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Public Policy: Medicare

This fall, must-pass legislation will provide opportunities for Congress and the President to strengthen and/or harm the economic and health security of over 50 million older Americans.  Before they leave for recess in December, Congress faces bill approval deadlines to avoid a government shutdown, a default, and to extend transportation funding and certain tax breaks. As part of the annual appropriations process, a deal will be sought to mitigate the full return of the “sequester” – automatic across-the-board limitations on defense and non-defense discretionary spending.  Some or all of the bills that must be passed by the end of the year could be combined into a single legislative vehicle if a larger agreement can be made between the President and Congressional leaders.     

In my current position and as a former staff director of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I especially appreciate the opportunity to testify today as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Medicare program.  I commend Senator Claire McCaskill, Ranking Member of the Aging Committee, for holding this field hearing on strengthening Medicare for the next 50 years.  


The 2015 Medicare Trustees Report shows that Medicare solvency remains greatly improved since passage of health care reform with the Hospital Trust Fund paying full benefits until 2030 and the increase in per enrollee spending continuing to be lower than overall health spending. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other changes in the health care system, including payment and delivery system reforms that emphasize coordinated care especially for people with multiple chronic conditions, incentives that are reducing the rate of hospital readmissions, and a slowdown in payments to hospitals and private Medicare plans, are improving Medicare’s financing. At the same time, millions of Medicare beneficiaries are receiving preventive screenings and wellness visits without copayments and increased help with their prescription drug costs. 


The United States Trade Representative (USTR) is pursuing language in trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) that could restrict the ability for the United States and other countries to manage prescription drug and medical device costs in public programs

The House and Senate Budget Resolutions for Fiscal Year 2016 would make cuts to the Medicare and Medicaid programs and repeal the Affordable Care Act, actions which would jeopardize health care for millions of Americans.  Moreover, the House of Representatives would obstruct commonsense proposals that would strengthen the finances of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.


The Social Security Administration (SSA) advises Americans to keep their Social Security card in a safe place.  At the same time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) tells their beneficiaries to carry their Medicare card – which includes their Social Security number – with them at all times.  What is a Medicare beneficiary to do?  And what should the government do about this conflict?

On February 2, 2015, President Obama submitted his Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget to Congress. For seniors, there is good news and bad news in some of the key proposals which are summarized below. In addition to the National Committee’s long-standing opposition to any benefit cuts, we will vigorously support proposals that enhance benefits, strengthen safety net programs and improve the quality of life for older Americans and their families.  Some of the more significant proposals, including the National Committee’s positions, are detailed in our budget analysis.      


As the new 114th Congress begins its work, we've detailed a myriad of legislative priorities which would continue to build and strengthen Social Security and Medicare's historic legacy for current and future beneficiaries. 

The 2014 Medicare Trustees Report shows an improved financial outlook for Medicare, including a four-year extension of the Medicare Part A Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund, due to implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other changes in the health care system.
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