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Blog2019-11-06T16:57:30-04:00
3006, 2021

Will Seniors Finally Get Dental, Vision and Hearing Coverage from Medicare?

By |June 30th, 2021|Congress, Medicare, Medicare Drug Coverage and Costs, Polls, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden, Senator Mitch McConnell|

There appears to be new momentum on Capitol Hill for expanding Medicare.  The most urgent expansion is adding dental, hearing, and vision coverage, because, as we have long argued, seniors need health care from the neck-up, too. Right now, millions of seniors forgo proper dental, hearing, and vision care because they simply can’t afford it. Neglecting this basic care has profound health consequences, which ultimately harms seniors and costs Medicare even more in the long run.

One thing is clear:  the public wants Medicare expanded. According to a new Morning Consult poll, 84% of voters support adding dental, vision and hearing coverage to traditional Medicare.  That number includes 79% percent of Republicans.  Clearly, there is immense bipartisan support among everyday Americans for giving seniors these crucial coverages.

Morning Consult poll

Unfortunately, GOP leaders in Congress – chiefly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – have opposed this commonsense expansion.  McConnell has smeared the proposal as “adding an entitlement” and claims the country cannot afford it.  Of course, Republicans made no such claim when they gave the wealthy and large corporations a $2 trillion tax break in 2017.  Because the party apparently favors wealth-care over seniors’ health care, there likely are not ten Republican votes (enough to break a Senate filibuster) in favor of Medicare expansion.

In the face of GOP obstruction, Democrats are coalescing around a plan to enact Medicare expansion on a party-line vote through the budget reconciliation process.  This is the same tactic they utilized in March for passing President Biden’s COVID relief plan.  The Democrats would likely pay for expanding Medicare with savings achieved through prescription drug pricing reform.  The House-passed Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R.3) would save Medicare some $450 billion over ten years, mainly by allowing the program to negotiate prices directly with Big Pharma.

The Morning Consult poll indicates that a majority of voters across party lines support Medicare drug price negotiations.  Republicans in Congress have called this commonsense proposal “Socialism,” even though the V.A. has been negotiating prices with drug-makers for years – and realizing significant savings in the process.  According to one analysis, Medicare could save some 40% in drug costs if it were allowed to negotiate as the V.A. does.

For the Democrats’ strategy to succeed, both Medicare expansion and prescription drug price reform would have to be enacted through budget reconciliation in the House and Senate. However, there is no guarantee that moderate Democrats in the Senate will support all of the drug pricing provisions in the current House bill.  “It may have to be watered down somewhat to attract unanimous Democratic support,” says Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations at Policy at the National Committee.

If drug pricing legislation is weakened in the budget reconciliation process, there will be less savings to the Medicare program.  According to Adcock, that may limit the scope of dental, hearing, and vision coverage that can be added to Medicare.  In fact, one or more of those coverages may not make it into the final legislation if there aren’t sufficient Medicare savings to pay for them.

“It’s possible we will see Medicare expansion enacted by the end of the year. It depends on how the Democrats are able to finesse this process. I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but there’s a decent chance we’ll get something.” – Dan Adcock, NCPSSM Director of Government Relations and Policy

The first step in the process will be the passage of a budget resolution, which Adcock says could happen when Congress returns from its July 4th recess. However, he expects that the budget reconciliation process will not begin before this fall.  The House and Senate would then vote on the reconciliation legislation. “It’s an important goal, but a long haul,” says Adcock.


2306, 2021

Struggling Seniors Say Social Security Benefits Must be Expanded

By |June 23rd, 2021|COLAs, Congress, Democrats, Rep. John Larson, Social Security|

Members of Congress heard from some genuine experts on Social Security – older Americans who have to survive on their benefit checks each and every month.  The seniors appeared via video at a hearing of the House Ways & Means Social Security subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Larson (D-CT).  Congressman Larson is the primary force behind Social Security reform on Capitol Hill, championing the strengthening of the program and expansion of benefits.  His Social Security 2100 Act would do both, though he reportedly is reworking the legislation to better align with President Biden’s proposals in this area.

