A new Rasmussen poll highlights the absurdity of Congress’ decision to swoop in and prove they can “work together” – at least when it’s in their own best interests – by lifting the sequester’s impact on the FAA.
“Congress cited public outrage as the reason for moving swiftly to end flight delays caused by the sequester. However, very few Americans were actually impacted.”
In fact, only 16% of Americans even know anyone impacted. Commentator Richard Eskow was among that tiny minority. He offers these thoughts:
“At no point during my mini-"ordeal" did I think "Boy, I'd be happy to cut my Social Security and everybody else's too so this won't happen again." The thought never even crossed my mind.
So I was disappointed when the President used his weekly national address to push, not for a total repeal of the sequester, but for his "compromise" austerity budget - a budget which includes unnecessary cuts to Social Security. The title of his address - "Time to Replace the Sequester with a Balanced Approach to Deficit Reduction" - betrays a continued unawareness of either the pain caused by these unwise cuts or the shifting economic reality which has discredited Washington's deficit mania.
The only sensible thing to do is to cancel the entire sequester. And stop trying to use it to gin up hysteria so they can put through other unpopular cuts. Just can it.”
As a reminder, here are just some of the real cuts Americans face because of this sequester:
Thousands of cancer patients are being turned away from cancer clinics for chemotherapy treatments due to Medicare cuts
140,000 low-income families – mostly disabled elders and families with children - are losing rental assistance vouchers
- 70,000 children are being kicked out of Head Start programs
- The Caregiver support program will be cut by $12.6 million
- The Meals on Wheels program will be cut by 17 million meals
“Michele Daley, director of nutrition services at the Local Office on Aging, which serves Roanoke, Alleghany, Botetourt and Craig counties in Virginia, said the agency expects to receive $95,000 less in federal funds this year (it has an operating budget of $1 million). They're gradually reducing the number of people receiving daily meals from 650 to 600 as a result of the budget cuts. Already, the office has planned to stop handing out most emergency meals -- bags of shelf-stable items like canned beans distributed in advance of snowstorms and holidays. And they've instituted a waiting list. "We've never had a waiting list," Daley said. "This is the first time ever and it's a direct result of sequestration." Huffington Post
Time Goes By blogger, Ronni Bennett expressed the frustration so many feel (outside the Beltway anyway),
“Judging from past performance and publicly professed ideology, I would have thought there are several senators who coulda/woulda/shoulda stopped this legislation: Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), maybe even my two Oregon senators, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
But no. Not one senator (nor even the president) took a principled stand for needy elders, children and their families not to mention Medicare cancer patients denied chemotherapy drugs, some of whom will die as a result. (Yes, they will.)
But never mind. Congress members and rich people will not be caused "unnecessary harm," (as White House Spokesman Carney so helpfully explained) by airport delays. This is the country we live in now. “
Rather than end on such a down note, we thought you’d also enjoy comedian Jon Stewart’s take on the whole ridiculous situation and Mike Thompson's editorial cartoon to help soften the edges of your outrage:
Mike Thompson: Detroit Free Press
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Budget], [healthcare], [Medicare], [Retirement], [Social Security]
The news back in February that private insurers in Medicare would receive a 2.2% rate cut in 2014 sent their lobbyists into overdrive, flooding the halls of Congress and the media with ads bemoaning the reduction in their billions of dollars of federal overpayments. Historically, private insurers providing Medicare Advantage coverage have collected 13% more from the federal government to provide private MA coverage than it costs to cover seniors in traditional Medicare. Over the years this massive government subsidy to private for-profit insurers has cost Medicare millions of dollars, so the Obama administration correctly trimmed back those wasteful overpayments as part of the Affordable Care Act, helping to add 8 years of solvency to the program.
