Speaker Pelosi: Bring Larson’s Social Security proposal to a floor vote 

Published in RINewsToday on September 12, 2022

On the 87th Anniversary of Social Security, the Washington, DC based Social Security Works (SSW) hosted a “Social Security Town Hall Meeting” to get the word out about the importance of passing the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust. 

The virtual town hall meeting brought together House lawmakers, aging advocates and beneficiaries to send a strong message to House Democratic leadership to support the markup of Congressman John Larson’s (D-CT) social security proposal to expand and strengthen Social Security and send it to the House floor for a vote.

The town hall participants, including host Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works, Larson, chair of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Peter Morley, Patient Advocate and co-founder of Health Care Awareness month, and John Blair, who chairs the Community Advisory Board, SPACE in Action, strongly supported quick action and passage of the legislative proposal. Additionally, several members of Congress also pre-recorded videos which were played at the end of the town hall meeting.

Town hall participants used the Aug. 15th virtual town meeting to highlight polls that show Democratic and Republican voters strongly support Democratic proposals to expand Social Security, and to call on House leader Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on Larson’s legislative proposal prior to the upcoming mid-term elections.  

Throughout the hour-long internet discussion, they also condemned the recent attacks on Social Security from Senate Republicans. Specifically, Sen Ron Johnson has called for Social Security spending to be considered “discretionary spending” and subject to routine budget negotiations, even though the program is self-funded by workers. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairing the GOP’s committee to re-take the Senate, also has proposed a plan where Social Security would have to be renewed by Congress every five years. And finally, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is pushing for passage of the TRUST Act, which could fast-track legislation to cut Social Security benefits. 

“Social Security has provided our nation with the most comprehensive retirement, disability, and survivors benefits for 87 years,” said Larson. “Democrats are fighting to expand and protect it, yet my Republican colleagues have plans to cut benefits and even end the program as a whole,” he noted.

Larson noted that Congress had not acted in 50 years to enhance benefits. “The American people have made clear they want to protect the program they pay into with each and every paycheck so they can retire with dignity,” he said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting our country and Republicans revealing their plans to end benefits, there is a fierce urgency to protect and enhance Social Security now. Alongside commemorating 87 years of this program, Congress must pass Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust to make much needed benefit improvements and ensure this program can serve our nation for years to come. Congress must vote!” he said. 

Congresswomen Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Caucus Progressive, representing 100 lawmakers made an urgent call for the protection and expansion of Social Security. “It’s not an entitlement program,” she said, stressing that it is an earned benefit.

“The work we have to do to make sure that this earned benefit pays out the dividends that keep up with the requirement and needs of our Social Security benefit is what H. R. 2100 is all about,” she said, pushing Larson’s Social Security legislative proposal.  

Like Larson, Jayapal calls Social Security the most successful antipoverty program in this country.  “It has lifted more than 20 million Americans out of poverty, including one million children and more 16 million older Americans.  It provides a lifeline to over 16 disabled persons.,” she says.

Julian Blair, Chair of the Advisory Board, SPACEs in Action, called for Congress to get behind expanding and protecting Social Security. “Expanding Social Security …will allow us seniors, and many other people who depend on Social Security, to live with a little dignity—a right all of us have earned and should expect to receive from our country,” she said.

 Peter Morley, Patient Advocate & co-founder of Health Care Awareness Month, who is permanently disabled,” urged that Congress overhaul the and expedite the process for patients applying to SSDI and SSI. “They should not have to wait for years. It’s a tragedy and a shame on our country,” he said.

Urgency to Act Now

Four days before SSW’s virtual town meeting, Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) gave his thoughts as to the need to expand and strengthen Social Security in an opinion piece, “Let’s Honor Social Security’s 87th Anniversary by Strengthening and Expanding it,” published on the digital site, The Hill.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law 87 years ago, he didn’t “intend for it to remain frozen in place” but would need to be expanded with the nation’s changing demographics,” says NCPSSM’s Richtman.

“In fact, during the first 40 years of Social Security, Congress expanded the program no less than 15 times – mostly to broaden coverage and increase benefits.  In 1950, Social Security was expanded to cover domestic and agricultural workers.