The witnesses at the hearing – all retirees from different parts of the country – spoke earnestly and often passionately about the challenges of making ends meet on their current Social Security benefits, while expressing gratitude for the program which has kept seniors out of poverty for more than 85 years.

Julian Blair
Retired, U.S. Military
Washington, D.C.

 “I started contributing to Social Security when I was 15 years old, working a summer job. Social Security is a critical part of my income. But though I paid into it my whole working life, my Social Security benefit is far too low to cover my monthly expenses.  It is beyond time for Congress to get behind expanding, not cutting, our invaluable benefits.  No one will get rich if you increase Social Security, but it will allow us to live with dignity.”

Elba Lopez
Retired Seamstress
Philadelphia, PA

“I am a widow and I rely on Social Security as a major source of income. But it doesn’t pay enough for electricity, gas, food, rent, insurance and clothing. I’m lucky that my daughter can help me financially, but I don’t want to be a burden.  An increase in my Social Security income would allow me to be more independent. It would give me peace of mind, knowing that I could meet my basic needs after all those years of working.”

Cora McDonnell
Retired Shipping Clerk
Seattle, WA

“My husband passed away in 1994.  I also was laid off after 14 years on the job at Airborne Express. Without Social Security widow’s benefits, I could not have survived. I would have been homeless and unable to take care of my son, who suffers from ulcerative colitis.  Social Security paid the bills, put food on the table for me and my son and a roof over our head.  It was essential to me as a widow and single mother.  I do wonder, though, why benefits have not changed in the past 50 years.”

Kitty Ruderman
Retiree
Queens, NY

“Social Security is by far the bulk of my income. I need every penny to make ends meet, and even that isn’t enough.  My rent alone exceeds my monthly Social Security payment.  In previous years, I could supplement my retirement income by taking on extra work, but that has become increasingly difficult due to my crippling arthritis. This has left me even more reliant on Social Security and even more concerned about the future of the program.  I urge Congress to ensure Social Security stays strong for generations to come.”

The witnesses’ testimony buttressed Rep. Larson’s argument that Social Security benefits must be boosted to meet retirees’ actual needs, including a fairer formula for calculating cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs).  He pointed out that the average Social Security benefit of roughly $18,500 a year is only slightly above the federal poverty line, and that some people’s benefits are below it. “Who could live on that?” he asked.

The Congressman emphasized the importance of Congress taking bold action on Social Security now, instead of “kicking the can down the road.”  Benefits have not been increased in 50 years, Larson said.  And the last time that Social Security was strengthened, he reminded the committee, was in 1983.

Ranking Republican Tom Reed (R-NY) called for more incremental measures to establish bipartisan “trust” on the issue – and to lay a foundation for major changes later.  Committee member Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) said that both Republicans and Democrats want “to enhance benefits for all retirees,” yet Rice and many other GOP members of Congress cosponsored a bill from the subcommittee’s former Chairman, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), that would have raised the retirement age to 69, a drastic benefit cut.

Other Republicans have called for “entitlements” to be “reformed” (code word for ‘cut’) in the wake of the deficit-swelling Trump/GOP tax cuts, even though Social Security does not contribute to the federal deficit.

Congressman Larson said a vote on comprehensive Social Security legislation is “long overdue.”  His Social Security 2100 Act would extend the solvency of the trust fund until nearly the end of the century, boost benefits across the board by 2%, and provide for a more generous COLA formula. “There is an opportunity to have people vote and be counted and show what they stand for,” he said. “That would be a real profile in courage.”


