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Tag: medicare

Why Renegade Democrats Are Choosing Big Pharma Over Biden

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

When news broke Wednesday that three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee had voted with Republicans to torpedo a wildly popular provision to lower prescription drug pricing, one could be forgiven for thinking those members anticipate a bruising reelection campaign in 2022.

Instead, Reps. Scott Peters of California, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, and Kathleen Rice of New York are nowhere to be found on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's (DCCC) list of Democrats' most at-risk front-line members. Fortunately, the drug pricing provision remains viable after enough Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee approved it as part of the panel's overall measure. The only Democrat who voted against it on Ways and Means was Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, who doesn't appear on the DCCC's frontline list of vulnerable members either.

In fact, the drug pricing provision—which would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices—turns out to be wildly popular among a number House Democrats who are actually facing stiff reelection odds, as the HuffPost reporter Kevin Robillard wrote in July.

"The number one issue I hear about in my district is the cost of prescription drugs," said Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, who spearheaded a letter over the summer urging Democratic leadership to adopt the drug pricing measure.

Altogether, 15 Democrats signed onto Wild's letter—all of them part of the DCCC's front-line program.

So while Democratic members in states like Kansas, Iowa, and Georgia are trying to do right by their constituents in a battle for their political lives, those who hail from safe seats in states like New York and California are trying to doom one of the centerpieces of President Joe Biden's agenda.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices polls better than perhaps any other single provision in Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget bill. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll in May found that "nearly nine in ten (88 percent) favor allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower prices on medications, including three-fourths (77 percent) of Republicans, nine in ten independents (89%) and 96% of Democrats." The measure is also expected to save the federal government some $500 billion (give or take) over the course of a decade—savings that will then be used to expand the umbrella of Medicare coverage to include dental, vision, and hearing benefits.

So what gives with these conserva-Dems? Money. Big Pharma is dishing out big money to Democrats who voted against the provision. As HuffPost's Daniel Marans notes:

  • Murphy is the second-highest recipient of Big Pharma PAC money in Congress so far this cycle at $54,000 and received $117,500from those PACs in the 2020 cycle.
  • Peters, the third-highest recipient of Big Pharma PAC money in Congress this cycle at $55,800, received $209,300 from those PACs in the 2020 cycle.
  • Schrader, the 21st-highest recipient of Big Pharma PAC money this cycle at $24,000, received $142,000 from those PACs in the 2020 cycle.

Rice's Big Pharma PAC haul isn't nearly as eye-popping at $3,000 so far this cycle and $5,500 last cycle. But Rep. Lou Correa of California, who has also made noise about opposing the measure, has taken in $14,500 from Big Pharma PACs this cycle and banked $75,000 last cycle.

The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quick to respond to the initiative's failure to gain approval in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Polling consistently shows immense bipartisan support for Democrats' drug price negotiation legislation, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and independents who are fed up with Big Pharma charging Americans so much more than they charge for the same medicines overseas," said spokesperson Henry Connelly, promising that the initiative would "remain a cornerstone" of the Build Back Better Act.

Shortly after that statement, the Ways and Means panel approved almost identical drug pricing language.

The major hurdle, however, is that Pelosi can't afford to lose more than three Democrats on the $3.5 trillion budget bill overall. Murphy reportedly expressed optimism about still supporting the broader package, but "no" votes from Peters, Schafer, and Rice would imperil the entire bill.

Those members have also announced themselves as people who may invite a primary one day, particularly if they vote against overall passage.

"There's a lot of Democrats in deep blue seats who never get seriously challenged about how such large sums of corporate donations may influence their policy positions," said Waleed Shahid, a spokesperson for Justice Democrats, which works to unseat conserva-Dems in safe seats.

So, Ron DeSantis Wants To Be President

Beyond the human price of COVID-19 is the financial toll of treating the sick. Back in the day, conservatives touted fiscal responsibility — that is, keeping the cost of government in check.

But now we have the extraordinary example of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, apparently looking to run for president in 2024, backing policies designed to waste the maximum number of taxpayer dollars. From a fiscal point of view, his opposition to vaccine and mask requirements is insanity.

Here are some numbers to consider:

The required two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines cost the U.S. government less than $40. Either vaccine protects most people from contracting the disease, and for those who do, it lessens the severity, keeping them out of the hospital.

