Weekly Update for Week Ending August 22, 2020

Weekly Update for Week Ending August 22, 2020

Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.  We have 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.

Our nation is in a hyper-partisan period as the November elections approach.  In this environment it becomes tricky when reporting about issues that affect you and other TSCL supporters because the issues are so often intertwined with politics.

We want to assure you that we will try to report the facts as we understand them and keep elective politics out of it.

The Postal Service and Prescription Drug Deliveries

As most people are aware the United States Postal Service (USPS) was in the headlines most of last week.  While the primary issue was its ability to handle an increased number of mail-in ballots for the election, there were also reports that the delivery of some prescription drug and other medical supplies have been slowed, and some animals and plants arrived dead at their destinations because their delivery was delayed.

As far as we can tell the reports of prescription drugs arriving late were anecdotal and they were limited, and major pharmacies and pharmacy groups said they have not yet been impacted.

According to a report in The Hill, a newspaper in Washington, D.C., that reports primarily on Congressional news, “A Rite Aid spokesman said the company uses multiple vendor delivery partners and we are not experiencing delays.”

“An ExpressScripts spokeswoman also said the company was not currently experiencing any unusual delays in deliveries.”

“A CVS spokesman said the company is closely monitoring the current situation, and will continue to do everything in our power to ensure deliveries are made on time.”

“OptumRx, which primarily uses the Postal Service to fill its 500 million mail-order prescriptions a year, said it will make adjustments as needed.”

“B. Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, said community pharmacies have not seen any recent increases in people coming into the pharmacies for emergency prescriptions due to a delayed mail order.”

According the National Association of Letter Carriers, the Postal Services normally handles 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments a year.  However, mail-order prescription delivery volume has expanded rapidly since the coronavirus outbreak.  According to recent analysis, the number of mail-order prescriptions increased by 21 percent in March 2020 alone because of the pandemic.

Of course, delays in mail and things sent by mail can happen anytime and have probably happened at one time or another to everyone reading this.  But it is the consistent, chronic late delivery of mail that we must all be on the look-out for.  If it does start happening to you, we recommend you contact both your local post office and your U.S. Representative and Senators.

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House of Representatives Launches Postal Service Investigation

In a move seen by some as politically motivated, House Democrats have launched an investigation into whether mail-order prescriptions are being slowed by changes at the Postal Service, sending letters to the nation’s largest pharmaceutical firms and drug benefit managers.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) sent a series of oversight letters to pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers and the relevant trade associations last week as part of the Committee’s investigation into the impacts of the U.S. Postal Service’s operational changes on the delivery of mail-order prescription drugs to patients throughout the nation.  The Committee first announced the investigation in a statement early last week.

Lawmakers asked the companies whether they have seen delays or received complaints about delays or lost prescriptions.  The Committee leaders noted that they remain concerned despite the temporary suspension of further changes announced last week by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

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Senators Ask for Report on Effect of Payroll Tax Elimination

We reportedly recently on President Trump's order to suspend the collection of payroll taxes through the end of the year.  As we said, “TSCL is strongly opposed to any cut in the payroll tax and we have lobbied aggressively against one.  The 2020 reports from the Social Security and Medicare Trustees projected that the Social Security trust funds will become insolvent in only 15 years.  At that time, all Social Security beneficiaries would face a 21% benefit cut in benefits that would eventually go to 27%.

“As far as Medicare goes, the Part B funds will last for 30 years but the Part A funds, which pays inpatient hospital costs, will become insolvent in only 6 years.  Both of those projections assume that nothing will be done before then to fix the programs, and TSCL has been working to get Congress to come up with a plan to stop those cuts from taking place.

“Cutting the payroll tax permanently, which President Trump said he would seek to do if he is re-elected, would bring insolvency even closer and make the whole situation so much worse.”

Now, four Senators have asked the Social Security Administration how eliminating the payroll tax would affect its ability to make benefit payments.  The Senators have said they are not supportive of eliminating the payroll tax, but they want to be aware of the potential impact such a move would have on the viability of Social Security and Medicare.

One thing TSCL is not clear about is whether Trump's plan would be to eliminate only the collection of payroll taxes suspended the remaining weeks of this year or whether he would seek a permanent reduction or end to all payroll tax collections. While eliminating the taxes for the remainder of this year would be very harmful to the two programs, totally and permanently reducing or ending the payroll tax would be devastating to both Social Security and Medicare.

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Trump Administration Seeks Cuts in Payments to Surgeons

In an opinion piece published last week, David B. Hoyt, MD, FACS, the executive director of the American College of Surgeons, stated that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed that starting on January 1 of next year, “payments for surgeons seeing Medicare patients be cut, declining, for instance, by 9% for cardiac surgery, 8% for thoracic surgery and 7% for vascular surgery. The law currently mandates any CMS changes to be budget neutral, so the cuts are required in order to increase spending in other places, such as telehealth. But telehealth is no replacement for surgical care, and the health care system simply cannot absorb cuts of this magnitude right now.”

CMS is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, one of the federal departments under President Trump.

The doctor pointed out that “The country's doctors and health care workers have been on the frontlines for the past six months, often working longer hours without any added pay, sleep or complaint to meet the overwhelming demands of this outbreak. Our health care system has suffered greatly due to Covid-19, and now surgeons could be faced with ill-advised and dangerous pay cuts.”

“The impact of Covid-19 on both surgical practices and their patients has been devastating. Months-long bans on non-emergency but medically necessary surgeries led to worsening outcomes, as conditions that could have been treated with a minor intervention instead caused disability or even death. Meanwhile, one in three private surgical practices are at risk of closing permanently due to the financial impact of Covid-19, according to a recent nationwide survey.  These additional Medicare cuts will force more surgeons to close their practices, reducing patients' timely access to quality care.

“America's surgical care system was already facing significant structural challenges. Surgeons contend with high fixed costs and debt, and now face plummeting revenue. Over the last 20 years, the costs of being a surgeon have increased while Medicare's surgical payments have not only failed to keep up with inflation but have actually declined in nominal terms.  It costs more to operate a surgical practice, but Medicare is paying less.”

The doctor stated that it will likely require action by Congress to stop these devastating cuts, which TSCL is opposed to.

He concluded his piece with this: “Our doctors and health care workers have been there for the American people during this pandemic. Now doctors need Congress to help them.”

We urge you to contact your own Senators and Representative to tell them you opposed these and any other cuts to medical personnel and services, especially those affecting senior citizens, and especially during this pandemic crisis.

Back when he was campaigning in 2016, then-candidate Trump said this: “I’m not a cutter. I’ll probably be the only Republican that doesn’t want to cut Social Security.”

He followed up in 2015 by tweeting: “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”

TSCL will urge the President to remember his promise and keep his word.  We hope you will call or write the White House and tell him the same thing.

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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 the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.