From the category archives: healthcare
While Presidential candidates and Washington politicians continue to claim “we can’t afford Social Security and Medicare”, few-- if any--want to talk about what their proposals will actually mean for millions of middle-class Americans who depend on these programs. Columbia Journalism Review’s
Trudy Lieberman wrote a memo to political journalists urging them to start asking some tough questions so that voters can understand what their plans to cut benefits will actually mean for our nation.
Last week, speaking to business leaders in Detroit, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned that Medicare-eligible Americans ought to wait longer for their benefits. The media glossed over Romney’s remarks; but I kept thinking about them as I was chatting with a woman who had one leg, amputated because of complications from diabetes. And they stayed in my mind as I talked to another woman—a 67-year-old who had a stroke last year, and had had to quit working as a presser for a local dry cleaner ten years ago, when she was 57. She had a seizure, and a hot press fell on her hand. A long scar shows how her work life ended. She qualified for a Social Security disability check—all of $795 a month that’s been her only income ever since. How on earth could someone like her pay for medical care if she had had to wait a few more years?
A CNBC blog picked up an AP story which noted that Mitt had said the federal health reform law was too expensive; that it raised taxes and cut $500 billion from Medicare. Not another half truth! For the fourteenth time, the law did cut payments to hospitals and to sellers of Medicare Advantage plans, but it did not cut basic benefits for seniors. Yet the GOP keeps using the number to scare seniors into voting for them. The blog post linked to a CNBC primer on Medicare and Medicaid, which at least offered some basics. For the record, the CNBC primer didn’t correct that misperception.
Please indulge me in a digression. Research from respected sources like the Kaiser Family Foundation has challenged the notion that raising the age for Medicare benefits saves money. Kaiser found that lifting the age from 65 to 67 would reduce Medicare spending by $7.6 billion. But before you run with that number, you need to know that cost would merely be shifted to employers and individuals, who would have to pay more for health coverage to replace the lost Medicare benefits. It would mean spending $10.1 billion in the private sector to save $7.6 billion for the government. How’s that for bending the nation’s cost curve?
You can see the Kaiser Family Foundation report here
. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also looked the costs of raising Medicare’s eligibility age here
President Obama released his 2013 budget
today with predictable howls from Republicans
that there should be more
cuts in Medicare and Social Security to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy. While the President’s budget projects a deficit
below $1 trillion and foresees the federal shortfall declining to sustainable levels by 2017, it doesn’t overhaul Social Security or turn Medicare into “coupon care” so for conservatives, it’s considered dead on arrival.
We applaud the President for rejecting the loud and well-financed
Washington clarion call for balancing the budget with massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
“While the President’s budget offers a balanced approach addressing revenue and spending, his plan shifts even more costs to seniors in Medicare through increased means-testing, premium hikes and co-pays. The real cost driver is not Medicare, as some have claimed, but rising healthcare costs system-wide. We need to tackle the true problem, not just pass more costs on to seniors. That’s why the National Committee supported health care reform as the best way to bring spending under control. We should be expanding on the progress made since the Affordable Care Act became law rather than finding new ways to send seniors the budget bill.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
However, we do not support the President’s plan to expand Medicare means-testing
. While it may sound logical that so-called “rich” seniors should pay more during tight budget times, the truth is that’s not what means testing will actually do:
“While some tout increasing means testing in Medicare as a way to insure ‘rich’ seniors pay their share, the truth is, the middle-class will take this hit too. Medicare has already been means tested since 2007 and the number of beneficiaries subject to higher premiums is already increasing. Proposals that target even more Medicare beneficiaries for increasing premiums will ultimately impact beneficiaries with modest incomes.” Max Richtman, President and CEO
that would subject even more Medicare beneficiaries to income-related premiums would impact beneficiaries who certainly would not be considered higher income. For example, beneficiaries with incomes of just $47,000 today, would face higher premiums by 2035 according to a report on means testing prepared by the Kaiser Family Foundation
at Unsilent Generation provides some desperately needed perspective on the reality of aging in America. Contrary to Washington's popular "greedy geezer" mythology, our nation's older Americans are not living high on the hog and are in fact facing an extremely uncertain future as Congress continues to find ways to balance our federal books with cuts to programs serving middle-class Americans.
