President’s Forum 104 – President’s Forum NRLN’s Washington, DC Meeting Focused on Medicare, Prescription Drugs and Pensions

by Bill Kedereit

The focus of the lobbying efforts in Washington, DC during the NRLN Annual Leadership Conference, February 24 – 26, 2020, were opposing Medicare privatization, legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and protecting retirees’ pensions.

Following Monday’s NRLN Board of Directors meeting open to attendees was an afternoon session which provided briefings on the lobbying issues and featured a guest speaker with considerable expertise on Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drugs.

Alyson Parker, NRLN Executive Director, reported that two pension protection issues advocated by the NRLN could be included in a bill that is expected to be introduced this year. Also, it is uncertain whether the House of Representatives and the Senate can reach agreement this election year on a comprehensive bill to reduce the price of prescription drugs.

Ed Beltram, NRLN Vice President – Communications, briefed the attendees on talking points on three issues:

Reduce Prescription Drug Prices – Congress should remove the prohibition on Medicare negotiating drug prices and replace it with a competitive bidding model used by businesses. Legislation is needed to end pay-for-delay and other brand name drugmakers’ tactics that obstruct generic drugs from coming to market. Americans should be allowed to import of safe and less expensive drugs from Canada. The NRLN lobbied for bills that would achieve these objectives.

Pension De-risking – Many employers are converting their pension plans to third-party insurance company annuities. The steady decline in traditional defined-benefit pension plans through “de-risking” will continue, according to the findings of a recent survey by MetLife. When “de-risking” occurs with the purchase of an insurance annuity pension plan participants lose the protection of PBGC and ERISA. NRLN’s proposals for legislation would protect pension plan participants.

Mergers, Acquisition and Spin-offs – The NRLN urged Congress to introduce and pass legislation to provide specific protections for pension plan participants when there are corporate mergers, acquisitions and spin-offs. Our proposal includes legislative language.

Guest Speaker – Tricia Neuman, Senior Vice President of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Director of the Foundation’s Program on Medicare Policy was the guest speaker. She used a PowerPoint presentation to explain The Role of Private Plans in Medicare. Today 34% of the Medicare population is enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan.

She also discussed Prescription Drug Costs. Total retail prescription drug spending in the U.S. in 2005 was $205 billion, was $234 billion in 2017 (latest data available) and is projected to reach $605 billion in 2026.

KFF’s research has identified, just as the NRLN has, the two major bills in Congress on prescription drug prices. They are the H.R. 3: Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 which was passed by the House on December 12, 2019 and S. 2543: Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 which has been approved by the Senate Finance Committee.

The NRLN advocated on Capitol Hill for the Senate to pass S. 2543 and go to a conference committee with H.R. 3 with the hope of seeing a compromise bill that both the House and Senate would pass and be signed into law by the president.

Medicare Privatization – NRLN President Bill Kadereit scheduled his briefing on to follow the KFF presentation. His presentation was titled, Medicare Privatization – A Bait and Switch Failure and

Government Scandal. It focused on how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) is giving taxpayer subsidies to private insurance companies for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans as a move toward the privatization of Medicare. The NRLN oppose the use of MA plans to privatize Medicare.

After years of healthcare insurers taking more than $300 billion in taxpayer subsidies, Medicare Advantage plans have not shown they can be cost-competitive with original Medicare A & B Fee-For- Service. Original Medicare carries a 2 percent overhead while Medicare Advantage plans has around 15 percent for overhead and profits. Congress has funded 19 new special benefits in 2020 for Medicare Advantage plans that cover 22 million enrollees, but the special benefits are denied to 42 million participants in original Medicare. This is discriminatory and creates a false image that MA plans have been or can be successful at reducing costs or increasing longevity.

Kadereit also discussed letters signed by 75 percent of members of Congress supporting Medicare Advantage plans. The letters stemmed from efforts by the Better Medicare Alliance, a Washington, DC advocacy organization primarily funded by the insurance companies who sell Medicare Advantage plans. The NRLN is working on pulling together a coalition of organizations that support original Medicare to expose the Senators and Representatives misguided support for Medicare Advantage.

During the briefing session, an article in the February 21 New York Times was passed around the room. The story featured the decision of a retiree to select a Medicare Advantage plan when he was healthy at age 65, Last November, at age 72, he was diagnosed with aggressive bladder cancer. The doctor he determined was the best local specialist for his condition was not in his network. He decided he wanted to switch to original Medicare for 2020 — a move that would allow him to see nearly any healthcare provider he chose.

That was when he ran up against one of the least understood implications of selecting Medicare Advantage when enrolling in Medicare: the decision is effectively irrevocable. Click here to read the article.

Attendees, carrying folders with NRLN talking points, had more than two dozen appointments on Tuesday and Wednesday. If you want to read the Talking Points that were used in the Capitol Hill appointments.

Click on these headlines:

— Medicare Privatization – A Bait and Switch Failure and Government Scandal

— Congress Must Act to Reduce Price of Prescription Drugs – Talk Is Cheap – Drugs Are Not!

— Pension Plan De-risking: Fiduciary Protection of Retirees

— Pension Plan Risks in Mergers, Acquisitions and Spin-offs

Click here to see photos taken during appointments.

Click here to view my DC 2020 video about the fly-in posted at the top of the NRLN President’s Forum.

The upcoming spring NRLN FOCUS newsletter will have an article with more details about the meeting in Washington, DC.

Bill Kadereit, President
National Retiree Legislative Network



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