Incredibly the news this week is that the Obama administration has now caved to the insurance industry’s lobbying blitz and Congressional pressure and will not only reverse the 2014 Medicare Advantage cuts but will also give for-profit insurers a 3% raise. No surprisingly, this is a move that CMS actuaries (the non-politicians actually paid to do this job) opposed:
“The actuaries in charge of the calculation made clear that they did not endorse the change. The official notice, signed by Jonathan Blum, director of Medicare at CMS, and Paul Spitalnic, the chief actuary in charge of the formula, said that the change had come at the behest of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.” National Journal
“It’s about the best possible result for Medicare Advantage plans,” said Ipsita Smolinski, managing director at Capitol Street, a health care consulting firm.” Politico
Sure, it’s good news for the nation’s $884 billion dollar a year health insurance industry but what about Medicare? Not so much. While Medicare Advantage over-payments will still face future reductions thanks to health care reform, this is the classic case of political “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Will those common sense reductions survive another AHIP lobbying onslaught? It’s also important to note that many of the same members of Congress who have decried Medicare spending and support more means testing, benefits cuts and more for seniors -- all in the name of deficit reduction -- lobbied the hardest to ensure the health insurance industry keeps their government subsidies. These are subsidies that all seniors, whether they are in a Medicare Advantage plan or not, pay for with higher premiums while also burdening the Medicare program overall.
For comparison, let’s juxtaposition Congress’ rapid response this week to the insurance lobby’s pressure to keep their goodies with the inaction we’ve seen over months leading to across the board budget cuts in the ongoing sequester. Budget cuts that are impacting average Americans, not huge for-profit industries.
The Washington Post reports today that the sequester has lead to thousands of Medicare cancer patients being turned away from cancer clinics who can’t afford the 2% sequester cut for drugs needed to treat their Medicare patients.
Cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts. Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially.
Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them. “If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we’d be out of business in six months to a year,” said Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York. “The drugs we’re going to lose money on we’re not going to administer right now. After an emergency meeting Tuesday, Vacirca’s clinics decided that they would no longer see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients. “A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening,” he said. “It’s a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business.”
Cancer providers have also been lobbying Congress asking for a sequester waiver for cancer drugs so that they can continue providing their life-saving care. Washington certainly rallied quickly to reinstate massively wasteful government subsidies to one of our nation’s largest industries...yet so far, no response to those who literally control the life and death of thousands of cancer patients in Medicare.
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [healthcare], [Medicare], [privatization]
Time Magazine’s cover story this week is an incredible read and one we highly recommend. Steven Brill’s “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us” provides a remarkably in depth look at our American health care system including Medicare. Using many personal case studies, Brill breaks down and describes the economic devastation being reaped by our for profit medical industrial complex.
As we’ve said here repeatedly, America doesn’t face a Medicare crisis -- we face a national health care crisis. Rather than targeting Medicare for cuts we should be using it as the model to improve out health care system nationwide. As Brill reports:
“Unless you are protected by Medicare, the health care market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot. They are powerless buyers in a seller’s market where the only sure thing is the profit of the sellers.”
Consider Time’s example of Susan S. She was 64, one year away from qualifying for Medicare, when she went to the hospital with chest pains. Her bill for 3 hours of tests and a false alarm was $21,000. If she had Medicare she would have paid less than $500. Compare her costs:
Time’s survey of this same hospital found that in 2010 its total charges were 11 times its actual costs. And that’s not unusual in our current private profit and even non-profit health care system.
Not only does Medicare manage these outrages costs better than the private market, Medicare’s administrative costs are two-thirds of 1% or less than $3.80 per claim. Private Insurers administrative costs run much higher. Brill reports Aetna’s for example, run 29% or $30 for each claim.
However, Medicare isn’t immune from the skyrocketing costs that are burdening our economy. Brill points out that Congress has tied Medicare’s hands in many instances forcing the more efficient Medicare program to perform like the less efficient private market:
Our laws do more than prevent the government from restraining prices for drugs the way other countries do. Federal law also restricts the biggest single buyer — Medicare — from even trying to negotiate drug prices. As a perpetual gift to the pharmaceutical companies (and an acceptance of their argument that completely unrestrained prices and profit are necessary to fund the risk taking of research and development), Congress has continually prohibited the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Department of Health and Human Services from negotiating prices with drugmakers. Instead, Medicare simply has to determine that average sales price and add 6% to it.
Similarly, when Congress passed Part D of Medicare in 2003, giving seniors coverage for prescription drugs, Congress prohibited Medicare from negotiating.