In 1956, Congress added monthly disability benefits, which is why millions of workers with disabilities collect Social Security today. The 1972 amendments provided annual cost-of-living adjustments  (COLAs) to help beneficiaries keep up with inflation,” states Richtman. 

“Sadly, benefits have not been significantly improved since then. Instead, lawmakers have prioritized keeping the program’s trust fund solvent amidst waves of retiring baby boomers. In 1983, Congress increased the payroll tax and raised the retirement age gradually from 65 to 67, which was, in effect, a benefit cut. It was ‘hard medicine’ that affects retirees four decades later. At the time, Congress had little choice because it waited so long to act that Social Security was just months away from being unable to pay full benefits,” added Richtman in his opinion piece.

Like Larson and Jayapal, Richtman also called for strengthening Social Security and in his opinion, piece, urging passage of the Social Security 2100 Act, that expands Social Security benefits and extends the life of the trust fund. At press time, this legislative proposal has 208 cosponsors in the House. The legislative proposal has not one Republican supporting it and some moderate Democrats still haven’t endorsed it.

Richtman also expressed strong concern about the Republican proposals to cut and privatize Social Security if they take over leadership of the House and Senate Chambers. “When Congress returns from summer recess, Democrats have a limited window to enact the Social Security 2100 Act before the midterm elections and subsequent lame duck session, observes Richtman.

According to Richtman, under Larson’s legislative proposal, all beneficiaries would receive a 2 percent increase in boost in benefits — with special increases for widows and widowers, lower-income workers, and retirees over 85 years of age. Future COLAs would be based on a new inflation formula – the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly –  that more accurately reflects seniors’ spending patterns. 

Richtman says that Larson’s Social Security proposal would increase the flow of tax revenues into Social Security. Currently, he noted that high earners do not contribute to Social Security on wages exceeding $147,000. Under this proposal, wages above $400,000 also would be subject to payroll taxes. 

Overwhelming support for the Social Security’s proposal for passage

With the midterm elections just 57 days away, Congress must move quickly to bring Larson’s Social Security 2200 Act to the House floor for a vote.  Even with President Biden and 208 Democratic House lawmakers calling for a House vote on Social Security 2100 Act, it has been reported that Wendell Primus, House Leader Nancy Pelosi’s senior staffer on domestic policy issues, has advised his boss to pull the Social Security proposal from markup, reportedly over cost concerns, effectively derailing Larson’s efforts to get a House vote on his legislative proposal.

Almost 40 aging groups have joined 208 House lawmakers in advocating for expanding and protecting Social Security benefits received by over 70 million Americans.  Primus must rethink his position opposing House consideration.  If the GOP retains control of the House and Senate chambers, Democrats will not be able for years to improve the financial health and expand Social Security benefits. The GOP will control the House and Senate’s legislative agenda. Congressional Democrats and aging advocacy groups would be put in the defensive position to keep the program that we know so well in existence.

For details about the Social Security 2100 Act, go to https://larson.house.gov/sites/evo-subsites/larson.house.gov/files/Social%20Security%202100%20-%20Fact%20Sheet%20117th.pdf

To watch the livestream event, “Social Security Town Hall Meeting,” go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xycabwQSurI

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Larson Pushes to Get Social Security Reform Proposal for House Vote

Published in RINewsToday on June 13, 2022

The House Ways and Means Committee is preparing for a full mark-up on H.R. 5723, Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, authored by Committee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT) this summer. Last week Larson held a press conference calling for passage of the legislative proposal. 

The morning press conference, held on June 2nd at the Connecticut AFL-CIO headquarters, based in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, brought together Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne, Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans President Bette Marafino, State Senator Matt Lesser, State Senator Saud Anwar, State Representative Amy Morrin Bello to announce the endorsement of H.R. 5723 by the AFL-CIO.  The AFL-CIO is known as the nation’s largest federation of unions, made up of 56 national and international unions, representing more than 12 million active and retired workers.

