Update for Week Ending February 12, 2022

Update for Week Ending February 12, 2022

Congress Still Working to Stop Government Shutdown

It does not get covered much in the news, but Congress still has not been able to pass the legislation needed to fund the government through the rest of the 2022 fiscal year.

Instead, they have passed two “CRs” (continuing resolutions), which are stop-gap measures to keep the government open at fy2021’s spending levels. The latest CR expires this Friday and although they have reached an agreement on a framework for the needed spending legislation, they need more time to fill in the details.

The House of Representatives has passed an additional CR that would fund the government through March 11, but the Senate has to do the same sometime this week. At this point, it is expected the Senate will pass the needed legislation which will avoid the shut-down.

For seniors, this is an important issue because Social Security payments, veterans’ benefits, and even Medicare payments could be affected if the government were to shut down.

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Biden Pushes for Drug Cost Reduction

Last week President Biden made an attempt to restart efforts to reduce prescription drug prices. In a trip to Culpepper, Va., Biden said, “The idea you can charge whatever you want is just not going to happen in the United States of America if I have anything to do with it.”

Biden has struggled to rally Congressional support, including members of his own party, around legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and fine companies when they raise drug prices s above inflation rates.

In his speech Biden said, “This is the United States of America, for God's sake. That’s just wrong,” he said after describing certain drugs’ costs. “Especially since it doesn't cost the drug companies nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly as much to make the drug or the research that went into them.”

Drug price reduction legislation is part of a large bill called “Build Back Better,” which also contain many other legislative items that are part of Biden’s agenda.

However, new momentum seems tough amid Democrats’ divides over the best course of action and the fading chance that the Build Back Better Act will get passed this year.

Lawmakers have historically splintered over how broad government negotiations should be, what to do with pricey new medicines and how to regulate annual cost increases. Those aren’t just details — the pharmaceutical industry insists that changes in this area could kill expensive new innovations because of revenue drops and it has mounted a massive lobbying effort costing millions of dollars to kill drug price reduction efforts.

Supporters of drug price reduction have countered by pointing out that most new drugs are not developed by the big drug companies and that government already funds a significant portion of new drug research.

TSCL continues to support all efforts to reduce drug prices, including allowing Medicare to negotiate with the drug companies for lower prices. Pulling the Medicare negotiation piece out of the larger bill and passing it separately is one way to solve the current dilemma and we encourage Congress to consider it.

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Medicare Users to get Free Covid Test Kits

The Biden administration recently announced that people with Medicare will be able to obtain up to eight over-the-counter Covid-19 tests a month for free starting in early spring.

Under the plan, Medicare will directly pay certain pharmacies and other participating entities, allowing people with Medicare or Medicare Advantage to pick up the tests for free.

The administration came under scrutiny after it rolled out Covid test reimbursements for private insurance holders without similar coverage for those with Medicare, who represent some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations to Covid-19. However, more details on how the reimbursement mechanism will work remain unclear. 

This comes on top of the program initiated by the Biden administration to allow each household in the United States to order four at-home Covid-19 tests to be delivered for free by the U.S. Postal Service. However, that program has run into problems and many people who have ordered the tests have not received them after waiting a considerable length of time.

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Good News for Seniors and Others: Postal Service Reform Legislation on its Way to Passage

Many Americans, including many seniors, receive their prescription medications through the mail. That is why it’s good news that legislation to overhaul the Postal Service’s finances and operations passed through the House recently.

According to the Postal Service, without congressional action, the agency will run out of funds for operational expenses by the 2023 fiscal year, and its fund for retiree health benefits will be depleted by the 2030 fiscal year.

The legislation puts the Postal Service on a much sounder fiscal basis by eliminating the pre-funding requirement of retirement benefits, arguing the Postal Service was burdened with an expensive mandate not imposed on other agencies.

Among its provisions, the bill would require Postal Service retirees to enroll in Medicare and eliminates the requirement that the agency prefund its retiree health benefits for 75 years in the future, saving the beleaguered agency tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. The legislation has bi-partisan support in the Senate and is expected to pass soon.

How the Medicare enrollment mandate will affect the fiscal health of Medicare was not addressed in the announcement but clearly, Congress must address that issue very soon.

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As we continue dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic, TSCL remains constant in our fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We’ve 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 our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org or follow TSCL Facebook or on Twitter.