Weekly Update for Week Ending October 30, 2021

Weekly Update for Week Ending October 30, 2021

Social Security 2100 bill Reintroduced

We start this week’s update with good news!

Last week Congressman John Larson (D-Conn.), Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced a revised version of the Social Security 2100 bill.

The bill has nearly 200 co-sponsors in the House and has been endorsed by over 100 groups, including TSCL.  We have been working with the Congressman’s office all year and we are very pleased the bill has now been re-introduced in its revised form.

“For too long, Congress has forsaken its duty to enhance benefits. With 10,000 Baby Boomers a day becoming eligible, and with Millennials needing Social Security more than any generation, the time for Congress to act is now,” said Larson.

According to a press release from the subcommittee, if enacted, the bill:

  • Increases Social Security benefits for seniors
  • Protects benefits preventing a 20% cut in 2034
  • Is fully paid for by making millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share The Social Security 2100 Act Increases Benefits
  • Provides an increase for all beneficiaries that is the equivalent to about 2% of the average benefit.
  • Improves the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) formula to better reflect the costs incurred by seniors through adopting a CPI-E formula.
  • Protects low-income workers –The new minimum benefit will be set at 25% above the poverty line and would be tied to wage levels to ensure that the minimum benefit does not fall behind.
  • Improves benefits for widows and widowers in two income household
  • Repeals the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) that currently penalize many public servants.
  • Ends the 5-month waiting period to receive disability benefits.
  • Provides caregiver credits to ensure that caregivers are not penalized in retirement for taking time out of the workforce to care for children or other dependents.
  • Increases access to benefits for children who live with grandparents or other relatives.
  • Extends the depletion date (when a 20% cut to benefits would occur) to 2038 – Giving Congress more time to ensure long term solvency of the Trust Funds.
  • Social Security Trust Fund Established – Social Security provides all-in-one retirement, survivor, and disability benefits funded through the dedicated FICA contribution paid by workers. There are technically two trust funds, Old-Age and Survivors (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI), and that are usually referred to as the Social Security Trust Fund. This provision combines the OASI & DI trust funds into one Social Security Trust Fund, to ensure that all benefits will be paid.

We will have further information on the bill as things develop.  It is not likely to be acted upon this year but we expect there to be a major effort to pass it next year.

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Democrats Still Working on Prescription Drug Pricing

We had also hoped that by this time we could give you information about what’s in the legislation that’s been passed in Congress concerning reducing drug prices.  But we can’t do that because nothing’s been passed yet.

In fact, it was looking bleak last week when it appeared that, according to StatNews, “The White House is abandoning every single policy idea aimed at lowering prescription drug prices in President Biden’s domestic spending package, it announced Thursday morning. Biden is effectively admitting he can’t overcome deeply entrenched pharmaceutical industry opposition to any change to the status quo, even with broad political support for the effort, and both chambers of Congress in Democratic control.”

However, since then word has come out that there are on-going discussions to let Medicare negotiate lower prices for many pharmaceuticals it provides. Excluded would be drugs for which the Food and Drug Administration has granted initial protection against competition, periods that vary but last several years.

Pharmaceutical makers would have to pay a rebate if their prices rise above certain markers. And there would be a cap on seniors' out-of-pocket drug costs under Medicare Part D.

The emerging plan could allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time, and talks continue on what categories of drugs will be subject to the cost-cutting negotiation power. The plan centers around drugs no longer under patent protection rather than drug company exclusive products, but is tied to patent reforms meant to stop repeat extensions which the drug companies use to prevent the manufacture of generics and allow them to continue to reap huge profits.

The plan under discussion would also provide large numbers of Americans with assistance to pay for health care, among other several other things.

Much of its costs would be covered with higher taxes on people earning over $10 million annually and large corporations.

While agreement has been reached to add coverage to Medicare for some hearing services, vision and dental coverage did not make it into the legislative framework.  It also dramatically reduces a proposal to improve home health services.

The drug industry has been pouring millions of dollars into its lobbying efforts to try and stop any effort to lower drug prices.  According to a report in Politico, “Though the drug industry's goal is preventing any government price negotiation whatsoever, limiting the bargaining to a narrow subset of drugs and leaning more heavily on measures like out-of-pocket caps that don’t impact the companies’ bottom line would be a victory in itself.”

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Date for Vote on Health Care Legislation Still Uncertain

As we have been reporting, the changes in Medicare will be part of an overall infrastructure bill that President Biden has proposed and that both the House and the Senate have been working on for weeks.

The uncertainty and difficulty of getting it passed is because of the close divisions within both bodies of Congress.  The fighting is among the Democratic majorities because the Republicans have made it clear they will not be supporting anything.  And, as we’ve already said, the big drug companies have poured millions into trying to stop any legislation that would affect their profits.

As a result, Democrats have imposed their own deadlines regarding getting the legislation passed and so far, they’ve not been able to meet those deadlines.  The hope in the House is that they might be able to have a final vote on the bill by the end of this week, but that remains to be seen.

Once the House is able to pass a bill, it will go to the Senate where there continue to be struggles within the Democratic majority.

So, while we will not get all that we want, it appears progress will be made in improving some aspects of Medicare in providing health care for seniors.  You can be assured that TSCL will never stop in its fight for seniors to get the kind of health care they need and deserve.