Weekly Update for Week Ending October 2, 2021

Weekly Update for Week Ending October 2, 2021

TSCL Proposes $1,400 Stimulus for Seniors

Last week TSCL Chairman Rick Delaney sent letters to the leaders of Congress proposing a one-time $1,400 Social Security stimulus payment for seniors.

The letter said in part: We’ve heard from thousands of them [seniors] who have exhausted their retirement savings, who have started eating just one meal a day, started cutting their pills in half because they can’t afford their prescription drugs, to list just a few of the drastic steps so many have had to take because of what inflation has done to them this year.

Many have written to us that “our government has forgotten about us.”

A $1,400.00 stimulus check, for Social Security recipients, could be a way to get extra non-taxable income to them.

We believe that a special stimulus for Social Security recipients could help defray the higher costs some would face if next year’s COLA bumps them into a higher tax bracket, causing higher tax rates on their income and surcharges to their Medicare Part B premiums.

While the price of prescription drugs has been a major subject of discussion in Congress this year, we are concerned by the lack of discussion about the issues being faced by seniors when it comes to Social Security.

Since we announced our campaign, we have received a large amount of inquiries and coverage by various media.

It is unlikely Congress will take action on our proposal this year but if we can build enough support from seniors for it, we are hopeful it can become a major issue next year and that Congressional support for it will grow.

* * * *

The Government Stays Open for now, but the Debt Ceiling Looms

While so much of the news about Congress last week was what they didn’t do, they did manage to pass a bill to keep the government open through Dec. 3.  The hope is that the extra time will enable them to come to an agreement on legislation to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2022.

In the meantime, they also need to quickly pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling or face the prospect of putting the full faith and credit of the United States at serious risk.  It is important to note that raising the debt ceiling allows the government to borrow money to pay the bills for programs that have already been put into effect by previous Congresses.  In other words, it does not allow for new borrowing and spending.

Defaulting on the bills of the United States has never happened before so no one knows for sure what the effects would be, but many people are concerned that they could be very harmful and even potentially catastrophic.

We report on this because seniors rely on two of the largest government programs - Social Security and Medicare – and while the effects of a government default on those programs is not certain, it probably is something we don’t want to find out.

* * * *

Fate of Lowering Drug Prices is Up-in-the-Air

Because of divisions within their own party, top congressional Democrats are acknowledging for the first time they’ll have to scale back their drug pricing plans to win enough votes in order to pass their social spending legislation.

Among the possible options are dropping efforts to have the government directly negotiate the prices for medicines in private insurance plans and make fewer drugs subject to negotiations in Medicare.  They would still have the government negotiate drug prices for Medicare, however.

This appears to be the result of the pharmaceutical industry's lobbying powerhouse, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), having spent millions of dollars running TV ads (as well as print ones in newspapers) warning that the Democrats' proposal to rein in drug prices mean politicians “will decide what medicines you can and can't get.”

The problem with that argument, of course, is that Medicare already determines what drugs you can and can’t get, and private insurers do the same for their policy holders.

Lawmakers, aides, and lobbyists close to the process said the leaders are now discussing making fewer drugs subject to government negotiation, and shifting the benchmark for such talks away from prices paid in other developed nations.

This is seen by many as a coup for the pharmaceutical industry, which has spent more than $171 million on lobbying, more than any other industry so far this year. Though drug companies would prefer to kill the House plan entirely, weakening it may be their best-case scenario.

* * * *

Dental, Vision and Hearing Benefits May also be on the Chopping Block

Democratic Congressional leaders had also hoped to include new benefits for seniors to cover dental, vision and hearing in their Medicare legislative package this year but those also appear to be in danger.

According to an article in the Washington, D.C.-based newspaper Politico, “Means-testing Medicare, a long-running controversy in health policy debates, is re-emerging as a major source of tension for Democrats seeking a path forward on their stalled social spending package.

“Centrist lawmakers are demanding that an expansion of the program to cover dental, vision and hearing care be limited to the poorest Americans, to pare the projected cost by as much as half.”

The report continues, “The American Dental Association is aiming to have a leading role influencing the outcome, buying digital ads, sending tens of thousands of emails to Capitol Hill and holding Zoom meetings with lawmakers and staff.”

That’s because traditional Medicare would pay dentists far less for services than private insurance and the group’s members would lose money if Democrats make tens of millions of seniors eligible for a government-sponsored plan.

However, critics of the idea argue that limiting the program to poorer seniors makes all of society less invested in maintaining the program, making it more politically vulnerable to getting cut back or eliminated in years to come.

TSCL favors new benefits to cover dental, hearing and vision for seniors.  However, until final legislation is written so we can see what and how it covers those things, we are withholding our judgement.

* * * *

As we continue dealing with 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.orgfollow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.