Annual Medicare and Social Security Trustee’s Report
On Monday, the trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare released their annual reports on the current state of the programs. This year’s reports brought more bad news and underscored the dire need to reform these programs. The reports make it clear that the insolvency of these programs is imminent if we don’t act soon.
According to the trustees, the Social Security trust fund can only maintain current benefits for another 20 years, running out of money three years earlier than they estimated last year when they thought the program would remain solvent until 2036. When this funding is depleted, seniors can expect a 25% cut in benefits. This is simply not acceptable. Moreover, the Disability Insurance trust fund is in even worse shape and threatens to be bankrupt within 4 years, putting the benefits of disabled Americans in serious risk.
Additionally, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund is expected to become insolvent by 2024, and addressing this imminent insolvency would force the program to either immediately reduce benefits by 26% or raise taxes on workers by nearly 50%. Under the more likely, alternative scenario, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund will be depleted in 2017.
Both of these vital programs are in serious jeopardy, threatening the well-being of millions of seniors, future retirees, and disabled Americans. Inaction is not an option, and a failure to address the pending insolvency of these programs will jeopardize our nation’s future. Rather than succumbing to politics as usual, we in Washington must work together to fix these broken systems and thereby ensure the health of America’s seniors and the security of future generations of retirees.
Coordinating Efforts to Care for Lejeune Veterans
Last Friday, I joined with Senator Patty Murray and Congressmen Jeff Miller and Bob Filner, Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees in the Senate and House respectively, in sending a letter to President Obama asking for his assistance in expediting health care for the many veterans and family members who are sick as a result of exposure to well-water contaminated by human carcinogens at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
VA Secretary Shinseki indicated in a recent letter that policy decisions on this vital issue should be postponed until more scientific evidence is revealed linking water contamination at Camp Lejeune to illness. We believe, however, that there is already more than enough evidence to give veterans and family members the benefit of the doubt, including the EPA’s acknowledgement that trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical which contaminated the water supply system at Camp Lejeune, is directly linked to cancer.
While we continue to seek more answers, we can minimize further suffering by allowing Lejeune veterans and their families to receive the care they need and deserve. We will continue to fight for the victims of this water contamination, and hope to expedite these efforts by working with the Administration to identify existing funds and resources that may be reallocated to pay for the cost. We owe them nothing less.
Bill to Allow Off-Road Vehicle Use on Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Yesterday, I reintroduced the Preserving Public Access to Cape Hatteras Beaches Act, a bill that would reinstate the Interim Management Strategy governing off-road vehicle use on Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS). The reinstatement of the original Interim Management Strategy, issued by the National Park Service (NPS) on June 13, 2007, would set aside current mandates and requirements which were put in place in the wake of a consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina that prevent off-road vehicle (ORV) and citizen access to a significant portion of this National Seashore.
Restricting ORV use on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a negative impact on local communities and the local economy. We must ensure that our state’s residents have access to North Carolina’s scenic treasures, and I am confident we can come to a compromise that allows people to have access while at the same time addressing any potential environmental concerns.
If you want to learn more, please visit my website, which has more details on the bill.
Postal Service Reform
The United States Postal Service has long served as a vital resource for American citizens, and reliable postal services remain important for many daily functions today. Unfortunately, grave fiscal problems facing the Postal Service today are so dire that they threaten to bankrupt the agency.
I outlined many of the financial issues facing the Postal Service in my Charlotte Observer op-ed last weekend. In case you missed it in Sunday’s paper, be sure to read it here.
Even though technological advancements have changed the way many of us share information today and online interactions are more commonplace than ever, there are some things that cannot be replicated by electronic services. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that we correct the Postal Service’s fiscal issues not only in the short term, but also for the future so we do not find ourselves in this same situation a few short years from now. There is clearly no “magic bullet” that will solve all of the Postal Service’s problems, and it is disingenuous and detrimental to suggest that there is. We will certainly need comprehensive reform to address its many issues, and it might require a restructuring of the entire agency in order to save it from insolvency.
I voted against the Postal Reform Act we debated in the Senate this week because it did not achieve the right balance of fixing the challenges that the Postal Service faces while also saving the billions of dollars necessary to put it on a sustainable path for the future. Rather than supporting a temporary fix, we should give the Postmaster General the flexibility to determine how we can achieve cost savings through such reforms as restructuring delivery days, enacting worker’s compensation reform, consolidating postal facilities where it makes sense and allowing the Postal Service to reach its proposed goal of 425,000 employees.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee mark-up of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act
On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked-up the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.
I am pleased that many of the key provisions of the PATIENTS’ FDA Act, a bill I introduced with Senator Coburn (R-OK), were included in the bill we considered, and I am even more pleased that we found a bipartisan path forward to increase transparency and accountability at FDA. These provisions support meaningful congressional oversight that will help ensure timely decisions on behalf of patients.
America’s patients deserve access to the latest, most effective life-saving treatments, but red-tape at the FDA is stifling scientific investment and innovation, which is a disservice to medical innovators and can delay patients’ access to medical therapies.
I am also pleased that the Advancing Breakthrough Therapies for Patients Act, a bipartisan bill I introduced with Senators Bennett (D-CO) and Hatch (R-UT), was also included in the bill. We owe it to patients to provide a clear pathway for expediting the development and review of breakthrough therapies so promising innovation can reach patients as soon as possible.