Florida hospitals are now clogged with the COVID-19-infected, with over half of their intensive care beds taken by patients with the virus. The median cost for a stay at an ICU or being on a ventilator in Florida is $234,732 for those without insurance, according to FAIR Health. With insurance, it runs at $115,497.

Oh, but DeSantis now has a cheaper alternative to hospitalization. He is pushing for monoclonal antibody treatments for those already sick. These antibody cocktails, such as Regeneron, seem fairly effective at keeping COVID-19 patients out of the hospital. DeSantis has opened at least 18 clinics in his state to deliver them.

The expense of running these treatment centers aside, Regeneron charges about $2,100 per dose to treat a disease that, again, could have been prevented for under $40. And these numbers don't take into account the care provided to survivors who suffer "long" COVID-19 — people who show disabling symptoms long after the disease has run its normal course.

Across America, the cost of COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults came to an estimated $2.3 billion in June and July alone, according to a Peterson-KFF analysis. Some 84 percent of these hospital admissions were preventable.

Where does the money come from?

Government-run Medicare covers necessary hospital care for older Americans. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expects hospital payments to go up by $3.7 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, much of the rise due to COVID-19.

However one may feel about hospitalized adults who could have gotten shots but didn't, the fact remains that many will be handed significant bills for treatment. How much depends on their insurance plan, but some survivors are getting hit with bills in the hundreds of thousands.

If the patient dies, the providers may go after family members or the estate for payment. A man whose father died of the virus reportedly received bills of more than $1 million.

Gone are the days early in the pandemic when many insurers waived the copayment for COVID-19 treatment. And who can blame them? Why not ask patients to pay their share at a time when they could have had their free shots and not become patients?

Despite the enormous amounts Medicare pays for treatment, beneficiaries are still expected to cover hospital deductibles and copays.

DeSantis, meanwhile, continues to defend a law that bans private businesses from requiring vaccines for service — a pain especially for cruise companies trying to draw passengers to their crowded ships. Disney Cruise Line has just joined Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian in ignoring the law and are now demanding proof of vaccination for passengers 12 and older.

The Florida governor evidently believes the path to a Republican presidential nomination requires appeasing the right-wing nuts who recently booed even Donald Trump when the former president urged people to get their shots.

Taxpayers should know that they are paying for this idiocy and vote accordingly.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com

Why Have No House Republicans Signed On To Stop Medicare Cuts?

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

The House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill to stop billions in automatic cuts to Medicare. GOP lawmakers who previously railed against the cuts are now silent on whether they'll back the legislative fix.

The bill is authored and co-sponsored by Democratic House committee chairs: Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth, Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, and Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal. Not a single Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor so far.

Last week, Congressional Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to help curb the coronavirus pandemic and fix the economic damage it has caused — without a single Republican vote in favor.

Because that legislation increases the deficit, a provision of a 2010 law designed to cut federal spending could automatically force cuts to Medicare, farm subsidies, and other programs. According to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, this would mean $36 billion in Medicare cuts and tens of billions of dollars in reductions to other programs.

This bill would waive those cuts — a move Kentucky Rep. Yarmuth said should be treated as a nonpartisan technical correction.

"When Republicans used reconciliation to pass tax cuts for the rich, Democrats voted with them to ... protect Medicare and other programs despite our strong opposition to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," he said in a press statement on Friday. "This legislation should have the same outcome, but if Republicans play political games and don't do their jobs, Medicare and the seniors that depend on it will pay the price."

But while at least 19 House Republicans cited the possible Medicare cuts as part of their rationale for opposing the $1.9 trillion relief bill, none are saying whether they will back the bill to avert them.

A spokesperson for only one of the 19 had responded to a request for comment before this story was published.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

McCarthy (CA) tweeted on March 11, "The American people deserve better than Biden and Pelosi's political payoff scheme. It causes $36 billion in cuts to Medicare."

Don Bacon

Bacon (NE) tweeted on March 10, "The Budget Committee said the 'COVID' bill will cut $3B from Nebraska Medicare. This totally partisan $1.9T bill comes when $1T has not been spent from previous relief bills."

Kevin Brady

Brady (TX) tweeted on Feb. 11, "Punish health care heroes? #WaysandMeans Democrat's partisan Covid bill cuts Medicare funding by $18 billion or more. Who is hurt? Doctors, nurses, health care heroes, nursing homes, hospitals."

