Seniors would benefit in President Biden’s $6 trillion budget

Published in RINewsToday on June 14, 2021

On May 28, with the release of a $6 trillion budget for fiscal year (FY) 2022, President Joe Biden outlined his values and vision as to how he proposes to revive the nation’s sputtering economic engine as it emerges from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 72-page budget document, “Budget of the United States,” (with more than a 1,400-page appendix) details his spending priorities that begin next Oct. 1. Biden’s generous budget depends on increasing taxes on America’s corporations (from 21 to 28 percent) and high earners, who received significant tax breaks from the President Trump/GOP tax cuts of 2017.

With the FY 2022 Budget pushing federal debt to the highest levels since World War 1I, Republican lawmakers quickly called the proposal “dead on arrival” in Congress.  However, Cecilia Rouse, chair of President Biden’s Council of Economic Advisors says the Biden Administration is willing to live with a budget deficit to invest in the economy now, especially with low interest rates to borrow; deficits can be reduced later. 

President Biden’s new spending under the just released proposed FY 2022 budget, recognizing his Administration’s priorities, reflects the major proposals already outlined under the administration’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. Provisions in these two proposals would overhaul the nation’s aging infrastructure and invest in education, childcare, paid family and medical leave, fight climate change. 

President Biden’s spending plan also recognizes priorities outlined in the American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year as well as the Administration’s “skinny” discretionary budget request released in April. Most importantly, it reflects a commitment from the president to safeguard Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Loving It or Hating It Depends on Where You Sit

In remarks delivered Thursday in Cleveland, President Biden made the case for his budget request and what he describes as an investment in the country’s future. “Now is the time to build [on] the foundation that we’ve laid to make bold investments in our families and our communities and our nation,” he said. “We know from history that these kinds of investments raise both the floor and the ceiling over the economy for everybody.”

In the FY 2020 Budget proposal’s “Message from the President”, Biden says, “The Budget invests directly in the American People and will strengthen the nation’s economy and improve our long run fiscal health. It reforms our broken tax code to reward work instead of wealth while fully paying for the American Jobs and American Family Plans over a 15- year period. It will help us build a recovery that is broad-based, inclusive, sustained, and strong,”

Of course, response to Biden’s Spending plan depends on which side of the aisle you are sitting.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released a statement strongly endorsing Biden’s fiscal blueprint. “Congressional Democrats look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to enact this visionary budget, which will pave the path to opportunity and prosperity for our nation. The Biden Budget is a budget for the people,” she said.

On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell strongly opposing Biden’s Budget proposal. “Americans are already hurting from far-left economics that ignores reality,” said McConnell, in a statement. “The Administration’s counterproductive ‘COVID relief bill’ has slowed rehiring. Families are facing painful inflation, just as experts warned the Democrats’ plans might cause. And the Administration wants to triple down on the same mistakes?” said the six-term Republican Kentucky Senator.

With the Democrats holding the slim majorities in the House and Senate and controlling the White House, Biden’s FY 2022 Budget proposal will have more weight than if the Republicans were in the majority, says Dan Adcock, Government Relations and Policy Director at the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM).

According to Adcock, Biden’s funding numbers will change as his FY 2022 budget proposal goes through the appropriation process in the upcoming months. With its release, Congress can now begin negotiating funding levels and spending bills. Competition for a finite amount of funding will ultimately result in funding level ultimately allotted to programs and agencies by each of the 12 appropriations under their jurisdiction. Funding for most programs important to older Americans is under the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

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

Slashing Drug Costs to Pay for Expanding Medicare Coverage

Richtman says that Biden’s fiscal blueprint calls on Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate prices for certain high-cost, life-saving drugs that many seniors currently cannot afford and to require manufacturers to pay rebates when drug prices rise faster than inflation. These reforms could yield over half a trillion in federal savings over 10 years, which could help pay for coverage expansions and improvements, including access to dental, hearing, and vision coverage in Medicare,” he notes. Today, traditional Medicare does not cover routine care like dental checkups or hearing aids.

According to Richtman, President Biden’s budget also includes more than $400 billion in new spending over ten years to expand Home and Community-based Services (HCBS) for low-income seniors and people with disabilities who prefer to receive skilled care in the comfort of their homes and communities, even moreso after the devastation COVID wrought on nursing homes.  