Nor can Medicare get involved in deciding that a drug may be a waste of money. In medical circles, this is known as the comparative-effectiveness debate, which nearly derailed the entire Obamacare effort in 2009.
The health care industrial complex spends more than three times what the military industrial complex spends for Washington lobbying. Is it any wonder why so many in Congress have chosen to ignore the true system wide health care problem in favor of targeting Medicare for benefit cuts, arbitrary caps, cost-shifting, means-testing and privatization.
They know what the core problem is — lopsided pricing and outsize profits in a market that doesn’t work.
In spite of this, Congress appears ready to protect that broken health care market that is wrecking our economy in favor of targeting the program that works for cuts -- all in the name of deficit reduction. Cutting benefits to seniors in Medicare not only ignores the real challenges we face as a nation but it also threatens the health security of millions of Americans.
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Budget], [entitlement reform], [healthcare], [Medicare], [privatization]
Kudos to Nancy Cook at the National Journal for looking beyond the news release headlines and doom-and-gloom sound bites offered by the billion dollar anti-Social Security and Medicare lobby in Washington in her coverage of the deficit debate. Fiscal Commission chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, leading their corporate-backed “Fix the Debt” campaign, certainly got plenty of attention this week for repackaging their plan to cut benefits to millions of middle-class American in Social Security and Medicare, veterans, people with disabilities and more to cut the deficit. Thankfully, Cook provides the desperately needed analysis and perspective missing in most of the main stream media coverage on why these men continue to push for deficit reduction on the backs of average Americans—especially now that many these same families are finally starting to see a dim light at the end of a long recessionary tunnel.
The deficit is going down, health care cost growth is slowing and the economy is finally showing signs of recovery. Deficit reduction isn’t the biggest challenge facing our nation in spite of years of doom-and-gloom prognostications from this well-financed anti-entitlement lobby. Time clearly isn’t on the side of deficit-hawks who’ve seen this recession as their best chance in a generation to force drastic cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Kudos to the National Journal for recognizing this basic truth.
New Simpson-Bowles Plan Overstates the Deficit Problem - The National Journal
The country’s annual deficit is shrinking for now, but that hasn’t stopped the two most prominent deficit hawks from waging an ongoing campaign for the elusive grand bargain.
by Nancy Cook
Updated: February 20, 2013 | 4:17 p.m.
February 20, 2013 | 3:42 p.m.
Deficit hawks Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles just don’t quit.
The duo unveiled the latest iteration of their deficit-reduction plan on Tuesday, which calls for $2.4 trillion in cuts over 10 years — yet another chapter in their ongoing debt campaign that has not gained much political traction since 2010.
At first, Simpson and Bowles' newest proposal comes across as innovative: they learned from the past, rejiggered their suggestions, and rolled out a new framework during a quiet week when Congress was out-of-town. The new framework acknowledges the elusiveness of the big budget deal and instead lays out incremental spending cuts and tax increases that could occur over the next few years and into 2018. "Just the idea of a 'grand bargain' is at best on life support," said Erskine Bowles, the former chief-of-staff under President Bill Clinton, at a breakfast sponsored by Politico.
Such reasonableness attempts to cast the pair as aggressive, yet savvy deficit hawks who have taken a different, more nuanced tact that’s more in sync with the political reality of a very divided Congress and White House.
Yet, that’s not necessarily an accurate portrait of the current state of Simpson-Bowles. In fact, it appears to be doubling down on deficit-hawkishness just as the economy is improving and the deficit is shrinking.
The new plan calls for a 3:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, whereas previous versions called for a more balanced ratio. That means that Simpson and Bowles are calling for the majority of future deficit reduction to come from spending cuts at a time when a wide swath of economists, including a prominent conservative economist from the American Enterprise Institute, have warned against sudden austerity measures.
Simpson-Bowles and like-minded hawks also uphold the belief that solving the deficit is the headline economic problem of 2013. Just check out the new website Debt Deniers, funded by Fix the Debt, a Simpson-Bowles sister organization run by the same web of alarmists.