Ken Buck

Buck (CO) tweeted on March 12: "The spike in deficit spending from House Democrats coronavirus aid package would trigger $381 billion in cuts to Medicare annually for the next five fiscal years, via the Congressional Budget Office. Translation: Democrats are taking away your healthcare during a pandemic."

Tim Burchett

Burchett (TX) tweeted on March 10, "The American taxpayers just got hosed for $1.9 trillion and Tennessee seniors got $8.4 billion cut from Medicare in the so called #CovidRelief bill."

Vern Buchanan

Buchanan (FL) tweeted on Feb. 27, "The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warned this week that Pelosi's bill could trigger a $36 billion cut in Medicare funding."

Michael Burgess

Burgess (TX) tweeted on March 1, "Besides not being compliant with the 'Byrd Rule,' Dems $1.9 trillion #COVID19 bill could lead to cuts in Medicare and raising fees for student loans."

Buddy Carter

Carter (GA) tweeted on March 4, "GA is the worst-hit state under the Pelosi Payoff because it rewards blue state lockdowns while punishing hardworking Georgians and seniors. If this plan becomes law, GA seniors will be hit with an $11.5b Medicare cut. Our senators from GA can and should stop this very bad deal."

Rick Crawford

Crawford (AR) tweeted on March 3, "Arkansas seniors will face the brunt of the damage due to the President's bailout bill. Seniors stand to endure Medicare cuts of approximately $4.7 billion over ten years. AR will also get $390 million LESS in direct Medicare funding. How is this bill good for AR, again?"

Mario Diaz-Balart

Diaz-Balart (FL) tweeted on March 10, "If this fake #COVID bill becomes law Florida's seniors will be hit with a $30.8B Medicare cut over 10 years."

Jeff Duncan

Duncan (SC) tweeted on Feb. 26, "Another reason to oppose the 'COVID-19 relief' bill – It could cause $36 billion in cuts to the Medicare Program to offset the Democrats reckless spending on their radical priorities that are unrelated to COVID-19."

Drew Ferguson

Ferguson (GA) tweeted on March 10, "Georgians are being robbed left, right, and center by Pelosi's Payoff to Progressives. It's unimaginable that our two new Senators – Warnock and Ossoff – voted to cut Medicare funding by $11.2 billion for Georgia's seniors. It's just plain wrong."

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Greene (GA) tweeted on Feb. 24, "The Biden Bailout cuts healthcare for seniors on Medicare. Under Statutory PAYGO, the plan will cause an approximately $30 billion cut to the Medicare program every year starting in 2022 and continuing for next 10 years. Why would Grandpa Joe hurt seniors?"

A spokesperson for Greene said her office would not "respond to requests from 'journalists' with pronouns in their signature."

Yvette Herrell

Herrell (NM) tweeted on Feb. 27, "Democrats wouldn't cut their earmarks for a Silicon Valley subway and a bridge to Canada, but their COVID bill triggers cuts to your Medicare," referencing two infrastructure provisions later stripped from the final version of the bill.

Mike Johnson

Johnson (LA) tweeted on March 8, "More important data that every Louisianian should see: The #PelosiPayoff will cut Medicare for Louisiana's seniors by $649 MILLION per year for TEN years. Calling this a 'rescue plan' is a sham."

Matt Rosendale

Rosendale (MT) tweeted on March 9, "The Democrats' $1.9 trillion stimulus spends an exorbitant amount on far-left priorities but still manages to take money from Montana seniors. Their bill will slash $1.6 BILLION from our state's Medicare over 10 years... This means about a $168 MILLION cut every year. No way!"

David Schweikert

Schweikert (AZ) tweeted on March 3, "ARIZONA SENIORS: The $1.9 Trillion Biden Bailout would result in a $8.1 Billion Cut to Medicare in our state if signed into law."

Jason Smith

Smith (MO) tweeted on Feb. 17, "As a result of Biden's bailout package, $30 BILLION will be cut from Medicare next year alone. $30 BILLION. These cuts will be devastating for our seniors and the providers who care for them."

Lloyd Smucker

Smucker (PA) tweeted on March 6, "President Biden's $1.9 Trillion Bailout will trigger $17.2 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare over the next decade. These cuts will hurt Pennsylvania's seniors."

