Congress Still Can’t Get Its Work Done
Congress has until the end of this Friday to pass legislation to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2021. Very few people think they’ll get it done.
There are reports that the Senate is now targeting roughly Dec. 18 as its adjournment date, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is still looking to confirm judicial nominees this week while other members of the Senate work to find compromises on both the government funding legislation and a new coronavirus economic stimulus bill.
The House of Representatives has scheduled a vote for this coming Wednesday on a new CR that will last until Dec. 18, as well.
This will give them an additional week to try and get something done. If they can’t by then, they’ll either pass another short-term CR giving them additional time to work until probably Christmas, or they’ll give up and go home for Christmas and push everything off to the new Congress and new President in January.
The third piece of legislation they should pass is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021. It has always been considered to be “must pass” legislation because it authorizes so many things for the military, including pay. But as we reported last week, President Trump has threatened to veto the bill because it doesn’t contain a measure that he wants passed having to do with the regulations of social media like Twitter and Facebook.
Even Republicans who support changing the regulations are opposed to putting it in the NDAA and they may support an effort to pass it and try to override the President’s veto, which would be the first of his presidency.
Because of that, it now appears both the House and Senate will pass the NDAA and attempt to override the President’s veto if he keeps his threat.
The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has announced that if the bill is vetoed the House will come back into session over the holidays and vote to override.
If the bill doesn’t pass into law one way or the other it would be the first time in 60 years the legislation has failed to be enacted.
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Food and Drug Administration Issues Vaccine Fraud Alert
Because COVID-19 has never been seen in humans before, there are currently no vaccines to prevent COVID-19 approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA recently approved the first treatment for COVID-19, the antiviral drug remdesivir.
The FDA is working with vaccine and drug manufacturers to develop new vaccines for and find more drugs to treat COVID-19 as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, some people and companies are trying to profit from this pandemic by selling unproven and illegally marketed products that make false claims, such as being effective against the coronavirus.
These fraudulent products that claim to cure, treat, or prevent COVID-19 haven’t been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness and might be dangerous to you and your family.
The FDA is particularly concerned that these deceptive and misleading products might cause Americans to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm. It’s likely that the products do not do what they claim, and the ingredients in them could cause adverse effects and could interact with, and potentially interfere with, essential medications.
The FDA has also seen unauthorized fraudulent test kits for COVID-19 being sold online. Currently, the only way to be tested for COVID-19 is to talk to your health care provider.
At this time, the FDA has authorized one COVID-19 self-test to be completely used and processed at home. You will risk unknowingly spreading COVID-19 or not getting treated appropriately if you use an unauthorized test.
The FDA advises consumers to be cautious of websites and stores selling products that claim to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. There are no FDA-approved products to prevent COVID-19. Products marketed for veterinary use, or “for research use only,” or otherwise not for human consumption, have not been evaluated for safety and should never be used by humans.
For example, the FDA is aware of people trying to prevent COVID-19 by taking a product called chloroquine phosphate, which is sold to treat parasites in aquarium fish. Products for veterinary use or for “research use only” may have adverse effects, including serious illness and death, when taken by people.
Here are some tips to identify false or misleading claims.
- Be suspicious of products that claim to treat a wide range of diseases.
- Personal testimonials are no substitute for scientific evidence.
- Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, so be suspicious of any therapy claimed as a “quick fix.”
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- “Miracle cures,” which claim scientific breakthroughs or contain secret ingredients, are likely a hoax.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, and speak to your medical provider. Your health care provider will advise you about whether you should get tested and the process for being tested in your area.
If you have a question about a treatment or test found online, talk to your health care provider or doctor. If you have a question about a medication, call your pharmacist or the FDA. The FDA’s Division of Drug Information (DDI) will answer almost any drug question. DDI pharmacists are available by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and by phone, 1-855-543-DRUG (3784) and 301-796-3400.
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Canada Bans Sending Drugs to U.S.
We reported earlier this year that President Trump issued executive orders to lower prescription drug prices under Medicare by linking them to rates paid in other countries and allowing Americans to buy medication imported from Canada.
Officials in Canada said at that time that this would not be an effective approach to reducing drug prices in the U.S. since the Canadian market is small, representing only 2% of global pharmaceutical sales, compared to 44% south of the border.
Now, the government of Canada is banning drug manufacturers and distributors from shipping any Canadian drugs that might be at risk of shortage to the United States.
The order is a direct response to the President’s efforts to greenlight the importation of drugs from Canada.
“Our health care system is a symbol of our national identity and we are committed to defending it. The actions we are taking today will help protect Canadians’ access to the medication they rely on,” said Patty Hajdu, Canada’s minister of health.
Canada’s order will not prevent Americans from crossing the border to buy cheaper drugs; it doesn’t affect sales made by brick and mortar pharmacies, according to a fact sheet released by the Canadian government.
Where this leaves the President’s policy at this point is not clear, but it is highly unlikely the program will be able to move forward while Trump is still in office. Whether President Biden will withdraw the plan or seek to modify it through negotiations with Canada remains to be seen.
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Fight to End Surprise Billing is Losing Key Ally
One of TSCL’s goals this year was to end “surprise billing” – the situation that happens when some types of medical providers, including anesthesiologists, radiologists, pathologists, and labs may not be contracted with your health insurer even though they provide services at a hospital or facility that is in your health plan’s provider network. So, in addition to your expected out-of-pocket costs, you also get a bill for the difference between what your insurer has agreed to pay that provider and the amount the provider billed for their services.
We worked with members of Congress who supported ending the practice, although we were unable to get legislation passed. One of our key allies in the fight was Sen. Lamar Alexander (R- Tenn.). He was a champion of our cause but, unfortunately, he is retiring at the end of this year. We will certainly miss his leadership on the issue but we pledge to continue to fight to end the practice in 2021.
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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.
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.