August Recess – It’s Not Necessarily All Play

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Lawmakers look forward to the August recess. It’s the longest break they get from being in D.C. and from the often-hectic schedules they face in Washington. There continues to be a flurry of activity as they try to get some final work done before their August recess, which is scheduled to start on July 31st and go until the day after Labor Day, September 5th. There are two appropriation bills, agriculture and military construction, that seem to be moving forward. However, there is also a slew of appropriation bills that need to be passed before the end of the fiscal year (September 30th) to avoid shutting down the government. This time-honored game of Russian roulette seems to happen every year, and it’s embarrassing.

Politicians of both parties use the threat of shutting down the government as a way to add controversial amendments to important legislation that funds our government. Some politicians even consider shutting down the government as a badge of courage rather than a failure of those we elected to handle the country’s finances effectively. Unfortunately, some of these controversial amendments concern your and my healthcare. We have been lucky enough to defeat some of these harmful bills, but they could be resubmitted on this must pass “keep the country running” bill. Legislation by blackmail is not how we get effective, well thought out laws. Legislation that supports using foreign countries’ methods of pricing prescription drugs as a guide for setting the price of our medicines is one of these bills that should have no place in our healthcare system yet might be slipped in as a last-minute amendment.

You might wonder how this could happen. I’ve seen lawmakers who have been stalwarts in their support of efficient, accessible healthcare for older Americans suddenly remove their support when they are given assurances of the passage of a bill that helps them in their specific district or state. I do realize that the number one goal of lawmakers is to get reelected, which makes these back-office deals very real and very concerning. I also know that the antidote to these deals are the voices of their constituents.

This fall will be busy when it comes to defending the efficient and affordable access to healthcare for America’s seniors. There will be many pieces of healthcare legislation considered as well as implementation of existing laws, such as the final release of the first 10 medicines to fall under the price setting policies of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Lawsuits have been brought regarding infringement of rights in the IRA. Lawmakers will consider bills to deal with the complicated business environment of pharmacy benefit managers and bills to further expand the government’s powers to set prices in the IRA.

Members of Congress most often use these days back home to do exactly what the name of the recess indicates: state work period. Most use the summer recess to meet with their constituents, give speeches, and schedule town hall meetings. Each of these venues offer a chance to get to know your senators and your representative on a more personal level. The elections are fast approaching, and it usually is the case that not much is done legislatively in the year running up to a presidential election, so this fall may be the best chance for both good and bad legislation to get passed.

The more you can understand the true nature and workings of a piece of legislation, the better you can avoid the political sound-bite definitions. The names of proposed legislation have always intrigued me. I marvel at how hard lawmakers work to come up with catchy names for their proposed legislation as if the name alone will garner votes. For instance, the ABLE [Achieving a Better Life Experience] act was legislation aimed to improve the lives of those among us who are disabled. It’s a great name, but will the law really help them to achieve a better life? Whether the legislation can achieve this lofty goal depends on the specifics contained in the complicated laws and regulations within the legislation. The CARE Act of 2015 [Children’s Act for Responsible Employment] was written to strengthen child labor laws. It’s only through understanding the law’s details that one can assess whether this law really has a chance of accomplishing its goal of caring for children. Politicians often use over simplified ways to describe a bill, thinking it’s the only way “lay” people can understand it. I’ve always been of the opinion that lawmakers continually underestimate the intelligence of their constituents.

You will read this blog on the last day that the Congress will be in session prior to the August break, that is unless either the House or Senate is held over to complete business, which would be a very unpopular move. I’ll report in August on what transpired and what healthcare legislation might make it into law. I’ll especially focus on the 10 medicines that CMS will list by September 1st. In the meantime, stay cool the best way you can, and stay involved.

Best, Thair

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