A spokesperson for the House Budget Committee said she is optimistic the final vote will be bipartisan. "Presumably no one wants to see these critical programs upended, especially amid this once-in-a-generation crisis, and it is our hope that the votes will reflect that." she said in an email to The American Independent Foundation.

Updated with a comment from the House Budget Committee.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Biden Selects Medicare Advocate Becerra For HHS Secretary

Former Congressman and current California attorney general Xavier Becerra has been tapped to become president-elect Joe Biden's secretary of health and human services. The New York Times reports that Becerra "became Mr. Biden's clear choice only over the last few days," but had been seemingly off the radar up until the last few days.

The 62-year-old Becerra became California's first Latino attorney general in 2017, succeeding the Senator-elect Kamala Harris. Becerra will have his job cut out for him as, like with everything over the past four years, the HHS has been turned into a swampy racist mess. His job has been further complicated by Trump and the Republican Party's insistence on sabotaging every department, including HHS, all while almost 300,000 Americans have died due to the out of control COVID-19 pandemic in our country.

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Barrett Won’t Say Whether Medicare Is Constitutional

On the third day of Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate confirmation hearing, ranking Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA) asked her some hard questions regarding protections for senior citizens — for which Barrett had no real answer.

"Do you agree with originalists who say that the Medicare program is unconstitutional?" Feinstein asked the Supreme Court nominee.

"Well, let's see," Barrett said, pondering a moment. "So I think I can't answer that question in the abstract."

During the course of proceedings, Feinstein also questioned Barrett about the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which was signed into law in 1967 and prohibits employment discrimination against people 40 years of age and older.

"What do you understand to be the purpose of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act?" asked Feinstein.

Barrett responded with a reference to Kleber v. CareFusion Corp., a case that came before her on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which centered on a 58-year-old plaintiff who sued for being overlooked for a job in favor of a less-experienced 29-year-old applicant.

"In Kleber v. CareFusion, I joined a majority," Barrett answered. "... and the question is whether the prohibition on age discrimination covered applicants or only employees, and the statute said employees, and so an applicant isn't an employee, so the majority said that the statute by its terms didn't cover the conduct."

In that case, Barrett joined her peers on the court in ruling against the plaintiff, finding that the age discrimination act does not protect applicants, only employees.

If confirmed, Barrett's long-standing opposition to the Affordable Care Act could jeopardize the health of seniors if she votes to overturn it in California v. Texas, which will come before the court just after Election Day.

The high court's decision on whether to strike down the entirety of the ACA will have a far-reaching effect on seniors who rely on its protections.

And it's not hard to read the handwriting on the wall. In 2012, Barrett signed a public statement alongside other leaders referring to Obamacare's contraception coverage as an "assault on religious liberty."

Five years later, she roundly critiqued Chief Justice John Roberts, saying he used unconstitutional loopholes in order to preserve Obamacare.

Seniors would be disproportionally affected if the health care law is struck down.

Sixty million Americans depend on Medicare, the federal program for Americans over 65 and those with disabilities. If Obamacare is repealed, Medicare beneficiaries will likely see a marked increase in the cost of prescription drugs and preventive care, as well as their health insurance premiums.

A vote against Obamacare would also get rid of a 0.9 percent payroll tax increase for the wealthy, which means Medicare funding for vulnerable groups like seniors and the disabled would be lower than ever.

Senior Vice President of the Kaiser Family Foundation Tricia Neuman said a repeal would be "very disruptive" for seniors and would touch "virtually every part of Medicare."

Moreover, Obama's health care law reformed nursing homes across the nation and improved oversight and protections for residents. It's clear that nursing homes facing an influx of coronavirus during a global pandemic would suffer irreparable harm — such as limited options for long-term care, lessened protections for residents, and decreased quality of care.

Anne Montgomery, a policy adviser to the Senate Special Committee on Aging who helped write Obamacare's nursing home provisions, said if it were repealed it would send to seniors "a very unhelpful message" that "nursing-home transparency, accountability and improvement" are "not so important."

Barrett's positions endangering seniors are par for the GOP course: Donald Trump came under well-deserved fire Tuesday night when he shared a meme scorning Joe Biden and depicting him as elderly and disabled.

