobbying spending by 6.3 percent in the first quarter.

That's compared to the first quarter of 2020. Drug and health product manufacturers, along with their national association, spent a combined $92 million to lobby the federal government from January through March, according to the website Open Secrets.

That puts the industry on track to break its spending record for the second year in a row. Not only that, but its first-quarter spending was more than double what was spent by the second-highest-spending industry, electronics companies.

There are currently 1,270 registered lobbyists for pharmaceuticals and health products — more than two lobbyists for every member of Congress.

We tell you that in order to help you understand what we’re up against when we fight for lower drug prices.

Your continued support is urgently needed to help us win the battle his year.

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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 our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.