Urge Your Members of Congress to Pass Social Security 2100 Act
Beginning in 2020, Social Security will pay more in benefits than it takes in from taxes and interest income. Social Security will deplete its $2.9 trillion reserve fund in 2035, according to the Social Security Trustees.
Congress Should Waive Benefits Waiting Period for Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients
Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs in the body. Passage of the bill would waive the 5-month waiting period for Social Security Disability Insurance and the 24-month waiting period for eligible Medicare benefits.
Urge Congress to Pass Improving HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act to urge them to support passage of Improving Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) Act.
The bill requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to conduct outreach to make more health care providers aware that comprehensive care planning services are available under Medicare for individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Passage of the bill will ensure that more families are able to take advantage of this benefit so that they can better prepare for the challenges that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis brings.
Congress Must Act to Reduce Price of Prescription Drugs
For years members of Congress have been giving lip service on the need for legislation to reduce the price of prescription drugs, but bills haven’t been passed. This is the year that reasonable bills already introduced in Congress must get passed.
House Passes Three Drug Bills NRLN Supported
The U.S. House of Representatives passed on May 16 three prescription drug bills supported by the National Retiree Legislative Network (NRLN). The bills passed were:
H.R. 1499, Protecting Consumer Access to Generic Drugs Act of 2019, is intended to prohibit the practice of “pay-for-delay,” in which brand name drug companies compensate generic drug makers to delay the entry of lower price generic drugs into the market. H.R. 1499 creates a civil penalty to further discourage “pay-for-delay” agreements between name brand drug companies and generic drug makers. According to a Federal Trade Commission, these anti-competitive deals cost Americas $3.5 billion annually in higher drug prices.
H.R. 965, CREATES Act (Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act) targets abusive delay tactics used by brand-name pharmaceutical companies to block market entry of more affordable generic drugs. H.R. 965 is intended to provide an efficient path for generic drug manufacturers to obtain samples of the branded product so the generic company can perform the testing necessary to show that its product is equivalent to the brand-name product. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the CREATES Act will result in a $3.9 billion net decrease in the federal deficit over 10 years. Savings to consumers and private insurers likely would be far greater.
H.R. 938, BLOCKING Act of 2019 (Bringing Low-Cost Options and Competition while Keeping Incentives for New Generics Act of 2019) would increase competition in the generic drug market. Current law awards 180 days of exclusivity on the market to a drug manufacturer when it is the first to file a generic drug application with the FDA for a drug for which there is no generic. The 180 days begins once the manufacturer starts marketing the drug, but some manufacturers “park” the exclusivity before receiving final approval, blocking competition for more than the 180 days intended by the law. H. R. 938 would stop first generic drug “parking”.
The NRLN was the first retirees’ advocacy organization back in 2009 to lobby for legislation to prohibit “pay-for-delay” and other cost saving actions, including allow Medicare to do competitive bidding for prescription drugs and the importation of lower price drugs that meet the FDA safety standards.
Our most recent effort to end pay-for-delay was the NRLN’s Legislative Action Planning Committee’s (LAPC) request that I write a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting that she call for votes of H.R. 1499 and H.R. 938. Alyson Parker, NRLN Executive Director, emailed my May 8, 2019 letter for Speaker Pelosi to Wendal Primus, Senior Health Policy Adviser to Speaker Pelosi, who has been heading House Democrat negotiations on prescription drug bills.
Alyson, Ed Beltram, NRLN VP – Communications, and I met with Mr. Primus during our February fly-in to Washington, DC. We presented our prescription drugs whitepaper and expressed our alarm that Medicare Advantage plans provided by private insurers are receiving taxpayer subsidies to provide benefits that participants in traditional Medicare do not receive. We oppose this effort by Congress to privatize Medicare.
On March 7, 2019, at the LAPC’s request, I sent a letter to Representative Frank Pallone (NJ-06) Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee to request that he call for a committee vote on H.R. 965. All three prescription drug bills passed by the House came out of Chairman Pallone’s committee.
Passage of the three prescription drug bills were consolidated into H.R. 987, Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act. The bill also included measures to strengthen the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Some Republican House members who voted against the bill have been quoted in news articles that they believe H.R. 987 will not be passed in the Senate, where the Republicans have a majority, because of the ACA provisions included in the bill.
The NRLN will monitor the bill in the Senate and, if necessary, issue an Action Alert in an effort to support the prescription drug price reductions.
Most NRLN members probably are aware that the NRLN is an advocate for reducing the cost of prescription drugs. However, you are probably not aware of how far back our lobbying on this issue goes. On July 22, 2009, I sent a letter to Peter R. Orszag, who was White House Budget Director during the first term of President Obama. The letter, in part, stated:
I believe that Americans could be provided with immediate health care savings if the White House would urge Congress to enact legislation to:
- Allow the full importation of safe, less expensive prescription drugs from countries certified by the Federal Drug Administration.
- Adequately fund the FDA to properly oversee prescription drug imports.
- Sufficiently staff the FDA to reduce the backlog of generic drugs and streamline the process to bring generic drugs to the market in a timelier manner, and fund these activities through fees from the drug companies.
- Implement competitive bidding for prescription drugs by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including establishing a national formulary. Competitive bidding has proven to be very cost-effective for participants in the Veterans Administration health care program and it can achieve similar results for the CMS.
- Advise President Obama to direct the Attorney General to take legal action against drug companies that collude verbally or by contract to control pricing or subvert free market practices by paying off generic manufacturers for withholding the introduction of generic drugs until brand name patents expire or for any other reason, a.k.a. “pay-for-delay or “reverse payments” deals.
