Week Ending October 15, 2022

Week Ending October 15, 2022

The Social Security Administration has announced that the COLA will increase Social Security benefits by 8.7% starting in 2023.

A COLA this high is almost unprecedented. This may be the first and the last time that today’s beneficiaries receive a COLA this high. There were only three other times since the start of automatic inflation adjustments that COLAs were higher (1979-1981)

Good News - The Medicare Part B premium is going down in 2023. Medicare Part B —the part that pays for doctor and hospital outpatient services — is automatically deducted from Social Security checks. The standard Part B premium in 2023 will be $164.90, a decrease of $5.20 per month, from $170.10 in 2022. The annual deductible for Part B will also decrease from $233 in 2022 to $226 in 2023. This will mean that most beneficiaries will see more money after the deduction for Medicare premiums.

Bad News - Rising Social Security income due to COLAs can impact Medicare costs down the road. Any increase in the income of a Medicare beneficiary — whether due to COLAs, earnings from jobs, retirement savings, or pensions —could potentially affect what an individual pays in Medicare premiums if income is over certain thresholds.

Tax Implications - The large COLA may push some recipients over an income threshold, requiring them to pay income taxes on part of their benefit. Single filers who have a combined income equal to or below $25,000 pay no taxes on their benefits. For joint filers, the threshold is $32,000.

More Work to Be Done - The COLA this year will help, but it does not address the more essential concerns of seniors living at or near the poverty level, like putting food on the table, filling prescriptions, and making sure they have heat as winter nears. That is why The Senior Citizens League will continue to advocate for Social Security Reform to sustain the program, Medicare reform, and a special 1,400.00 stimulus for Social Security recipients.

President Signs Order to Speed Up Efforts to Lower Drug Prices

President Joe Biden signed an executive order last Friday pushing federal officials to drive prescription drug costs down. The order requires the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to outline within 90 days how it will use new models of care and payment to cut drug costs, according to the White House official, who declined to be identified previewing the president's action.

The executive order aims to lower prescription drug costs across the US and follows landmark health-care legislation passed by Congress earlier this year that allows the HHS to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will “consider whether to select for testing by the Innovation Center new health care payment and delivery models that would lower drug costs and promote access to innovative drug therapies for beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” the executive order said.

“The goal here is to have the secretary define some areas of opportunity to increase access to drugs or lower prices for people on Medicare and Medicaid,” said Stacie Dusetzina, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt.

“Part of this will be, ‘what could we do now or sooner?’ Some of the provisions for the Inflation Reduction Act don’t kick in for a couple of years,” she said, referring to the legislation under which HHS can negotiate drug prices.

“There have already been attacks on the Inflation Reduction Act, and some Republican members talking about repealing it, or going after certain parts of the law,” she said.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have pushed the Biden administration to take bolder measures against rising drug costs.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others over the past year have urged Biden to consider using existing legal tools to help drive down the cost of pricey prescription drugs.

Advocacy groups have likewise joined the fray, asking for the administration to bypass Congress and use executive powers to reduce costs.

However, as TSCL has previously reported, the newly acquired power to negotiate drug prices is controversial, with the powerful pharmaceutical industry lobbying against the rule and considering legal actions to prevent its implementation.

In addition, Republicans have already proposed legislation that would strip Medicare’s negotiation ability before the negotiating has even begun.

Starting next year, drug companies will also have to pay penalties to Medicare if they raise the cost of their products at a rate that outpaces inflation.

While the new law lowering drug prices is far from perfect, TSCL is opposed to all efforts to block or repeal the new law.

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Many People Who had Covid Still Suffering

While this is not legislative news, it is important to let you know that a new study out of Scotland found that about 48 percent of people who had covid still hadn’t fully recovered from the virus after 18 months and are considered to have long covid.

About 6 percent reported not recovering at all since getting sick, the researchers found in analyzing 30,000 patients with confirmed covid infections. The study also considered people without confirmed Covid-19 cases to better understand which symptoms were associated with covid alone.

Symptomatic infection was associated with symptoms like breathlessness, palpitations, chest pain and confusion. Symptomless infection was not associated with any adverse effects during the study.

The study also supported the benefit of vaccines: They were associated with a reduced risk of several symptoms.

It is the latest in a growing body of research trying to grasp the causes of and possible cures for long covid, though several studies are focused on properly defining long covid.

The true extent to which the syndrome has affected populations is unknown. The U.S. Government Accountability Office said the number of Americans affected “could be in the range of 7.7–23 million. Some earlier studies estimated around 30 percent of those infected with Covid-19 would develop long covid.

In addition, Covid-19 cases are rising again in pockets of the world, in part because the hyper-contagious omicron strain is splintering into many subvariants. Some of them show a striking ability to evade antibodies. And while long covid affects millions of people, it largely eases with time.

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Winter is Coming – So is the Flu Season, Possibly Including New Covid Infections

Again, while this is not legislative news, seniors are being warned about the coming flu season because they and people with compromised immune systems are the most vulnerable to severe, or even fatal disease.

Kaiser Health News offers these guidelines as winter approaches.

“If you’ve completed a primary vaccination series and are 50 or older, or if your immune system is compromised, get a covid booster shot as soon as possible. Forty percent of deaths are occurring among people 85 and older and almost 90% among people 65 and over. Although people of all ages are being hospitalized from covid, those hospitalizations are also skewing older.

“Unvaccinated people, while in the minority in the U.S., are still at the highest risk of dying from covid. It is not too late to get vaccinated ahead of this winter season. The United Kingdom, whose covid waves have presaged those in the United States by about a month, is beginning to see another increase in cases.

“If you’ve already received three or more covid shots, you’re 12 to 49 years old, and you’re not immunocompromised, your risk of hospitalization and death from the disease is significantly reduced and additional boosters are not likely to add much protection.

“However, getting a booster shot provides a ‘honeymoon’ period for a couple of months after vaccination, during which you are less likely to get infected and thus less likely to transmit the virus to others. If you will be seeing older, immunocompromised, or otherwise vulnerable family and friends over the winter holidays, you might want to get a booster two to four weeks in advance to better shield them against covid.

“One major caveat to these recommendations: You should wait four to six months after your last covid infection or vaccination before getting another shot. A dose administered too soon will be less effective because antibodies from the previous infection or vaccination will still be circulating in your blood and will prevent your immune cells from seeing and responding to vaccination.”

As far as the seasonal flu shot goes, Kaiser Health News has these additional guidelines.

“The CDC [Center for Disease Control] recommends that anyone 6 months of age or older get an annual flu shot. The ideal timing is late October or early November, before the winter holidays and before influenza typically starts spreading in the U.S. Like covid shots, flu shots provide only a couple of months of immunity against infection and transmission, but an early flu shot is better than no flu shot. Influenza is already circulating in some parts of the United States.

“It’s especially important for people 65 or older, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, and children under 5 to get their yearly flu shots because they’re at highest risk of hospitalization and death. Although younger people might be at lower risk for severe flu, they can act as vectors for transmission of influenza to higher-risk people in the community.

“High-dose flu vaccines and ‘adjuvanted’ flu vaccines are recommended for people 65 and older. Adjuvants strengthen the immune response to a vaccine.”

While the CDC has said it is ok to get both shots at the same time, some doctors are advising that it might be best to separate them by a couple of weeks so that any side effects are not compounded.

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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.