1706, 2021

Supreme Court Ruling a Victory for Older Americans

By |June 17th, 2021|affordable care act, Congress, Max Richtman, Medicaid, Medicare|

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare applauds today’s Supreme Court ruling leaving the Affordable Care Act in place:

“Millions of older Americans can breathe a sigh of relief with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. The justices’ decision protects enhancements in health coverage for ‘near seniors’ aged 55-65 and Medicare beneficiaries, as well. The Affordable Care Act limits the premiums insurers can charge based on age, protects patients with pre-existing conditions, and improves Medicare coverage – including a broad array of preventative services with no out-of-pocket cost to seniors and phasing out the ‘donut hole’ in Part D prescription coverage. The justices rightly turned back this latest attempt by conservatives to strip tens of millions of Americans of health coverage. With the ACA safe from legal challenges for now, let’s redouble our efforts to expand affordability and access to health care for the near seniors, seniors, and all other Americans who need it.” – Max Richtman, President & CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare


1406, 2021

Prescription Drug Pricing Reform – What happens now?

By |June 14th, 2021|Congress, Democrats, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden, Republicans, Senator Mitch McConnell|

Seniors and their advocates had high hopes for prescription drug pricing reform when President Biden took office with majorities – however slim – in both houses of Congress.  Those were heady days, following four years of obstruction on drug pricing. Democrats (and some Republicans) tried to enact commonsense reforms during the Trump administration, but were obstructed by then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.  Meanwhile, President Trump paid lip service to lowering drug prices, but didn’t lean on Republicans to act.  Today, action to reduce soaring drug costs seems stuck again, to the disappointment of most Americans – who continue pay the highest prescription prices in the world.

Advocates had hoped that drug price reform would be part of President Biden’s American Families infrastructure plan, but it was noticeably excluded. The President’s 2022 budget proposal called for lowering prescription prices – but only as a broad policy goal.  Most Republicans continue to oppose aggressive cost control measures, and some moderate Democrats appear hesitant to directly challenge Big Pharma. After pushing through legislation in 2019, House leadership has not put muscle behind enacting reforms during this Congress.

So what happens now?  There is no lack of conviction on the part of drug price reformers on Capitol Hill.  Democrats re-introduced the House-passed Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), which would – among other measures – finally allow Medicare to negotiate prices with Big Pharma (just like the VA does).  Polling indicates that this policy enjoys wide public support, even among majorities of Republican voters.

The Washington Post reports that House Democrats are making an effort to include elements of H.R. 3 in infrastructure legislation this summer:

“House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) told reporters yesterday that he’s aiming to get the measure attached to the package — a package that almost certainly represents Democrats’ best shot this year at turning their top priorities into law.” – Washington Post, 6/8/21 

Drug pricing legislation faces considerable challenges in the 50-50 Senate, where most bills need at least 60 votes to pass.  In the last Congress, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) offered a bill that did not include Medicare negotiation, but would have imposed penalties and controls to try to contain Big Pharma price hikes. That legislation was blocked by then-Majority Leader McConnell and failed to win support from most Republican senators.

Reformers now hope that an infrastructure package including drug pricing provisions might be pushed through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process (similar to the American Rescue Plan relief act earlier this year).  Interestingly enough, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who opposes eliminating the filibuster and forcing additional legislation through the Senate via reconciliation, has himself sponsored legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy at the National Committee, characterizes reconciliation as the best and only chance of enacting prescription pricing reform during this Congress.  “Amending Medicare to include prescription drug price negotiation is totally fair game,” he says.  President Biden would likely sign any prescription drug pricing legislation that manages to work its way through the House and Senate.

Of course, Medicare price negotiation may not survive the legislative process this time around, but other measures similar to the Wyden-Grassley bill (such as tying drug price increases to inflation or to what other countries pay) might make it through.  “We would like to get something as comprehensive as H.R. 3,” says Adcock. “But politics is the art of the possible, and it may be possible to get something less than that which still could help limit price gouging.”


106, 2021

Biden Budget Bolsters Seniors

By |June 1st, 2021|Budget, Congress, Medicaid, Medicare, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden|

photo by Greg Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

President Biden’s $6 trillion budget proposal for 2022 demonstrates a bold commitment to America’s seniors – from improved customer service for Social Security beneficiaries to prescription drug pricing reform to expanded Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS).  This White House spending plan is a welcome change after four years of Trump budgets that sought to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security by hundreds of billions of dollars.

