No End in Site for the Stalemate in Congress
For the last month, at least, we’ve been reporting each week on the fate of attempts by the slim Democratic majorities in Congress to put together legislation that would improve Medicare in one way or another.
It is expected that few, if any, Republicans will support any legislation that would accomplish that, so Democrats have to round up enough votes in their own party to get the job done.
Anyone who’s been watching the national news at all knows by now that the two biggest holdouts among the Democrats are Senators Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). They are pitted against the more progressive members in the Senate including Bernie Sanders (Vt.), as well as nearly half of the Democratic members of the House who are members of the Progressive Caucus.
President Biden got personally involved two weeks ago when he went to Capitol Hill to meet with both sides. However, the stalemate remains.
Last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that she will try to get things moving and get a bill passed by the end of this month, which means there will need to be major progress this week if that goal is to be met. If the legislation gets pushed into November, things will really start to stack up because they still face the daunting task of passing funding for the federal government for the remainder FY 2022 and raising the debt ceiling, both which must happen by Dec. 3.
No doubt many of the Democrats in Congress are wondering why being in the majority is so hard.
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Will Medicare Improvement Make It?
One potential casualty of the negotiations taking place among the Democrats is an expansion of Medicare that would add dental, vision and hearing benefits. The provision is favored by progressives, but at $350 billion over 10 years, it is one of the costliest pieces of the bill. Worse, the new benefits wouldn’t begin until 2028, providing little immediate political benefit.
However, Senator Bernie Sanders and some other liberals have called the Medicare expansion non-negotiable.
The progressives argue Congress still can control costs by authorizing the new Medicare benefits for only a few years, in the belief that they would prove so popular that future Congresses would have to renew them.
Meanwhile, centrists like Sen. Manchin are insisting that any benefits be means-tested so they're limited to the poorest Americans — a non-starter for many on the left who say it would undermine a basic tenet of social insurance. And depending how low Manchin and others force down the total cost of the bill, the Medicare expansion could be dropped entirely.
Another issue that is in jeopardy is lowering the costs of prescription drugs.
Democrats in the House can only afford to lose 6 votes from their own members if they are to pass the legislation and already at least 3 members are opposed to the current plans for reducing drug prices.
Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of those opposed, said last week he’s in talks with Senate Democrats and the White House about how to craft a new drug pricing proposal.
Peters has suggested only subjecting drugs to negotiations in Medicare Part B—those administered in a doctor’s office or other medical facility—and removing the tax on companies that won’t lower prices.
Peters said he fears the current proposal would harm the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to invest in new medicines. It should be noted that some major pharmaceutical companies are located in Peters’ Congressional district and there are lots of voters who work for those companies.
Over in the Senate, Senator Sinema has rejected progressives on efforts to lower prescription drug costs and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), whose state contains the headquarters of more major pharmaceutical companies than any other, has also expressed opposition to current plans.
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Red Cross Announces Urgent Need for Blood Donors
This is not a legislative issue, but we are giving the information because it could affect many seniors, as well as others, of course.
Recently, the Red Cross announced it faces an emergency blood and platelet shortage. Donor turnout has reached the lowest levels of the year, decreasing by about 10% since August. Those who are eligible to donate are urged to do so now to help overcome this current shortage.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have experienced challenges collecting blood for patients from blood drive cancellations to surging hospital demand. Now with decreased blood donor turnout, our Red Cross blood supply has dropped to the lowest it has been at this time of year since 2015,” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services. “We recognize that this is a trying time for our country as we balance the new demands of returning to former routines with the ongoing pandemic, but lifesaving blood donations remains essential for hospitals patients in need of emergency and medical care that can’t wait. The Red Cross is working around the clock to meet the blood needs of hospitals and patients – but we can’t do it alone.”
Those who are eligible are urged to share their good health – please schedule an appointment to give blood or platelets as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). All blood types are needed.
The Red Cross has had less than a day’s supply of certain blood types in recent weeks. The supply of types O positive and O negative blood, the most needed blood types by hospitals, dropped to less than a half-day supply at times over the last couple of months − well below the ideal five-day supply. There is also an emergency need for platelets, which is the clotting portion of blood and must be transfused within five days of donation.
All those who come to donate in October will receive a link by email to claim a free Zaxby’s Signature Sandwich reward or get a $5 e-gift card to a merchant of their choice.
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Help is Available for Some Kinds of Medical Debt
According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, per capita health care spending for the elderly in the US is substantially higher than for the population as a whole.
One reason for this is high prescription drug prices since older Americans in general depend on prescription drugs for their well-being. According to one health policy expert at Johns Hopkins University, seniors who are on Social Security and who spend 10 percent or more of their income on health care have difficult decisions to make about where to live, what they can eat, and spending on other essential services.
That’s especially true this past year with the rapidly rising inflation that has hit as a result of the coronavirus disruptions to our economy.
There is some good news, however, regarding relief from some medical bills.
According to an article in Kaiser Health News, “The Affordable Care Act, the health law also known as Obamacare, requires nonprofit hospitals to make financial assistance available to low-income patients and post those policies online. Across the U.S., more than half of hospitals are nonprofit — and in some states all or nearly all hospitals are nonprofit. But many people who qualify for financial assistance — or ‘charity care,’ as it is sometimes known — never apply.”
You can read more about this assistance here: CLICK HERE
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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 the our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.