With the number of Americans over age 65 set to double over the next 30 years, we must preserve and enhance the health care and retirement programs our seniors depend on while also helping families prepare for the demands of an aging population. This is more important than ever as our country confronts the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has left our senior citizens at particular risk.
For generations, Social Security has been a stable and secure retirement guarantee for all Americans. We must ensure this program remains solvent for generations to come. We also need to protect seniors’ access to high-quality health care—everything from preventative care to affordable prescription drugs—through the Medicare program. I have led legislation that would allow the government to directly negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare Part D so our seniors can have access to their medicines at the lowest possible prices.
As the population of seniors increases, the need for elder care will also grow. More than half of Americans turning 65 today are projected to need some type of long-term care in their lives. With this, a new generation of family members will assume the role of caregivers for their parents by tending to increasingly complicated health and long-term care needs. Seniors and their adult children must have the resources they need to prepare for this care, including education about the types of services available, how to access these programs, and safeguards to prevent and address abuse or exploitation.
I will continue to work to preserve and enhance the programs, services, and protections that are vital for our seniors, their families, and caregivers.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
- Protecting and strengthening Social Security. Since Congress passed the Social Security Act in 1935, this program has touched the lives of almost every American. Social Security serves as a foundation for millions of retired Americans and provides vital support for Americans with disabilities and the surviving spouses and children of deceased workers. Nearly two-thirds of all American seniors depend on Social Security as a safety net. Social Security is credited with preventing over 40 percent of senior citizens in America out of poverty. More than one-third of all seniors rely on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income. For almost two-thirds of seniors, Social Security makes up at least 50 percent of their income. I will continue to fight against risky schemes that would privatize Social Security and turn it from a guarantee of a secure retirement into a gamble where only the big financial companies on Wall Street would be the sure winners. If these schemes had been in place during previous years, millions of Americans would have lost their Social Security in the stock market. I will also continue to push for sensible reforms such as the Keeping Our Social Security Promises Act to extend the solvency of Social Security by decades.
- Making sure that Medicare is buying the best health care at the best price. Under the current system, there are still huge and unjustified disparities in the way Medicare pays doctors and hospitals. For example, in 2015, Medicare spent almost $14,000 for the care of a typical beneficiary in Miami-Dade County in Florida, but only $8,500 for a patient in Hennepin County in Minnesota. I am working to continue making sure Medicare pays providers based on quality, not on quantity of services provided, and reduces these unfair payment disparities.
- Lowering prescription drug prices. I will fight to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors—and all Americans—by lifting the ban on Medicare negotiating prices directly with drug companies on behalf of the 45 million seniors in the Part D program, allowing for the importation of safe, less expensive drugs from countries like Canada, ending the “pay-for-delay” practice of brand-name drug manufacturers paying off their less-expensive generic competitors to stay out of the market, capping prices, and reducing drug waste that costs taxpayers millions of dollars. I also introduced the CREATES Act, which became law in December 2019, with a bipartisan group of Senators to end tactics that some brand name companies use to prevent generic manufacturers from being able to receive approval for their products—like denying access to samples.
- Assisting families in long-term care for seniors. More than half of Americans turning 65 today are projected to need some type of long-term care in their lives. Seniors want to be able to live independently and stay in their own homes as long as possible and family support is essential to making that option available. While nursing homes and paid care providers serve our elderly in some situations, the vast majority of elder care comes from informal caregivers – more than half of whom are adult children taking care of their parents. Millions of families already find themselves members of the "sandwich generation," coping with the challenges and costs of caring for elderly parents at the same time they are caring for their own children. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the numbers will continue to grow. Just as the country addressed the needs of working moms and dads in the 1970s, we must now address the needs of our working daughters and sons. I also oppose efforts to cap Medicaid spending, which would jeopardize long-term care for seniors. We must also ensure that seniors are protected from fraud and abuse in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
- Helping Americans save for retirement. Hardworking families in America often don’t have enough money in their savings account for an emergency—let alone retirement down the road. Estimates have shown that four in ten adults do not have enough liquid savings to meet a $400 emergency expense. At the same time, three in ten American workers lack access to workplace retirement plans, and 45 percent do not participate in one. This is an issue that particularly impacts Americans in the “gig economy,” about five in six of whom do not have access to a workplace retirement plan. We need to close the wealth gap, prepare families in case of an emergency, and set workers up for a successful retirement. By doing so, we can help guarantee that all Americans – even those working part-time – have some savings put away for retirement and emergency situations.