“President Biden’s 2020 budget bolsters America’s seniors in major ways. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day – and the number of seniors projected to double by 2050 – it’s clear that the President understands the need to safeguard the older Americans he calls ‘pillars of every community,’ now and into the future.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM President and CEO, 6/1/21

The President proposes a $1.3 billion (or 9.7%) funding increase for the Social Security Administration, which saw deep budget cuts over the past decade – and struggled to provide adequate customer service before and during the pandemic. Beneficiaries have endured shuttered field offices, countless hours on hold for assistance on SSA’s toll-free number, and painfully long delays awaiting Social Security Disability Insurance hearings.  Some of these issues have slightly improved, but the new infusion of funds that President Biden requests could significantly boost customer service.

The President’s budget proposal also urges Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate prices for certain high-cost, life-saving drugs that many seniors currently cannot afford.  The President also calls for requiring manufacturers to pay rebates when drug prices rise faster than inflation. In the continued absence of action to regulate costs, Big Pharma hiked the prices of more than 800 drugs this year by an average of 4.6%. Meanwhile, 36% of Americans in a 2021 survey said they are forgoing their prescription medications in order to pay for other living essentials.

President Biden’s prescription drug reform proposals could not only save seniors from soaring drug prices, the savings from these reforms could be used to add much-needed dental, vision, and hearing coverage to Medicare.  Today, traditional Medicare does not cover even routine care like dental checkups or hearing aids.

The White House budget also includes more than $400 billion in new spending over ten years to expand HCBS for seniors who prefer to receive skilled care in the comfort of their homes and communities, even more so after the devastation COVID wrought on nursing homes.

The release of the President’s budget allows Congress to begin negotiating funding levels and spending bills.  President Biden proposes to pay for his ambitious agenda by increasing taxes on corporations and high earners, who received a windfall from the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017.


Will Seniors Finally Get Dental, Vision and Hearing Coverage from Medicare?

By |June 30th, 2021|Congress, Medicare, Medicare Drug Coverage and Costs, Polls, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden, Senator Mitch McConnell|

There appears to be new momentum on Capitol Hill for expanding Medicare.  The most urgent expansion is adding dental, hearing, and vision coverage, because, as we have long argued, seniors need health care from the neck-up, too. Right now, millions of seniors forgo proper dental, hearing, and vision care because they simply can’t afford it. Neglecting this basic care has profound health consequences, which ultimately harms seniors and costs Medicare even more in the long run.

One thing is clear:  the public wants Medicare expanded. According to a new Morning Consult poll, 84% of voters support adding dental, vision and hearing coverage to traditional Medicare.  That number includes 79% percent of Republicans.  Clearly, there is immense bipartisan support among everyday Americans for giving seniors these crucial coverages.

Morning Consult poll

Unfortunately, GOP leaders in Congress – chiefly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – have opposed this commonsense expansion.  McConnell has smeared the proposal as “adding an entitlement” and claims the country cannot afford it.  Of course, Republicans made no such claim when they gave the wealthy and large corporations a $2 trillion tax break in 2017.  Because the party apparently favors wealth-care over seniors’ health care, there likely are not ten Republican votes (enough to break a Senate filibuster) in favor of Medicare expansion.

In the face of GOP obstruction, Democrats are coalescing around a plan to enact Medicare expansion on a party-line vote through the budget reconciliation process.  This is the same tactic they utilized in March for passing President Biden’s COVID relief plan.  The Democrats would likely pay for expanding Medicare with savings achieved through prescription drug pricing reform.  The House-passed Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R.3) would save Medicare some $450 billion over ten years, mainly by allowing the program to negotiate prices directly with Big Pharma.