On the same day, the Social Security Administration released the 2022 Social Security Trustee Report.

According to Larson’s statement, over 200 House Democrats [no Republican has yet to support the proposal], are cosponsoring H.R. 5723. Forty-two national organizations (aging, union, veterans, disability and consumer health organizations) are calling for passage of H.R. 5723, including the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition representing hundreds of national and state aging organizations.

Larson noted that it has been 50 years since Congress acted to expand Social Security benefits. The Connecticut Congressman stated: “By passing Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, we can act now to expand our nation’s most effective anti-poverty program and ensure this program remains a ‘sacred trust’ between the government and its people. It is an honor to stand alongside the AFL-CIO today as they announce their support for our legislation.”

“Social Security benefits are a promise made to workers and Social Security 2100 is essential in fulfilling this promise,” said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne. He praised Larson’s efforts to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision that harms Connecticut’s teachers, firefighters, and police officers by reducing social security benefits they earned because they are receiving pensions after years of dedicated public service.

“Retirees and those most vulnerable in our society depend on Social Security to live a life of dignity. The Connecticut AFL-CIO and our over-200,000 members stand in solidarity with Congressman Larson in his fight to ensure Social Security is a promise we keep for generations of Americans to come,” said Hawthorne.

State Senator Saud Anwar, (D-South Windsor) joined Larson and others, too, supporting H.R. 5723. “Social Security has long been an American institution, one relied upon and paid into by countless citizens who receive a promise that they will be taken care of,” said the Connecticut Senate’s Deputy President pro tempore. “We must take action to expand this program and ensure this vital service will remain available for future generations, and Social Security 2100 will do just that. I am grateful for Connecticut’s federal representatives in their work to support our communities, our state and our country,” he said.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who introduced the companion bill to H.R. 5723 in the Senate could not be there, but issued this statement: “As seniors and people with disabilities struggle with the costs of food, housing, and prescription drugs, this bill enhances and expands benefits for millions of Americans who need them. I am proud to stand with my colleagues and union members to support the Social Security 2100 Act, keeping this vital lifeline solvent ensuring our nation’s bedrock social insurance program will continue to provide current and future beneficiaries with a quality standard of living,” said Connecticut’s senior Senator. 

H.R. 5723: The Nuts and Bolts

On Oct. 26, 2021, H.R. 5723 was referred to the House Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Energy and Commerce Committees, being introduced in the lower chamber that day.

According to a legislative fact sheet, H.R. 5723 gives a benefit bump for current and new Social Security beneficiaries by providing an increase for all beneficiaries (receiving retirement, disability or dependent benefits).

Larson’s Social Security fix also protects Social Security beneficiaries against inflation by adopting a Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), to better reflect the costs incurred by seniors who spend a greater portion of their income on health care and other necessities.

This legislative proposal protects low-income workers by providing a new minimum benefit set at 25% above the poverty line and would be tied to wage levels to ensure that minimum benefits does not fall behind.

It also contains other provisions that seniors and their advocates have sought for years, including:

  • Improving Social Security benefits for widows and widowers in two income households so they are not penalized for having two incomes.
  • Ending the five-month waiting period to receive disability benefits so those with ALS or other severe disabilities no longer have to wait.
  • Providing caregiver credits for Social Security wages to ensure that caregivers are not penalized in retirement for taking timeout of the workforce to care for children and other dependents.
  • Extending Social Security benefits for students to age 26 and for part-time students.
  • Increasing access to Social Security dependents for children who live with grandparents or other relatives.                       

H.R. 5723 would pay for strengthening the Social Security Trust Fund by having millionaires and billionaires pay the same rate as everyone else. Currently, payroll taxes are not collected on an individual wages over $142,800. The legislative proposal would apply payroll taxes to wages above $400,000, only impacting the top 0.04% of wage earners.

Larson’s proposal would also extend the solvency of Social Security by giving Congress more time to ensure long-term solvency of the Trust Fund.  It also cuts long-term shortfalls by more than half.

Finally, H.R. 5723 would combine the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance with Disability Insurance into one Social Security Trust Fund, to ensure all benefits will be paid.