- Strengthening oversight of long-term care workers and court appointed guardians. As the population of seniors continues to grow in Minnesota, the need for strong protection from abuse for our elders becomes more critical each year. Vulnerable seniors can be victimized, even by the people who are supposed to be caring for them. Most long-term care workers adhere to ethical standards that ensure the safety and well-being of their clients, but there are cases when long-term care workers do not have the interests of seniors in mind. In these instances, too many vulnerable adults are abused and financially exploited by court-appointed guardians and conservators – the very individuals charged with protecting their well-being. We owe it to our seniors to ensure that they are not endangered – physically, emotionally, or financially – by those responsible for their care.
- Protecting seniors from identity theft and other financial scams. Identity thieves often target seniors, invading their privacy and exploiting them financially. In 2016, over 4 million Americans 65 and older were victims of identity theft. Today, perpetrators of fraud have found new ways to alter their identities to steal the personal and financial information of innocent victims. These crimes have become more profitable in recent years and telemarketing fraud has grown to a $40 billion industry—even before the surge in scams that we have seen during the coronavirus pandemic. As Hennepin County Attorney, I made a priority of prosecuting cases of financial fraud against seniors. As a senator, I am fighting to protect our seniors from financial scams, to strengthen penalties for criminals who prey on our seniors, and to bring them to justice.
- Protecting seniors during the coronavirus pandemic. Seniors are at particular risk to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they can access the care that they need during this public health crisis. This means making sure that our health care system has the supplies and resources needed to combat the pandemic, while also dramatically increasing testing and accelerating efforts to develop treatments and a vaccine. We must also expand the use of telehealth services and other technology that enables seniors to access care remotely, as well as visit with family and friends.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I have been standing up for our seniors:
- Preserving and strengthening Medicare. Minnesota has always led the way in providing low-cost, high-quality health care. I authored legislation creating a "value index" for Medicare reimbursement rates. Since 2015, the value index, which was included in the Affordable Care Act, has helped control costs by rewarding the value of care instead of the volume of services. This strengthens the safety net of Medicare by ensuring that funds are there to pay for our seniors' health care. Finally, this value index helps ensure that Minnesota and other states that deliver high-quality, efficient care are rewarded for this care, not punished.
- Requiring Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for our seniors. I have introduced legislation – the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act with 34 cosponsors – to eliminate the current ban that prevents Medicare from negotiating directly with drug companies to get the lowest possible prices for the 45 million seniors in the Part D program.
- Closing the Medicare Part D donut hole. The Affordable Care Act included critical provisions to reduce prescription drug costs for seniors through rebates and closing the Medicare Prescription Drug Program “donut hole” over time. As of 2016, more than 10 million seniors had saved over $20 billion in discounts on prescription drugs since the law was enacted, an average savings of $1,945 per person. We successfully accelerated the closure of the “donut hole” in February of 2018 by requiring pharmaceutical companies to cover a bigger portion of seniors’ prescription drug costs.
- Boosting competition to improve access to less expensive generic drugs. I have fought to make sure competition, not unfair conduct, determines the price of prescription drugs. With Senator Grassley, I have introduced legislation to help end the “pay-for-delay” practice of brand-name drug manufacturers paying off their less expensive generic competitors to stay out of the market. This bill could save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The CREATES Act—legislation that I introduced with a bipartisan group of Senators to end tactics some brand name companies use to prevent generic manufacturers from being able to receive approval for their products, like denying access to samples—became law in December 2019.
- Allowing the importation of safe, less expensive prescription medicines from Canada and other approved countries. Americans pay double what Canadians do for retail prescription drugs. That is why I introduced the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act with Senator Chuck Grassley to allow people to import certain prescription drugs for personal use from safe, proven Canadian pharmacies. I also introduced a bill with Senator Mike Lee that would allow temporary importation of drugs from countries with strong safety standards—like Australia and those in the European Union—when there is limited competition or a drug shortage in the United States.
- Reducing drug waste that costs taxpayers millions of dollars. When I asked the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General about waste generated by the size of single use drug vials, the investigation found that Medicare was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on drugs that get thrown out. I introduced the bipartisan Reducing Drug Waste Act with Senator Grassley to require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to address the cost of this drug waste that results from the size of single use drug vials and other drug delivery systems like eye-drops.
- Ensuring access to vital drugs, treatments, and medical equipment. I authored and passed the bipartisan Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act to require prescription drug manufacturers to get at the dangerous issue of drug shortages by giving early notification to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of any incident that would likely result in a shortage. Early notification helped the FDA prevent 170 drug shortages in 2013, 101 in 2014, and 142 in 2015. I also introduced the bipartisan Steve Gleason Act of 2017—which was signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act in February of 2018—to ensure Medicare pays for speech generating devices for people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s, and other degenerative diseases. Speech-generating devices are a lifeline for these patients, but a Medicare policy change had put coverage at risk.