The Morning Consult poll indicates that a majority of voters across party lines support Medicare drug price negotiations.  Republicans in Congress have called this commonsense proposal “Socialism,” even though the V.A. has been negotiating prices with drug-makers for years – and realizing significant savings in the process.  According to one analysis, Medicare could save some 40% in drug costs if it were allowed to negotiate as the V.A. does.

For the Democrats’ strategy to succeed, both Medicare expansion and prescription drug price reform would have to be enacted through budget reconciliation in the House and Senate. However, there is no guarantee that moderate Democrats in the Senate will support all of the drug pricing provisions in the current House bill.  “It may have to be watered down somewhat to attract unanimous Democratic support,” says Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations at Policy at the National Committee.

If drug pricing legislation is weakened in the budget reconciliation process, there will be less savings to the Medicare program.  According to Adcock, that may limit the scope of dental, hearing, and vision coverage that can be added to Medicare.  In fact, one or more of those coverages may not make it into the final legislation if there aren’t sufficient Medicare savings to pay for them.

“It’s possible we will see Medicare expansion enacted by the end of the year. It depends on how the Democrats are able to finesse this process. I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but there’s a decent chance we’ll get something.” – Dan Adcock, NCPSSM Director of Government Relations and Policy

The first step in the process will be the passage of a budget resolution, which Adcock says could happen when Congress returns from its July 4th recess. However, he expects that the budget reconciliation process will not begin before this fall.  The House and Senate would then vote on the reconciliation legislation. “It’s an important goal, but a long haul,” says Adcock.


Struggling Seniors Say Social Security Benefits Must be Expanded

By |June 23rd, 2021|COLAs, Congress, Democrats, Rep. John Larson, Social Security|

Members of Congress heard from some genuine experts on Social Security – older Americans who have to survive on their benefit checks each and every month.  The seniors appeared via video at a hearing of the House Ways & Means Social Security subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Larson (D-CT).  Congressman Larson is the primary force behind Social Security reform on Capitol Hill, championing the strengthening of the program and expansion of benefits.  His Social Security 2100 Act would do both, though he reportedly is reworking the legislation to better align with President Biden’s proposals in this area.

The witnesses at the hearing – all retirees from different parts of the country – spoke earnestly and often passionately about the challenges of making ends meet on their current Social Security benefits, while expressing gratitude for the program which has kept seniors out of poverty for more than 85 years.

Julian Blair
Retired, U.S. Military
Washington, D.C.

 “I started contributing to Social Security when I was 15 years old, working a summer job. Social Security is a critical part of my income. But though I paid into it my whole working life, my Social Security benefit is far too low to cover my monthly expenses.  It is beyond time for Congress to get behind expanding, not cutting, our invaluable benefits.  No one will get rich if you increase Social Security, but it will allow us to live with dignity.”

Elba Lopez
Retired Seamstress
Philadelphia, PA

“I am a widow and I rely on Social Security as a major source of income. But it doesn’t pay enough for electricity, gas, food, rent, insurance and clothing. I’m lucky that my daughter can help me financially, but I don’t want to be a burden.  An increase in my Social Security income would allow me to be more independent. It would give me peace of mind, knowing that I could meet my basic needs after all those years of working.”

Cora McDonnell
Retired Shipping Clerk
Seattle, WA

“My husband passed away in 1994.  I also was laid off after 14 years on the job at Airborne Express. Without Social Security widow’s benefits, I could not have survived. I would have been homeless and unable to take care of my son, who suffers from ulcerative colitis.  Social Security paid the bills, put food on the table for me and my son and a roof over our head.  It was essential to me as a widow and single mother.  I do wonder, though, why benefits have not changed in the past 50 years.”

Kitty Ruderman
Retiree
Queens, NY

“Social Security is by far the bulk of my income. I need every penny to make ends meet, and even that isn’t enough.  My rent alone exceeds my monthly Social Security payment.  In previous years, I could supplement my retirement income by taking on extra work, but that has become increasingly difficult due to my crippling arthritis. This has left me even more reliant on Social Security and even more concerned about the future of the program.  I urge Congress to ensure Social Security stays strong for generations to come.”