In states that have not taken advantage of Affordable Care Act (ACA) opportunities to expand Medicaid, the budget proposes providing premium-free, Medicaid-like coverage through a federal public option, along with incentives for states to maintain their existing expansions. 

Biden’s FY 2022 budget also urges Congress to improve customer service for Social Security beneficiaries to prescription drug pricing reform to expanded HCBS, adds Richtman.  It also proposes a $1.3 billion (or 9.7%) funding increase for the Social Security Administration.  The increase seeks to improve customer service, including services at SSA’s field offices, state disability determination services, and teleservice centers.

 The Older Americans Act (OAA) provides funding for a wide range of home and community-based services, such as meals-on-wheels and other nutrition programs, in-home services, transportation, legal services, elder abuse prevention and caregivers’ support. These programs help seniors stay as independent as possible in their homes and communities. 

For details about Biden’s FY 2022 Budget proposal and OAA funding levels, made available from the Washington, DC-based National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, go to: https://www.n4a.org//Files/FY22%20PresBudget%20and%20historical%20Labor-HHS%20Appropriations%20Chart.pdf

 Stay Tuned 

The House continues its work on hammering out appropriation bills through subcommittees in June and in the full House in July.  The Senate’s work is expected to begin in mid-Summer and to continue well into September. If the appropriate bills are not passed and signed into law by Oct. 1, Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution to fund the federal government into the first months of FY 2022.

Like most Budget proposals, especially in a partisan Congress, Biden’s spending plan will need to be rewritten to win support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. However, it will serve as a roadmap for a Democratic controlled Congress in crafting 12 appropriation spending bills. Partisan bickering during the appropriations process may well force passage of a continuing resolution before Oct. 1 to block a government shutdown. 

Older Georgian Voters Key to Winning Senate Runoff Election

Published in the Pawtucket Times on December 21, 2020

Weiss Both Democrats and Republicans know that the proverbial clock is ticking.  It’s 15 days before the Georgia’s Senate runoff election scheduled for Jan. 15.   At press time, 1,336,136 registered Georgia voters have gone to the polls, says the U.S. Election Project.   The percent turnout of registered voters is 17.5 percent.    

Although Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden beat President Trump to take the White House and the House Democrats maintain a very slim majority in their chamber, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can still block Democratic legislative proposals by controlling the upper chamber’s agenda.  He must keep two GOP Senate seats up for grabs in next month’s U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia.  A Democratic win will give the party a majority 50 Senate seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie.  In order to pick up the two GOP Senate seats, held by incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Democrats must successfully mobilize voters and adequately fund the campaigns of the Democrat candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnoc. 

Capturing Georgia’s Senior Vote 

A new poll, released on Dec. 11 by AARP Georgia, predicts that age 50 and over voters may well bring the two Democratic Senate candidates to Capitol Hill.  Social Security, Medicare and Nursing home protections are key issues for these older voters, says the pollsters.

 The survey of 1,250 2020 Georgia voters, including 857 age 50-plus voters and an oversample of 358 Black voters age 50-plus, was conducted on behalf of AARP by the bipartisan team of Fabrizio Ward and Hart Research Associates between Nov. 30 and Dec. 4, 2020.  The telephone/cell phone poll results were published in a 11-page report, “50+ Voters and the Georgia State Runoff Elections.”   

According to AARP Georgia’s bipartisan poll, both U.S. Senate races are statistically tied, with Democrat Jon Ossoff (48 precent) narrowly leading Republican incumbent David Perdue (46 percent) and Democrat Raphael Warnock (47 percent) edging out Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler (46 percent). But among voters age 50 and over, the poll shows both the Republican candidates lead their Democratic challenger by identical margins, 53 percent for Perdue and Loeffler versus 42 percent for Ossoff and Warnock. Just percent of the voters are undecided.

Further, the poll found majorities of Republicans and Democrats age 50 and over are more likely to vote for a candidate advocating for policies that protect older Americans, like using Medicare’s buying power to help lower drug prices. “These results show that both races are a dead heat and time is running out for candidates to address the concerns of 50-plus voters,” said AARP Georgia State Director Debra Tyler-Horton in a statement announcing the release of the poll’s results. “To win, candidates must discuss the issues that matter to 50-plus Georgians now – like preventing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, lowering drug prices and protecting seniors in nursing homes,” she says.  