The Debt Deniers site, unveiled late last week, calls out people “who claim America has no debt problem.” In ominous red, black, and white writing and graphics, the site criticizes “debt deniers” (cough, cough — like economist and New York Times’ columnist, Paul Krugman) who argue that the debt will solve itself, thanks to the slowly recovering economy, tax increases from the fiscal cliff deal, and spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy politically, except that it does not jibe with current economic data.
The deficit is not the primary economic problem of 2013; it’s just at the forefront of the political battles. (See: long-term unemployment, stagnant wages, or a slow-to-recover housing sector if you want to see real economic problems). Through the year 2016, the annual deficit is expected to shrink. (The Congressional Budget Office predicts it will decrease to $476 billion in 2016, compared to $845 billion in 2013).
Part of the reason the deficit is going down, at least temporarily, is that the federal government is taking in more revenue (25 percent more in the next two years). The rate of health care spending has slowed down considerably, and the economy is recovering, which means that Americans can pay more in taxes and/or rely less on the federal government for costly social safety net programs such as unemployment insurance or food stamps.
The deficit will start to significantly rise again by 2021 — though that’s a demographic and health care spending problem rather than an all-out crisis involving just too much debt. By then, the baby boomers will start to sign up en masse for Medicare, and no one from either end of the political spectrum has figured out a way to constrain health care costs given the large spike in people who will suddenly take advantage of federal benefits.
Arguably, that’s where Simpson and Bowles should expend their energy instead of talking about a deficit crisis that has yet to arrive on Washington’s doorstep, or by rejiggering a well-worn plan that’s made them wise, talking heads in Washington who still lack political juice.
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [fiscal commission], [healthcare], [Medicare], [Social Security]
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare is commemorating Black History Month with blog posts from a number of the nation’s leading policy analysts, lawmakers, and community leaders. We’ll examine the importance of programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to the African American community while also paying tribute to generations of African Americans who have struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford comes to the 113th Congress as a strong advocate for Social Security and Medicare based on his own personal experience with the vital role these programs play in the lives of American families.
Rep. Steven Horsford - (D) Nevada’s 4th District
Medicare and Social Security are sometimes referred to as “entitlements.” In reality, they are promises. They are social insurance programs that prevent poverty in our golden years and they help our parents and grandparents live the comfortable and dignified retirement they deserve. These programs keep America’s promise to our seniors and protect the health of the most vulnerable.
The debate over funding for our social insurance programs can sometimes get lost in spreadsheets and numbers. Ultimately, however, these programs are about people. I know this all too well.
When I was a young boy, my grandmother suffered a stroke and fell into a coma. When she awoke, half of her body was paralyzed, and from there on out she spent the final 27 years of her life moving from nursing home to nursing home, depending on where beds and resources were available. At a young age, I had no idea that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were a crucial part of my grandmother’s life support. But they were.
I visited her every week. Those trips to her bedside are still with me today, and they are a constant reminder that when we cut the budget, we are not just talking about numbers. We are talking about people. We are talking about our families and the ones we love. We are talking about my grandmother.
So, we will get our debt under control, but we will not cut our way to prosperity, and we will not neglect our most vulnerable citizens in the process. We will not take a hatchet to our safety net. It’s just not right, especially while corporations continue to receive trillions of dollars in special tax breaks.
Members of my district are also uniquely affected by proposals to defund Medicare and Social Security. Hispanics make up 27% of the population in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, and African-Americans make up 16%. Devastating cuts to social insurance programs would be amplified for many of my constituents. Two-thirds of African-Americans and Hispanics have incomes below $22,500 post-retirement, and many rely solely on Medicare to receive health services. How can we say that these constituents, who live with so little and receive the bare minimum in benefits, are part of a “spending problem?”
Medicare and Social Security serve as important and necessary programs to keep seniors healthy. We cannot go back on a promise for safe retirement and health benefits. Our seniors have built their future around the existence of programs they have paid into for years. For my grandmother and my constituents, I vow to fight to protect these programs.
Join the conversation with Congressman Horsford online via:
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Budget], [entitlement reform], [healthcare], [Medicare], [Retirement], [Social Security]
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