The witnesses’ testimony buttressed Rep. Larson’s argument that Social Security benefits must be boosted to meet retirees’ actual needs, including a fairer formula for calculating cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs).  He pointed out that the average Social Security benefit of roughly $18,500 a year is only slightly above the federal poverty line, and that some people’s benefits are below it. “Who could live on that?” he asked.

The Congressman emphasized the importance of Congress taking bold action on Social Security now, instead of “kicking the can down the road.”  Benefits have not been increased in 50 years, Larson said.  And the last time that Social Security was strengthened, he reminded the committee, was in 1983.

Ranking Republican Tom Reed (R-NY) called for more incremental measures to establish bipartisan “trust” on the issue – and to lay a foundation for major changes later.  Committee member Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) said that both Republicans and Democrats want “to enhance benefits for all retirees,” yet Rice and many other GOP members of Congress cosponsored a bill from the subcommittee’s former Chairman, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), that would have raised the retirement age to 69, a drastic benefit cut.

Other Republicans have called for “entitlements” to be “reformed” (code word for ‘cut’) in the wake of the deficit-swelling Trump/GOP tax cuts, even though Social Security does not contribute to the federal deficit.

Congressman Larson said a vote on comprehensive Social Security legislation is “long overdue.”  His Social Security 2100 Act would extend the solvency of the trust fund until nearly the end of the century, boost benefits across the board by 2%, and provide for a more generous COLA formula. “There is an opportunity to have people vote and be counted and show what they stand for,” he said. “That would be a real profile in courage.”


Supreme Court Ruling a Victory for Older Americans

By |June 17th, 2021|affordable care act, Congress, Max Richtman, Medicaid, Medicare|

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare applauds today’s Supreme Court ruling leaving the Affordable Care Act in place:

“Millions of older Americans can breathe a sigh of relief with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. The justices’ decision protects enhancements in health coverage for ‘near seniors’ aged 55-65 and Medicare beneficiaries, as well. The Affordable Care Act limits the premiums insurers can charge based on age, protects patients with pre-existing conditions, and improves Medicare coverage – including a broad array of preventative services with no out-of-pocket cost to seniors and phasing out the ‘donut hole’ in Part D prescription coverage. The justices rightly turned back this latest attempt by conservatives to strip tens of millions of Americans of health coverage. With the ACA safe from legal challenges for now, let’s redouble our efforts to expand affordability and access to health care for the near seniors, seniors, and all other Americans who need it.” – Max Richtman, President & CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare


Prescription Drug Pricing Reform – What happens now?

By |June 14th, 2021|Congress, Democrats, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden, Republicans, Senator Mitch McConnell|

Seniors and their advocates had high hopes for prescription drug pricing reform when President Biden took office with majorities – however slim – in both houses of Congress.  Those were heady days, following four years of obstruction on drug pricing. Democrats (and some Republicans) tried to enact commonsense reforms during the Trump administration, but were obstructed by then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.  Meanwhile, President Trump paid lip service to lowering drug prices, but didn’t lean on Republicans to act.  Today, action to reduce soaring drug costs seems stuck again, to the disappointment of most Americans – who continue pay the highest prescription prices in the world.

Advocates had hoped that drug price reform would be part of President Biden’s American Families infrastructure plan, but it was noticeably excluded. The President’s 2022 budget proposal called for lowering prescription prices – but only as a broad policy goal.  Most Republicans continue to oppose aggressive cost control measures, and some moderate Democrats appear hesitant to directly challenge Big Pharma. After pushing through legislation in 2019, House leadership has not put muscle behind enacting reforms during this Congress.

So what happens now?  There is no lack of conviction on the part of drug price reformers on Capitol Hill.  Democrats re-introduced the House-passed Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), which would – among other measures – finally allow Medicare to negotiate prices with Big Pharma (just like the VA does).  Polling indicates that this policy enjoys wide public support, even among majorities of Republican voters.