Georgia’s Republican and Democratic 50-plus voters told the pollsters that they are much more or somewhat more likely to support a Senate candidate who advocates to protect Medicare (Republicans 83 percent, Democrats 96 percent) and to allow the national health insurance program to negotiate with drug companies (Republicans 93 percent, Democrats 94 percent).  The survey’s respondents also wanted Congress to protect Social Security (Republicans 90 percent. Democrats 93 percent). 

Additionally, the older survey respondents call for more protections for nursing home residents during COVID-19 (Republicans 79 percent, Democrats 95 percent).  They want Congress for providing tax credits for family caregivers to help offset costs (Republicans 69 percent, Democrats 90 percent), and support the strengthening of federal age discrimination laws (Republicans 53 percent, Democrats 81 precent). 

As to today’s COVID-19, pandemic, the AARP Georgia survey findings indicate that older Georgian’s willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has increased a substantial 14 points—from 41 percent to 55 percent—since September, when over half said they would not agree to be vaccinated.  And two in five 50-plus voters told pollsters that nursing home safety is “extremely important” to them in 2020.  It’s especially important to Black voters (53 percent), people who know someone who died from COVID-19 (51 percent), and to those who worry a lot about getting COVID-19 (48 percent). 

NCPSSM to Encourage Turnout of Older Georgia Voters

Recognizing the importance of mobilizing Georgia’s older voters, the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) announced the launching of a voter outreach campaign in the Peach State to encourage turnout and promote Democratic Senate candidates Warnock and Ossof as advocates for the state’s seniors. The campaign includes radio ads in the Atlanta market, postcard mailings to thousands of National Committee members and supporters throughout the state, and social media outreach to the Georgia’s voters.The National Committee has made a five-figure advertising buy on three Atlanta radio stations beginning December 15th through the runoff election on January 5th. 

“Only two candidates are ready to put Georgia seniors’ health and economic well-being first, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock,” the radio ad tells voters.  Postcards are being mailed to more than 7,000 National Committee members in Georgia, bearing the message, “Your best future starts with your vote for John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.”

“We need the leadership, vision and determination of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to fight for seniors in the U.S. Senate. They will work to protect Social Security and Medicare from harmful proposals to cut the benefits Georgians have earned.  They will be voices to strengthen the critical lifelines of Social Security and Medicare during the COVID pandemic, when older Georgians are counting on their earned benefits more than ever,” said Max Richtman, NCPSSM’s president and CEO.  “Georgia has 1.3 million Social Security beneficiaries and 1.8 million Medicare enrollees.  The average Social Security benefit in Georgia is $1,500 per month.  Those benefits provide $45.3 billion in annual economic stimulus to communities across the state, he notes.

While Warnock and Ossoff earned the National Committee’s endorsement by making it clear that they will standup to protect and strengthen Social Security, the incumbent GOP Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have paid lip service to protecting Social Security, says Richtman.  As U.S. Senators, they have supported GOP positions of cutting the benefits of future beneficiaries and deferring Social Security’s payroll tax last August that will force workers to repay those funds back in early 2021, he says.

Controlling the Senate’s Legislative Agenda

“Wins by Warnock and Ossoff would not only be a victory for Georgians. It would give President-elect Biden and his party the power in the U.S. Senate to actually get things done for seniors after four years of obstruction, says Richtman.

For a copy of AARP Georgia’s poll findings, go to:
https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/politics/2020/2020-election-battleground-states-senate-georgia-runoff-election.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00401.029.pdf

Ahead of Midterms, Trump Unveils His Proposal to Slash Prescription Drug Costs

Published in Woonsocket Call on October 28, 2018

With mid-term elections looming, President Trump moves to block Democrats tying the high cost of prescription drugs to an unresponsive Republican-controlled Congress and to GOP efforts to undo health care protections for people with preexisting medical conditions, one of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, referred to as Obamacare.

According to recent Roll Call poll, health care is a top issue for Democratic and Independent voters in key battle ground states while the GOP tout’s immigration and the economy and jobs as its priority.

