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Vaccines, Food Assistance, Stimulus Checks Among End-of-Year Federal Action

Federal, state and local advocacy on behalf of the age 50-plus will continue to be a priority for AARP in 2021. A recent AARP Texas Bullhorn conversation on Facebook spotlighted end-of-year progress at the federal level toward ensuring older people’s health and financial security.

In the broadcast, Associate State Director Charles Cascio, whose work focuses on federal advocacy issues, said AARP has fought hard for congressional action to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impacts.

“For months, we’ve been saying that it’s crucial that Congress take action on several pressing needs,” Cascio said.

Among the priorities, he said, has been the need to:

* Protect residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities against sickness, neglect and isolation during the pandemic;

* Ensure that Social Security and other retirement benefits are protected; and to

* Increase food assistance for those who need it the most.

 A good deal of what AARP has been pushing for, Cascio said, was adopted in major end-of-year federal legislation, including a $2.3 Trillion spending package that’s been signed by the president.

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While AARP is still combing through the details of the legislation to determine the impact on our constituency, Cascio and AARP Texas Advocacy Manager Kathy Green said the good news is that AARP was successful on a number of AARP priorities – some related specifically to emergency COVID relief and others that the association has fought for over many years.

In terms of funding, the package allocates:

•           more money for coronavirus vaccines, treatments and testing.

•           It includes a 15-percent increase in SNAP food assistance for six months.

•           $400 million for food banks.

•           Another round of direct stimulus payments to individuals.

•           $7 billion toward expanding high-speed Internet or what we call Broadband.

•           $100 million for adult protective services and long-term care ombudsman.

•           And there’s funding for key programs like Tax Counseling for the Elderly, Senior Companion and RSVP service programs, and more.

Cascio said that despite the horrific death toll in America’s nursing homes, Congress failed to include any meaningful provisions on long-term care facilities. However, in other steps, Cascio and Green noted that Congress has taken action pertaining to surprise medical bills.

Beginning in 2022, federal law will protect consumers from surprise bills in most situations. Consumers will only pay the in-network rate when receiving emergency care. Consumers will also only pay in-network rates when they are at an in-network facility but treated by an out-of-network provider.

Cascio said during the recent AARP Texas Bullhorn broadcast that Congress also permanently extended a medical expense deduction.

The medical expense deduction provides vital tax relief for millions of Americans, especially older adults and people with disabilities. Allowing tax deductions for expenses like home-based care; insulin and other prescription drugs; long-term care services and related insurance premiums; and nursing homes help make health care more affordable for those with high health care costs.

AARP has argued that older adults in particular can face extremely high costs for long-term services and supports because these expenses generally are not covered by Medicare. In fact, nearly 40 percent of people who claim the medical expense deduction every year are age 65 or older. Among taxpayers who claim this deduction, 70 percent have annual incomes between $23,100 and $113,000.

Green noted that “AARP has continued to fight to make prescription drugs more accessible and affordable for families.” And Cascio mentioned specific federal action. He said the new federal spending package includes AARP-supported policy to require certain manufacturers to report drug pricing information with respect to drugs under the Medicare program. Specifically, it requires all manufacturers of drugs covered under Medicare Part B to report average sales price information to the Secretary of HHS beginning on Jan. 1, 2022.

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