The Washington Post reports that House Democrats are making an effort to include elements of H.R. 3 in infrastructure legislation this summer:

“House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) told reporters yesterday that he’s aiming to get the measure attached to the package — a package that almost certainly represents Democrats’ best shot this year at turning their top priorities into law.” – Washington Post, 6/8/21 

Drug pricing legislation faces considerable challenges in the 50-50 Senate, where most bills need at least 60 votes to pass.  In the last Congress, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) offered a bill that did not include Medicare negotiation, but would have imposed penalties and controls to try to contain Big Pharma price hikes. That legislation was blocked by then-Majority Leader McConnell and failed to win support from most Republican senators.

Reformers now hope that an infrastructure package including drug pricing provisions might be pushed through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process (similar to the American Rescue Plan relief act earlier this year).  Interestingly enough, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who opposes eliminating the filibuster and forcing additional legislation through the Senate via reconciliation, has himself sponsored legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy at the National Committee, characterizes reconciliation as the best and only chance of enacting prescription pricing reform during this Congress.  “Amending Medicare to include prescription drug price negotiation is totally fair game,” he says.  President Biden would likely sign any prescription drug pricing legislation that manages to work its way through the House and Senate.

Of course, Medicare price negotiation may not survive the legislative process this time around, but other measures similar to the Wyden-Grassley bill (such as tying drug price increases to inflation or to what other countries pay) might make it through.  “We would like to get something as comprehensive as H.R. 3,” says Adcock. “But politics is the art of the possible, and it may be possible to get something less than that which still could help limit price gouging.”


Biden Budget Bolsters Seniors

By |June 1st, 2021|Budget, Congress, Medicaid, Medicare, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden|

photo by Greg Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

President Biden’s $6 trillion budget proposal for 2022 demonstrates a bold commitment to America’s seniors – from improved customer service for Social Security beneficiaries to prescription drug pricing reform to expanded Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS).  This White House spending plan is a welcome change after four years of Trump budgets that sought to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security by hundreds of billions of dollars.

“President Biden’s 2020 budget bolsters America’s seniors in major ways. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day – and the number of seniors projected to double by 2050 – it’s clear that the President understands the need to safeguard the older Americans he calls ‘pillars of every community,’ now and into the future.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM President and CEO, 6/1/21

The President proposes a $1.3 billion (or 9.7%) funding increase for the Social Security Administration, which saw deep budget cuts over the past decade – and struggled to provide adequate customer service before and during the pandemic. Beneficiaries have endured shuttered field offices, countless hours on hold for assistance on SSA’s toll-free number, and painfully long delays awaiting Social Security Disability Insurance hearings.  Some of these issues have slightly improved, but the new infusion of funds that President Biden requests could significantly boost customer service.

The President’s budget proposal also urges Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate prices for certain high-cost, life-saving drugs that many seniors currently cannot afford.  The President also calls for requiring manufacturers to pay rebates when drug prices rise faster than inflation. In the continued absence of action to regulate costs, Big Pharma hiked the prices of more than 800 drugs this year by an average of 4.6%. Meanwhile, 36% of Americans in a 2021 survey said they are forgoing their prescription medications in order to pay for other living essentials.

President Biden’s prescription drug reform proposals could not only save seniors from soaring drug prices, the savings from these reforms could be used to add much-needed dental, vision, and hearing coverage to Medicare.  Today, traditional Medicare does not cover even routine care like dental checkups or hearing aids.

The White House budget also includes more than $400 billion in new spending over ten years to expand HCBS for seniors who prefer to receive skilled care in the comfort of their homes and communities, even more so after the devastation COVID wrought on nursing homes.

The release of the President’s budget allows Congress to begin negotiating funding levels and spending bills.  President Biden proposes to pay for his ambitious agenda by increasing taxes on corporations and high earners, who received a windfall from the Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017.



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