Legislative Newsletter Update 26 October 2009 



Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's 
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Monday when Congress is in session. 

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's 
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Monday when Congress is in session. 


In this issue:

  • Medicare/TRICARE Fix Fails
  • Military Retirees not included in Administration Recovery Payment











 Medicare/TRICARE Fix Fails

AUSA is disappointed that there is still no fix to block a scheduled 21 percent reduction in Medicare payments to doctors in 2010.   Since TRICARE payments are tied to Medicare, it affects military beneficiaries also.

Legislation offered by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., addressed Congress’ ongoing problem with the so-called sustainable growth rate, a formula that in recent years has called for cuts in Medicare and TRICARE reimbursements, forcing lawmakers to ram through annual fixes. Sixty votes were needed to give the legislation a chance of passage in the Senate.  It failed with 53 senators voting against it — including 12 Democrats.  Democrats who voted against the measure balked at the roughly $245 billion cost of the bill which would not be offset.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated that the leadership will settle for the same solution Congress has adopted almost every year — a “patch” to spare doctors the scheduled 21 percent reduction in their Medicare payments next year.  Any broader fix, he said, will have to wait until after the Senate passes its comprehensive health care overhaul bill.

Reid said, “We’re going to make sure that ... Medicare patients have the ability to go to a doctor.  We’ll take this up again when we finish health care. ... Right now we only have a one-year fix” in the Senate Finance Committee’s overhaul bill.

AUSA will continue to press lawmakers to fix this problem once and for all.  The current law requires compounding annual cuts - forcing a 26 percent cut in Jan. 2011.  Putting off a permanent fix only increases the cost of doing it later.   

Legislation to Improve Services for Homeless and Low-income Veterans Advances

Last week, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health approved several measures that would improve services for homeless and low-income veterans, as well as legislation that would address post-deployment mental health and post-traumatic stress disorders.

The subcommittee approved:

* A bill (H.R. 2735) that would make changes to a VA program that provides payments to entities providing services for homeless veterans.  The bill would revise the program’s payment system to change the rate of pay from a per diem daily cost of care to an annual cost of furnishing services.  It also would allow the VA to annually adjust the payment rate to reflect anticipated changes in the cost of furnishing services, and to take into account the cost of providing services in a particular geographic area.

* An amendment that would provide for annually authorized funds to be dispersed to grant recipients in quarterly payments, and would direct recipients to submit to VA a statement of the amount spent after each quarter. 

* A bill (H.R. 2559) that would revise VA’s existing authority to purchase advertising in national media outlets for promoting awareness of the department’s programs for homeless veterans.  The bill would direct the department to place an emphasis on promoting awareness of programs for homeless female veterans and homeless veterans with children.

* A draft bill that would extend a program for helping very low-income veteran families move to permanent housing.  The measure would provide for a phased-in increase in the program’s authorization level.  It would authorize $50 million for fiscal 2012, $75 million for fiscal 2013 and $100 million for each subsequent fiscal year.

* A bill (H.R. 2504) that would increase the annual authorization for the Department of Veterans' Affairs comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans from $150 million to $200 million.

* A bill (H.R. 3885) that would require the VA to conduct a five-year pilot program in VA medical centers, for relieving veterans’ post-deployment mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms by training service dogs for veterans with disabilities.

Military Retirees not included in Administration Recovery Payment

President Obama recently announced his support for an additional $250 Economic Recovery Payment to seniors, veterans and people with disabilities who are struggling to make ends meet with retirement savings that have not fully recovered from their losses over the first year of the recession.

The White House released a fact sheet explaining the details on the one-time payment.  Under this proposal:

* 57 million people would benefit including 49 million Social Security beneficiaries; 5 million Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries; 2 million veterans benefit recipients; 500,000 railroad retirement and disability beneficiaries; and about 1 million public-employee retirees not entitled to any of the previous benefits.

* The benefit would be $250 – equivalent to a 2 percent increase in benefits for the average Social Security retiree beneficiary.  Under the rules no person could "double dip" and receive a $250 Economic Recovery Payment through more than one program.  Nor could they receive both an Economic Recovery Payment and the Making Work Pay tax credit.

* The total cost of the proposal would be $13 billion – and would not hurt the solvency of Social Security. 

What’s missing from the proposal?  Military retirees who do not receive Social Security, that’s who.  The current White House proposal and a bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would exclude that group.   

An article published in the Army Times stated that a spokesman for Sen. Sanders said that the Senator would consider adding military retirees to the bill if the Obama Administration seeks wider coverage.  The article went on to say that when asked specifically whether the 1 million public employee retirees included military and federal civilian retirees, White House officials said the payment would not be paid to “younger military retirees.” 

In any event, White House officials said they expect Congress will not approve the payments until next year because they aren’t sure where they will find the estimated $13 billion to fund it.