NCPSSM Pushes for Passage

Even with over 200 cosponsors, a Washington insider says that H.R. 5723 may be stalled because of concerns of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) policy staff about the cost of the proposed legislation.  At press time, House lawmakers are waiting for the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to score the legislation [to determine its cost], this being required to bring it to the House floor for a vote.

In a blog article, posted on May 27th by the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), seniors are urged to request their House lawmakers, if they are not currently cosponsoring H.R. 5723, to support Larson’s landmark legislation to strengthen Social Security.  According to the NCPSSM, Reps. Cynthia Axne (D-IA) Susie Lee (D-NV) and Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) are among the 22 Democrats that have not yet sponsored H.R. 5723. With the upcoming mid-term elections just 148 days away, these Democratic lawmakers may fear Republican attacks, accusing them of raising taxes, speculates NCPSSM.

“The more Democratic co-sponsorships the bill garners, the stronger the case that House leadership should bring it to the floor for a vote,” says NCPSSM.

NCPSSM reports that Larson’s Social Security proposal has strong public support. “A poll by Lake Research Partners showed that across party lines, 79% supported paying for an increase in benefits by having wealthy Americans pay the same rate into Social Security as everyone else. A recent survey of our members and supporters indicated 96 percent support for raising the cap,” says the Social Security Advocacy group.

NCPSSM says Larson’s legislative proposal gives Democrats an opportunity to build upon, strengthen, and expanding the Social Security program, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. 

Many feel it is time for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to use the power of her office, responding to over 200 Democrats in her Caucus, to bring H.R. 5723 to a House Ways and Means Committee and floor vote.  If the Republicans take control of the House and Senate Chambers, Social Security reform to expand and strengthen Social Security may be in jeopardy, so time is of the essence to supporters to see H.R. 5723 passed and enacted.

Controversial move by CMS limits coverage for new Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm 

Published in RINewsToday on April 25, 2022

Earlier this month, amid the pleas of the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, and other aging advocacy groups, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made its final decision to limit their Medicare coverage of the controversial Alzheimer’s drug, ADUHELM® , for only those Medicare recipients participating in clinical studies overseen by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or in other approved clinical trials.

When releasing its decision on April 7, CMS noted from the onset, the federal agency “ran a transparent, evidence-based process that incorporated more than 10,000 stakeholder comments and more than 250 peer-reviewed documents into the determination” to make its decision.

Calls for More Rigorous Studies

According to CMS, over 6 million older Americans are believed to have Alzheimer’s, and this prevalence is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060, barring effective interventions. CMS stated that effective treatments are needed, and because of the early, but promising, evidence and the immense burden of this devastating disease on the Medicare population, the agency is finalizing Medicare coverage, calling for rigorous studies approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and NIH to help answer whether this class of drugs improves health outcomes for patients.

“Science, evidence, and stakeholder input led our team of career civil servants and clinicians through this national coverage determination process. There is potential for promise with this treatment; however, there is not currently enough evidence of demonstrating improving health outcomes to say that it is reasonable and necessary for people with Medicare, which is key consideration for CMS when making national coverage determination, said Dr. Lee Fleisher, CMS Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, in a statement announcing CMS’s regulatory payment decision.

“In arriving at this final decision, we looked at the unique circumstances around this class of treatments and made a decision that weighed the potential for patient benefit against the significance of serious unknown factors that could lead to harm,” added Fleisher. “If a drug in this class shows evidence of clinical benefit through the traditional FDA approval process, then CMS will provide broad access and ensure the results from the rigorous trials are generalizable for people with Medicare participating in a CMS-approved study, such as a registry,” she said, noting that this decision was made to provide CMS flexibility to respond quickly to providing coverage for any new drugs in this class showing a clinical benefit. 

Biogen, a biotechnology company that manufacturers ADUHELM®m , was quick to give its opinion about CMS’s final decision about coverage of this drug. The Cambridge, Massachusetts based company charged that “this unprecedented decision effectively denies all Medicare beneficiaries access to ADUHELM®m , the first and only FDA approved therapy in a new class of Alzheimer’s drugs. It may also limit coverage for any future approved treatment in the class. These coverage restrictions, including the distinction between accelerated approval and traditional approval, have never been applied to FDA-approved medicines for other disease areas.”