- Increasing research funding to seek new cures. I have consistently fought for strong funding for research at our federal research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), so researchers don’t have their hands tied by the whims of Washington. I supported the 21st Century CURES Act—and was there when President Obama signed it into law in December 2016—which contains nearly $5 billion in funding for NIH research into cures for Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases. We have secured significant increases in NIH funding in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, which were the largest increases in over a decade. I have also introduced a bipartisan resolution with Senator Collins from Maine declaring that the goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer's by 2025 is an "urgent national priority." We successfully increased NIH funding for Alzheimer’s disease research by more than $400 million in March of 2018.
- Providing support for seniors who want to stay in their homes and communities. When elderly Americans choose to remain in their own homes and communities, it is not only often better for their health and peace of mind, but is also a more cost-effective option. I will stand up to efforts to cap Medicaid spending, which would jeopardize Medicaid coverage and long-term care for millions of Americans. I have introduced and cosponsored multiple bipartisan bills to improve the quality of life for seniors and encourage the use of remote monitoring technology and telehealth services in Medicare and other programs. These bills include the CHRONIC Care Act—which expands the use of telehealth and was signed into law in February of 2018—the Fostering Independence Through Technology Act, the Independence at Home Act, and the CONNECT for Health Act. I have also cosponsored several bills to strengthen and expand access to telehealth and care in rural areas, like the Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital (REACH) Act, Improving Access to Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Act, Critical Access Hospital Relief Act, Protecting Access to Rural Therapy Services Act, and the Rural Health Connectivity Act. The Improving Access to Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Act—which expands access to care by allowing physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and clinical nurse specialists to supervise cardiac, intensive cardiac, and pulmonary rehabilitation programs—was signed into law in February of 2018.
- Ensuring comprehensive access to retirement savings accounts. Too many hardworking families in our country don’t have enough money in savings to cover emergency expenses—let alone retirement down the road. My Saving for the Future Act, which I introduced with Senator Chris Coons, will help close the wealth gap, prepare families in case of an emergency, and set workers up for a successful retirement. Under this bill, men and women who work at a company with ten or more employees will be entitled to an employer savings contribution of at least 50 cents per hour worked - which equals $20 per week and more than $1,000 per year. Employees at smaller companies would be able to save through federally provided “UP Accounts,” modeled after the popular Thrift Savings Plan for federal workers.
- Providing support for seniors and their families. I introduced the Americans Giving Care to Elders Act, which would establish a federal tax credit to assist with the costs of caring for an aging family member. I also introduced the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Act with Senator Collins from Maine, which would expand training and support services for families and caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. In addition, I introduced a bill with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley that was signed into law in March of 2018 to help families locate missing loved ones with developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and to provide training and technology to first responders and law enforcement to help them find these vulnerable individuals.
- Protecting seniors from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. I authored the Court-Appointed Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act, which was signed into law as part of the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act in October 2017. My legislation strengthens oversight and accountability for court-appointed guardians and conservators to crack down on elder abuse. I supported the Elder Justice Act, passed in 2010, which established the Elder Justice Program to prevent the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the elderly by providing grants to states to properly train and certify employees at long-term care facilities. I also supported the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act to improve authorities' ability to conduct criminal background checks on long-term care workers. In addition, I have led efforts pressing for additional actions by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Government Accountability Office to help prevent and more effectively respond to elder abuse in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, including by keeping families and guardians better informed about incidents and investigations.
- Protecting seniors from fraud. I introduced the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act with Republican Senator Susan Collins from Maine. This bill, which passed the full Senate in the previous Congress and has cleared the Senate Commerce Committee, will provide much needed protection to seniors from fraud schemes by establishing an effective complaint system that ensures complaints of fraud are quickly forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and requiring the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to distribute informational materials to seniors, their families, and their caregivers that explain the process for contacting law enforcement authorities in the event that a senior is targeted in a fraud scheme. As we have seen an increase in scams related to the coronavirus, I have urged the FTC to take action to help ensure that seniors are educated and informed about these scams during the pandemic. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’ll continue to make sure seniors are protected from scams.
- Protecting seniors during the coronavirus pandemic. Seniors are especially vulnerable to the risks posed by the coronavirus, and we must ensure that they can access needed care during this public health crisis. The CARES Act that became law in March 2020 included several measures to help older Americans, including provisions to expand telehealth services and support senior nutrition programs. But we can do more to help America’s seniors make it through the pandemic. That’s why I am leading bipartisan legislation to further expand telehealth services for seniors and to improve access to technology for “virtual visits” at nursing facilities, so that seniors can stay connected to their loved ones while staying safe.