And Trump trails Biden among senior voters — which is why he's desperately currying favor with them by launching a last-minute multimillion-dollar ad campaign.

But nominating a Supreme Court Justice who's an existential threat to American seniors isn't going to help his cause.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

'Shameless Stunt': Trump Demands Drug-Discount Cards To Spur Failing Senior Support

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

If President Donald Trump loses to former Vice President Joe Biden in this year's presidential election, two of the main reasons are likely to be his response to his COVID-19 pandemic and his health care policy — specifically, Trump's push to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and its protections for people with preexisting conditions. One desperate move that Trump is making in the hope of saving his campaign is promising senior citizens drug discount cards, and Politico's Dan Diamond reports that Trump wants them to be available before November 3.

Diamond reports:

Caught by surprise by President Donald Trump's promise to deliver drug-discount cards to seniors, health officials are scrambling to get the nearly $8 billion plan done by Election Day, according to five officials and draft documents obtained by Politico. The taxpayer-funded plan, which was only announced two weeks ago and is being justified inside the White House and the Health Department as a test of the Medicare program, is being driven by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, the officials said.

The $200 cards, Diamond notes, "would resemble credit cards" and "would need to be used at pharmacies" — and they "would be paid for by tapping Medicare's trust fund."

Politico obtained a copy of a draft proposal for the plan that has been circulated in the White House, and according to the proposal, "The goal is to begin the test by distributing cards starting in October 2020."

Trump's idea for drug discount cards for seniors comes at a time when many polls are showing his support among seniors falling. And Rep. Frank Pallone, the Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, isn't the least bit impressed by the proposal. Pallone told Politico, "It's a shameless stunt that steals billions from Medicare in order to fund a legally dubious scheme that's clearly intended to benefit President Trump's campaign right before Election Day."

An official for the Department of Health and Human Services, quoted anonymously, told Politico, "It's turning into this last-minute, thrown-together thing." And another HHS official interviewed by Politico said, "This is a solution in search of a problem and a bald play for votes in the form of money in pockets."

Twitter has had plenty of reactions to Diamond's article and Trump's drug card proposal. Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the Program on Medicare Policy, tweeted, "A lot of people with Medicare might appreciate receiving a $200 drug discount card, but this doesn't do anything to address the persistent problem of rising drug prices. And for those taking expensive drugs who struggle to pay their monthly copays, $200 won't go very far."

Twitter user @ColorFiend wrote, "Trump is bribing seniors to vote for him, while Therese Walsh (editorial director of Writer Unboxed), posted, "Too bad he kneecapped usps, huh?" — a reference to problems in the United States Postal Service that have occurred under Trump's postmaster general, Louis DeJoy. And another Twitter user, Gordon G. Forbes, wrote, "Any voter that can be bought for $200 is a cheap date, or an easy mark. But Trump knows his base."Stacie Dusetzina, a professor at Vanderbilt University who has studied Medicare's drug program, went over the draft proposal — and Dusetzina told Politico, "There are a lot of things that seem problematic. It's an incredibly large amount of money to be spending, (and) it's not really solving any systemic problem."

No Payroll Tax, No Social Security -- And That's The GOP Scheme

By the time you read this, President Donald Trump's latest economic stimulus plan may be largely forgotten. But it has revived an unpleasant idea that the right fringe has been peddling for years: killing Social Security and Medicare.

We speak of an executive order that would cut payroll taxes. Payroll taxes fund virtually all of Social Security and much of Medicare. Without this money, Americans would have neither.

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Trump Vows To ’Terminate’ Funding For Social Security And Medicare

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump said over the weekend that if re-elected, he will "terminate" the taxes that finance Social Security and Medicare. Advocates of the popular federal programs took that remark as proof of their warnings over many months about Republican plans to sabotage and defund them -- beginning with the White House scheme to "suspend" payroll taxes in the name of pandemic relief.

Defying constitutional prohibitions, Trump announced that he had signed executive orders to bypass Congress in their dispute over a new relief bill, which included his unilateral decision to cut $200 weekly from the emergency federal unemployment supplements of $600 passed by Democrats, He called the order a payroll tax "holiday -- and while those taxes will eventually have to be repaid, Trump said he would make the cut permanent. Experts noted that this policy would bankrupt the Social Security and Medicare systems.

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