- Ask the Congressional Budget Office to conduct a study to determine the cost savings to be gained from these actions.
The NRLN will continue to lobby for legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs because on it is important to our members and all Americans.
Talks to Lower Rx Costs
The Trump administration is in early talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about possible legislation to lower prescription drug costs, according to a March 26 CNBC article. High drug costs have become a rare bipartisan issue with both parties demanding something be done.
White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan and legislative director Shahira Knight are leading the talks for the Trump administration. Wendell Primus, Senior Health Policy Adviser for Speaker Pelosi, is leading the talks for the House Democrats.
Alyson Parker, NRLN Executive Director, Ed Beltram, NRLN Vice President – Communications, and I met with Mr. Primus on February 26 during the NRLN’s conference in Washington, DC. We had a discussion with him on our whitepapers for reducing prescription drug costs and concerns that taxpayer subsidies to Medicare Advantage plans are moving Medicare toward privatization. (See photo above of our discussion.)
We hope the NRLN’s position on what to do about high prescription drug costs will be part of the Mr. Primus’ discussion for legislation.
We Charged the [Capitol] Hill
Armed with folders containing NRLN whitepaper Executive Summaries and Talking Points, attendees spread out across Capitol Hill on Feb. 26 and 27 for 70 appointments with Representatives, Senators and/or members of their staffs to advocate five important retirement issues during the NRLN’s Annual Leadership Conference in Washington, DC.
A day earlier during the morning of Feb. 25, the NRLN Board reviewed 2018 financials, adopted a budget for 2019, elected two new Board members and approved a proposal to recruit additional Retiree Associations, NRLN Chapters and individual members. Articles on the new Board members and details of the membership development plan will be covered in the spring NRN FOCUS newsletter.
At the NRLN hosted dinner, Tom Reeder, Director, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) was the guest speaker. He and two of his staff members Michael Rae and Amy Viener visited with attendees before and after dinner. Key issues addressed by Director Reeder will be included in the FOCUS article.
During the afternoon of Feb. 25, there was a 4.5-hour session to brief attendees on the issues they would advocate during the appointments they had scheduled on Capitol Hill and provided them with the folders they would present to lawmakers and their staffs. The issues advocated on the Hill included:
- Lobbying to reduce the price of prescription drugs through legislation that requires Medicare to do competitive bidding; import safe and lower price drugs from Canada, and stops the anti-competitive pay-for-delay tactic by brand-name drugmakers to prevent or delay generic drugs from being available to Americans.
- The goal of many in Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is to shift federal health care expenses onto the backs of seniors. Medicare Advantage (MA) plans are being used as the “Trojan horse” to move Medicare toward privatization. Should privatization happen, the NRLN is lobbying to grandfather and protect the 19 million seniors (33% of all Medicare beneficiaries) who have purchased MA plans in good faith; require federal agencies to investigate and publish comparisons of cost and effectiveness of traditional Medicare and MA; require CMS not to authorize benefits for MA plans that are not provided for traditional Medicare, and reduce the $141 billion annual federal wrong and improper payments (particularly the $90 billion attributable to Medicare and Medicaid) and sequester the saving to be used to eliminate the 75-year deficit for Medicare Part A and B, then Medicare Part D.
- Lobbying to protect retirees when a pension plan sponsor does “de-risking”, the action to replace a pension plan with a lump sum buyout and/or converting to a life insurance annuity. The NRLN wants individuals to have the option to remain as plan participants. If an annuity is selected the plan must purchase reinsurance from a separate, highly-rated insurer to guarantee the payment of benefits, in case of default by the initial life insurance company.
- When retirees receive their first pension check, they trust the amount shown on the check will be what they should receive monthly. Far too often, pension plan sponsors later find an error in the pension payment calculation and force retirees to pay back thousands of dollars and suffer a large cut in benefits as well. Attendees lobbied for legislation to indemnify individual plan participants from the requirement to refund overpayments by instructing actuaries to account for recoupment as a pension plan funding risk.
- Lobbying to amend the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) of 1986 and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 to allow employers with generously overfunded pension plans to use a portion of the plan’s surplus assets to fund retiree benefits, such as, health care and life insurance.
Organizations represented at the conference and on the Hill were Detroit Edison Alliance of Retirees, Eastman Kodak Retirees Association, Engineering Retirees Society (Boeing), Lucent Retirees Organization, National Chrysler Retirement Organization, U S West Retirees Association, NRLN DuPont Retirees Chapter, NRLN General Motors Chapter, NRLN Desert Southwest Region, NRLN Pacific / Mountain West Region.
Click here to view a few of the photos from Washington, DC.
Protect Retirees from Pension Plan Recoupment
When retirees receive their first pension check they trust the amount shown on the check will be what they should receive monthly. Far too often pension plan sponsors later find an error in the pension payment calculation and force retirees to pay back thousands of dollars and suffer a large cut in benefits as well. Click here to email the NRLN’s sample letter to your members of Congress to urge them to support the NRLN’s proposal for a more equitable approach to recouping pension overpayments.
Social Security Not Meant to Pay for Family Leave
Click here to email the NRLN’s sample letter to your Senators and Representatives to tell them you oppose the Economic Security for New Parents Act that would give parents the option to pull a portion of their future Social Security benefits to finance paid family leave. Social Security was not meant to pay for family leave. Workers pay into Social Security throughout their careers and when they reach the eligibility age, Social Security should be there for them, not delayed because of a decision they made years earlier to take parental leave.