Last Thursday, afternoon, at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with Secretary Alex Aza, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and CMS Administrator Seem Verman standing by President Trump, he announced major changes as to how Medicare pays for prescription drug to bring down costs by making prescribed medications more affordable to seniors, making pricing of U.S. drugs fairer relative to costs paid by other countries.

Bringing Down Medicare’s Skyrocketing Drug Costs

“We’re taking aim at the global freeloading that forces American consumers to subsidize lower prices in foreign countries through higher prices in our country,” said Trump at the Oct. 25 press conference in his 14-minute speech. He noted that the costs for the same pharmaceutical drug in some countries are 20 percent less than those purchased in the United States even though it was made by the same manufacturing company.

“At long last, the drug companies and foreign countries will be held accountable for how they rigged the system against American consumers,” says Trump.

Trump rattled off specific examples of how Medicare pays higher prices for the same pharmaceutical drugs that are cheaper in other developed countries. For instance, one eye medication that prevents blindness would annually cost about $187 million rather than $1 billion dollars if Medicare paid the same prices other countries pay, he said.

Another example, a highly used and very effective cancer drug is nearly seven times as expensive for Medicare as it is for other countries, said Trump, noting that “this happens because the government pays whatever price the drug companies set without any negotiation whatsoever.”

Under Trump’s unveiled proposal, a new Medicare model, the International Pricing Index (IPI), is created to bring down Medicare drug costs to ensure seniors get a “more fair deal on the discounts drug companies voluntarily give to other countries.”

Currently, Medicare sets payments for physician-administered drugs at the average sales price in the U.S. market—plus a price-based add-on fee. Trump’s proposal would allow Medicare to set the payment of these drugs at a Target Price, based on the discounts drug companies give other countries. With the model fully implemented, it is estimated that total payment for these drugs would drop by 30 percent.

Under the IPI model, described in an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Medicare’s payments for select physician-administered drugs would shift to a level more closely aligned with prices in other countries. Overall savings for American taxpayers and patients is projected to total $17.2 billion, with out-of-pocket savings potentially totaling $3.4 billion over five years.

Medicare beneficiaries not covered by the IPI model could also see their drug costs lowered, because the average price used to calculate traditional Medicare reimbursement will drop.

Trump’s drug pricing proposal still needs to be refined and put though a federal rule-making process and its impact may not be seen for years.

Is Trump’s Efforts to Lower Drug Costs Just Election Year Posturing?

“It’s hard to take the Trump administration and Republicans seriously about reducing health care costs for seniors two weeks before the election when they have repeatedly advocated for and implemented policies that strip away protections for people with pre-existing conditions and lead to increased health care costs for millions of Americans,” says U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck E. Schumer in a statement.

“Once again, the President’s plan doesn’t go far enough to bring down the costs of prescription drugs. Democrats have proposed letting the HHS Secretary negotiate the prices of all drugs covered under Medicare, as well as new tools to ensure transparency and accountability when companies try to raise their prices. Without these critical steps, the President’s plan is just more words with little substance,” says Rhode Island Congressman David N. Cicilline.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) president and CEO Stephen J. Ubl, opposes Trump’s proposal to lower Medicare’s drug costs, warning that it would “jeopardize access to medicines for seniors and patients with disabilities living with devastating conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.” Trump’s proposal severely alters the Medicare Part B program by reducing physician reimbursement and inserting middlemen between patients and their physicians,” charges Ubl.

Adds, Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, in his statement: “The data is clear. The way we currently pay providers and pharmaceutical companies for drugs administered in doctors’ offices and hospitals creates perverse financial incentives for providers to select extraordinarily expensive drugs that may not be best for their patients. “

“Medicare Part B is the perfect example of misaligned incentives, and the proposed rule, if implemented, could pilot significant new ways to pay for drugs that align incentives so that patients get the highest value care, they have the best outcomes possible, and costs come down, says Isasi.

Like many, Isasi hopes that Trump’s proposal of using the power of the federal government to reduce Medicare drug costs is “not just election year posturing” but truly reflects a policy shift to using federal negotiating power to get unstainable prescription drug prices under control.

Next year, after the dust settles after the mid-term elections, Congress must work together to hammer out a comprehensive legislative strategy to lower pharmaceutical drug costs and to provide health care to all Americans. Listen to the polls.