Most of the news about seniors’ issues in Washington continues to center around prescription drug prices. However, a hearing on the problems facing Social Security was held last week. We start off with a report on the hearing and TSCL’s reaction to it.
Hearing On “Equity in Social Security: In Their Own Words”
The Social Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing to discuss the problems facing seniors and the vital roll Social Security plays in the well-being of America’s seniors.
A number of Social Security recipients told their stories to the members of the subcommittee and explained the problems they face, as well as their desires for improvements to the program.
Of course, members of the subcommittee also spoke, including the opening remarks of the subcommittee chairman John Larson (D- Conn.). Here are a few of his comments:
“We are here today because of COVID, and its consequences. Consequences that have worsened the inadequacies that have existed for a long time in our Social Security system.
Today we are going to be hearing from people in their own words about Congress’s neglect to help the very citizens we are sworn to serve.
Now I say neglect, because it’s been 38 years since Congress has done anything to strengthen Social Security and 50 year since we have improved its benefits.
Social Security is by far and away the nation’s most successful and popular insurance program.
However, current benefits, as we will learn today, are inadequate, unfair, and in many cases discriminatory, because of systemic economic inequities.
Benefits haven’t kept pace with the cost of living and all changes that have occurred over the last 50 years. …
65 million Americans currently rely on Social Security benefits, yet many still struggle just to make ends meet, to the shame of the nation, millions have worked all their lives, paid into a system, and receive a below poverty line check from Social Security.
Do you know what the poverty line is? It’s $12,880. Who could live on that?
Yet, millions of your fellow Americans, receive below poverty level checks adding to the wealth disparity and further eroding the middle-class.
Look, nobody gets wealthy off of Social Security. It's a subsistence level program.
Here are the facts:
- 4 in 10 beneficiaries rely on Social Security for the majority of their income.
- The average retired worker receives just $18,500 year in Social Security benefits.
- For women, that number is even lower, it’s $16,000 a year.
Let’s be clear about this, this is the responsibility of the Ways and Means Committee, and specifically this subcommittee.
We can no longer kick the can down the road.”
Chairman Larson also mentioned the Know Your Social Security Act and heralded it as a great bill. But it hasn’t been reintroduced. Also, he did not mention his own bill, the Social Security 2100 Act, which he introduced in the previous Congress but has not done so in this Congress.
Congressman Bill Pascrell (D- N.J.) was very blunt when he said that all the talk about fixing Social Security is just platitudes. While both sides of the aisle know it needs to be fixed and say they want to fix it, nothing is really being done.
After the hearing TSCL contacted Chairman Larson’s office to ask why he hasn’t reintroduced his Social Security 2100 bill yet and we look forward to hearing from him about this. We have been urging him to do so for weeks now and we hope he will do it now.
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Drug Company CEO Discusses Lowering Drug Prices
Last Friday the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Pfizer, Inc., urged President Biden to form a bipartisan coalition in Washington to address high drug costs.
Albert Bourla told Bloomberg Television in an interview that he believes there is a great opportunity for Biden to take the initiative to “reduce significantly the cost of medicines for the patients, which is the thing that is now problematic.”
He said the out-of-pocket costs that patients are paying need to be fixed and that pharmaceutical company executives would be willing to help cover the cost of such reform. However, he said they want to ensure their contributions would go directly toward lowering patient costs and not into the federal budget to be used for other things.
TSCL is happy to hear that. However, we also know that the big drug companies are spending millions of dollars lobbying heavily against legislation in Congress that would lower drug prices. So, we remain skeptical of his intentions until we actually see a proposal or proposals to do what he claims the drug companies want to do.
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Guidance for Traveling on Cruise Ships Changed
Americans are anxious to get back to normal after over a year of being limited in their activities because of the pandemic. For many seniors, as well as others, that includes vacationing, and vacationing includes trips on cruise ships.
Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its warning for cruise travel for the first time since several outbreaks on ships brought the industry to a halt last year.
The new guidance is as follows:
- CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide. Since the virus spreads more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships, the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high. It is especially important that people who are not fully vaccinated with an increased risk of severe illness avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises.
Cruise passengers who are not fully vaccinated are more likely to get COVID-19, which spreads person-to-person, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships.
- People who decide to go on a cruise should get tested 1–3 days before their trip and 3–5 days after their trip.
- In addition to testing, passengers who are not fully vaccinated should self-quarantine for 7 days after cruise travel, even if they test negative. If they do not get tested, they should self-quarantine for 10 days after cruise travel.
Democrats Seek to Pass Healthcare Changes Later this Year
According to ModernHealthcare.com, “Congressional Democrats are hoping to pass a slew of healthcare priorities later this year aimed at expanding access to coverage and making it more affordable for patients.
“There appears to be a broad agreement on the types of healthcare policies that should be in the package, like closing the Medicaid coverage gap and adding dental and vision benefits to Medicare, but details are still being ironed out by committee staff and congressional offices and nothing is certain.”
There’s no doubt Democratic lawmakers would like to do these things because they campaigned on them last year and this would be the last chance to pass them this year. Because next year is an election year it is very unlikely any significant progress would be made then.
However, because Democratic control of Congress is so narrow, especially in the Senate but also in the House, the chances of passing anything this year remain uncertain, at best. Democrats are divided in what they want to accomplish so coming up with a majority in the House has been a struggle. Without complete Democratic unity in the Senate nothing can pass there.
Republicans, so far, have been unwilling to go along with any Democratic proposals although there is still bi-partisan work going on in the Senate to try and come up with legislation to lower drug prices.
So, while we like the news that they still want to act this year, TSCL is taking a wait-and-see position.
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As we continue recovering from 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.