October 17, 2020

October 17, 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.


Drug Discount Card May be Illegal

In our Sept. 26 Update, we told you about the new Drug Discount Card that President Trump had just announced would be available to some seniors.  At that time, there were few details about the program because, as one White House official put it, the idea of a drug discount card was a “last-minute thing that is still being worked out.”

Then, in our Oct. 3 Update we reported that the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Oversight and Health subcommittees had sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar requesting more information about the discount card.  Among the questions they were asking was what legal authority is being used to justify the program and how it will be paid for.

Now, it has been reported that the top lawyer in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has warned in an internal memo that the President’s plan to give seniors $200 discount cards to buy prescription drugs could violate election law.

A report about the memo, which was published in Politico, a Washington, D.C., based news service, also stated that the lawyer “and his office late last week instructed administration officials to seek guidance from the DOJ's public integrity section, which deals with election crimes, before moving forward with the drug-discount plan. That has further stalled the plan as the health department waits for DOJ review, said two officials.”

According to another report in the Washington Post, HHS Secretary Alex Azar and “Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are distancing themselves from the idea, each emphasizing that they were not consulted by the White House before the president’s announcement, said three officials familiar with their thinking.”

The Post added, “Outside the administration, Trump’s intended drug debit cards are drawing criticism from the pharmaceutical industry, budget and health policy experts of both political parties, and even a conservative publication.”

So, as we told you back on Sept. 29, “Don’t Bet on $200 Drug Discount Card Just Yet.”

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Seniors and the Cost of a Coronavirus Vaccine When it is Available

Last month the Trump administration reported that a future COVID-19 vaccine would be free for nearly all Americans, except for seniors with traditional Medicare coverage.

Then last week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it will make sure that a COVID-19 vaccine will be made available to all seniors at no cost once a vaccine is approved.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma also said that CMS is working to guarantee a free vaccine for Medicaid and private insurance members as well.

However, according to a message from Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), she has looked into this and discovered an error in the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act that was passed in March and gave economic aid to individuals and companies in the U.S., that could result in Medicare beneficiaries having to pay out of pocket for a vaccine.

Spanberger announced that she will be introducing a bipartisan bill this week to correct the error and make sure that senior Medicare beneficiaries will also be eligible for a free vaccine.

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Coming Months Could be the Roughest Yet

On NBC’s Meet the Press program on Sunday Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director

of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and one of the foremost experts in the world on infectious diseases, said “the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic.”

“We do have vaccines and therapeutics coming down the pike,” Osterholm said. “But when you actually look at the time period for that, the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic.”

Osterholm added that “vaccines will not become available in any meaningful way until early to third quarter of next year.”

“And even then, half of the US population, at this point, is skeptical of even taking the vaccine,” Osterholm said. “So, what we have right now is a major problem in messaging.”

That is the bad news.

The good news is that while Covid-19 continues to kill close to 1,000 Americans a day, advances in medical care and the growing experience of doctors are improving the chances of survival for those who develop dangerous cases of the infection, according to a report in Bloomberg News.

The report added, “Since the first case arrived in the U.S. at the start of the year, medical professionals have gone from fumbling in the dark to better understanding which drugs work -- such as steroids and blood thinners, and the antiviral medicine remdesivir. Allocation of intensive medical resources have improved. And doctors have learned to hold off on the use of ventilators for some patients, unlike with many other severe respiratory illnesses.

“Doctors and experts say that improved medical tactics and earlier treatment are helping improve the outcomes for very sick patients, said Andrew Badley, head of Mayo Clinic’s Covid Research Task Force.

“’Health-care preparedness today is much better than it was in February and March,’” Badley said in an interview. “’We have better and more rapid access to diagnosis. We have more knowledge about what drugs to use and what drugs not to use. We have more experimental treatments available. All of those contribute to possible improvements in the mortality rate.’”

In a separate report from Bloomberg News it stated that “Medicare seniors are skipping needed care and struggling emotionally as the Covid-19 pandemic alters their lifestyles.

“New survey data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found 21% of beneficiaries reported forgoing health care due to the pandemic, while 46% reported feeling more stressed and anxious.

“Nearly half of beneficiaries said they avoided care because they didn’t want to risk being in a medical facility, while 35% said they didn’t want to leave their home. And 23% reported feeling more lonely or sad.”

The report further stated that “Dental care was the most commonly postponed service, with 43% having delayed care. Thirty-six percent put off checkups and treatment for ongoing conditions, while 32% delayed diagnostic screenings.

“Beneficiaries were increasingly able to use technology to bridge the care gap. Fifty-eight percent said their provider offers both phone and video appointments.

“More good news: More than 90% of beneficiaries reported following advice on hand washing, social distancing, mask wearing, and avoiding large groups and sick people.”

We at TSCL urge you not to put off medical care if you need it.  If you are worried about being infected with the virus call your doctor’s or dentist’s office and ask them what Covid-19 precautions they are following to protect their patients.  Many doctors have taken extra special measures, including requiring that everyone wear a mask and keeping people out of waiting rooms until the actual time of their appointment.  Many waiting rooms have far fewer chairs in them, and they are spaced far apart for those patients awaiting their appointments.

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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.