Update for Week Ending December 30, 2022

Update for Week Ending December 30, 2022

Last Update for 2022

This is our last update for 2022. Congress has finished its business for the year and is out of session until the new Congress convenes in January of 2023. Thank you for the ongoing privilege of communicating with you, our supporters.

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New Funding Bill Contains Important Medicare Measures

Following the lead of the Senate, last week the House of Representatives passed a huge bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of the 2023 fiscal year. The information presented below is, to the best of our knowledge, what is the final bill, which is over 4,000 pages long.

Funding the federal government for the 2023 fiscal year was supposed to have been finished by last October 1. However, as has been the case for the last several years, no matter who has been in control, Congress did not get the funding accomplished.

So, as in the past years, it came down to the last few days of December. But Congress did finally pass the needed legislation.

What was passed is important in many ways, not the least of which is that it will avoid another government shutdown. But the legislation also includes important measures regarding Medicare.

The spending bill includes a two-year extension of emergency Medicare telehealth provisions that were put in place during the Covid-19 public health emergency. Without action, those added flexibilities were slated to end 151 days after the public health emergency is lifted.

One important provision in the bill will reduce planned Medicare payment cuts for physicians next year. Medicare payments to physicians and other providers were slated to take a 4.47% cut in 2023 under a Medicare Physician Fee Rule.

However, while the omnibus calls for scaling back the pay cut to 2% in 2023, it would also impose an additional cut of at least 1.25% in 2024. Not surprisingly, physician groups are upset by the measure.

Because the full 4.47% cut was not eliminated, several medical groups have reported they will be forced to make tough business decisions such as limiting the number of Medicare patients served, laying off clinical staff, and closing satellite locations.

Obviously, that is of great concern to TSCL and to seniors everywhere.

Additionally, the bill will delay an estimated more than $100 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare and other mandatory spending programs until 2025. If not for that exception, the cuts would be triggered early next year under the 2010 pay-as-you-go law, which prescribes a reduction in spending for any “debit” balances resulting from tax cuts or spending increases that were not offset and added to the deficit.

The bill also provides extensions of various expiring Medicare and other health care-related provisions affecting Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and more.

Working to protect and improve Medicare and Social Security will once again be at the top of TSCL’s agenda in the new year.

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Covid-19 Cases on the Increase

Yes, we are all sick of covid and want to get back to living our lives in a normal way. However, as others have said, covid is not done with us.

Although not nearly as severe as in the past couple of years, covid infections are on the rise. Hospitalizations among seniors are nearing the peak from the Delta surge and rising fast. What’s more, the age gap has never been wider. Since October, the Covid-19 hospitalization rate among seniors has been at least four times higher than average.

Even during the first winter surge in 2020, when Covid-19 took a devastating sweep through nursing homes, there was never more than a three-fold difference.

The fact is, between shots and prior infections and combinations thereof, younger people are doing pretty well. But the immune systems of people of advanced age are not as strong.

The current rate of deaths does not come close to what it was in 2020, before the vaccines, or even when the omicron variant took over last winter. But more than 300 residents a week have been dying recently in nursing homes and that number is likely to rise as holiday gatherings and cold weather fuel an uptick in infections.

In the total U.S. population, elderly people have been hit hardest this season, with people 75 and over making up 71 percent of all covid fatalities in November, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Immunity from the original round of shots has waned over time. The new boosters do not prevent all infections, but they are effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths, according to the CDC. The agency said the bivalent boosters cut the risk of covid hospitalization by at least half.

We urge you, once again, to get your covid booster shot if you have not already done so. There is plenty of the vaccine available and it is as easy as it has ever been to get the shot.

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Study Shows Hearing Aids Can Reduce Risk of Dementia

As we age, seniors face the reality that dementia is a possibility and that, in some respects, whether we get it or not is out of our hands. Simply getting older is the biggest risk factor, followed by genetics.

The good news is that there are factors we can address, like diet, lifestyle and managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.

But a study published earlier this month in the journal JAMA Neurology looked at hearing loss, which is found in about two-thirds of adults over 70.

The analysis of 31 other studies concludes that, for people with hearing loss, hearing aids reduce their risk of long-term cognitive decline by 19%.

However, there are a few caveats because this study relies heavily on observational research. Other research has shown that hearing is the biggest modifiable risk factor.

Researchers say there are three theories that could explain the connection between hearing loss and dementia.

The first is reduced socialization.

People who have hearing loss tend not to listen to radio, TV or other media programs that are educational and can stimulate the mind. Many tend not to go out and socialize as much so they are not having as much cognitively stimulating conversation.

The second explanation is increased cognitive load. Because of changes within the ear, the brain is getting a garbled signal that takes more effort to process, effort that should be spent forming a memory or understanding meaning.

Finally, the experts say parts of the brain associated with sound, speech and memory formation actually shrink in people with hearing loss.

A major problem in dealing with hearing loss has been the lack of access to care and the high prices for hearing aids that many seniors cannot afford. However, the new availability of over-the-counter hearing aids could have a dramatic impact on that.

There is a stigma, as well. People associate hearing aids with old age. But for a generation of baby boomers, they can be key to staying vibrant and healthy.

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

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