When additional data from this new class of treatments become available, Biogen urged CMS to reconsider its final decision for all FDA-approved amyloid-beta targeting therapies. The company says that it is carefully considering its options and will provide updates as the company further evaluates the business impact of this decision.

Creating Unnecessary Barriers to Care 

Calling the CMS decision wrong, the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association expressed deep disappointment, charging that it has essentially ignored the needs of people living with Alzheimer’s disease. “CMS has created unnecessary barriers for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with Alzheimer’s, a fatal disease, should have FDA approved treatments covered by Medicare just as those facing other diseases do,” said Harry Johns, Alzheimer’s Association chief executive officer. 

Notably, CMS has said in its decision the only way for patients to access the first approved FDA treatment targeting amyloid in those living with Alzheimer’s is to enroll in a clinical trial. While we note CMS has expanded where those clinical trials may take place, in reality this remains an unnecessary and never before imposed barrier to access an FDA-approved treatment, says Johns.

“People living with MCI, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia deserve the same access to therapies given to those living with other conditions like cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. They deserve the opportunity to assess if an FDA-approved treatment is right for them,” said Joanne Pike, Dr.P.H., Alzheimer’s Association president. “Drugs that treat people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s could mean more time for individuals to actively participate in daily life, have sustained independence and hold on to memories longer,” she said.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, CMS has incorporated one of its recommendations into the final rule. “Importantly, CMS has decided to utilize a registry for future treatments granted full FDA approval. The Alzheimer’s Association registry will play an important role in collecting and analyzing real-world data. This registry will monitor and report clinical and safety endpoints for patients treated with FDA-approved AD therapies, including accompanying diagnostics, to track the long-term outcomes associated with these therapies in real-world settings. Similar successful registries in heart disease and cancer have enabled researchers, clinicians, health systems and payers to track the long-term performance of therapies using a large, real-world evidence dataset,” the advocacy group says. 

The Alzheimer’s Association also expressed strong concern about the immediate impact CMS’s decision will have on Alzheimer’s and dementia research and innovation. “The agency’s decision to essentially reject the Accelerated Approval Pathway for monoclonal antibodies targeting amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is broad overreach. Accelerated approval is a pathway created by Congress and utilized by FDA to allow for earlier approval of drugs that treat serious conditions, and that fill an unmet medical need. Alzheimer’s is a deadly disease with no survivors,” stated the advocacy group.

“The decision by CMS is a step backward for families facing Alzheimer’s disease,” said Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer. “Years of increased research funding has led to more progress and innovation than ever before, but today’s decision may halt this progress as developers question if there is a pathway forward to coverage,” she said.

Calls for Reducing Cost of Medicare Part B Premiums

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, calls on CMS to “swiftly reduce the hefty 2022 Medicare Part B premium increase ($21.60 per month), now that the agency has made its final decision to limit coverage of the controversial Alzheimer’s drug, ADUHELM®m, to patients in clinical trials.” 

“The spike in Medicare Part B premiums was partly based on the drug’s exorbitant cost (originally priced at $56,000 per year) and the potential expense of wider coverage,” says Richtman, noting that the agency is still “reviewing” Part B premiums, under previous direction from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Medicare beneficiaries struggling to pay their bills need relief from this year’s premium increase as soon as possible, warns Richtman. .

“The Aduhelm controversy highlights the urgent need for Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. If the price of Aduhelm had been negotiated, it is unlikely that it would have impacted Medicare premiums so dramatically in the first place,”  adds Richtman, 

For a fact sheet on Medicare coverage policy for monoclonal antibodies directed against amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, visit https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/medicare-coverage-policy-monoclonal-antibodies-directed-against-amyloid-treatment-alzheimers-disease.

To read the final NCD CED decision memorandum, visit https://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/view/ncacal-decision-memo.aspx?proposed=N&ncaid=305.