Make this among the first articles you share with friends and loved ones this New Year!
Unsilent Generation, Commentary, James Ridgeway, Posted: Jan 03, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C.--In her remarkable book The Coming of Age, Simone de Beauvoir observed that fear of aging and death drives younger people to view their elders as a separate species, rather than as their own future selves: “Until the moment it is upon us,” she wrote, “old age is something that only affects other people. So it is understandable that society should prevent us from seeing our own kind, our fellow men, when we look at the old.”
This disconnect has, no doubt, been helpful to those who favor cutting the so-called old age entitlements, Social Security and Medicare -- which, these days, seems to include just about everyone in Washington. Now that the congressional supercommittee, charged with reducing the federal deficit, has gone down in flames, some are calling for a return to the plan proposed by the chairmen who headed Obama’s Simpson-Bowles deficit commission last year. Like the supercommittee, the commission itself couldn't agree on a plan for Congress to vote on.
Debunked Myths Ignored
Amidst all the bipartisan warring, one thing most of these committee members agree on is that the budget will, in large part, be balanced on the backs of old people, through cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The only differences are over how these cuts should be made, and how large they should be.
In the unlikely event that the rich are made to pay something toward deficit reduction, in the form of increased taxes, their contribution will pale in comparison to the share paid by elders in the form of reduced benefits. In part, that’s because the enemies of entitlements have succeeded in depicting these lifesaving government programs as the cause of our economic woes -- a myth that has repeatedly been debunked to little avail.
By extension, they depict our current fiscal crisis as a standoff between the old and the young, rather than the rich and the poor. Former Senator Alan Simpson, the Republican handpicked by Obama to co-chair his bipartisan 2010 deficit commission, was fond of talking about the perfidy of “fat cat geezers," who dared to oppose entitlement cuts at the expense of his -- and everyone’s -- grandchildren.
Simpson’s image of old people -- “who live in gated communities and drive their Lexus to the Perkins restaurant to get the AARP discount” -- seems to have gained traction as the dominant view of elders in this country. This belies the reality of the lives lived by millions of older Americans, for whom a comfortable retirement was never more than a distant dream. For them, old age means work or poverty – or, sometimes, both.
A More Rounded View
Recently, I attended the annual meeting in Boston of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), a research and education organization whose members study all aspects of aging. With 3,500 people in attendance, hundreds of sessions and a teeming exhibit hall, there was plenty of upbeat talk about the “encore years.”
But there was also a body of research and discussion that presented a more rounded picture of old age in America -- a place where “fat cat geezers” are far outnumbered by elders who, like Americans of all ages, are struggling to get by.
In one exhibit on “The Economics of Aging,” researchers from Wayne State University presented a study published earlier this year called “Invisible Poverty,” which found that one in three elders – including many living in middle-class suburbs – cannot fully cover their basic living expenses, including food, housing, transportation and medical care. It also found that certain shortcomings in the way federal poverty statistics are compiled meant that poverty among older people was more likely to be underestimated.
“This widespread economic struggle faced by Michigan seniors is fairly hidden from public sight, making it an invisible poverty that takes its toll on older individuals, their families and caregivers and the community at large,” says the study.
Among the elderly poor are large and growing numbers of women. Consider the figures: over 40% of black and white women over 65 live alone, and over a quarter of these women are poor. They are likely to be isolated and they, too, are invisible.
2 Million LGBT Elders Below Policy Radar
Also below the public policy radar, according to another study presented at the conference, are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elders -- who are now counted at over 2 million and are expected to double in number by 2030. These people are far less likely to have partners or caregivers of any sort, because society banned or discouraged them.
For these elders, and millions of others, Social Security is more than an “entitlement” -- it is a lifeline.
According to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security alone keeps 20 million Americans above the poverty line. It’s hard to argue that Social Security benefits are too generous, or that retirees enjoy extravagant lifestyles.
The average Social Security benefit for 2012 stands at just over $1,200 a month. As the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker notes, “More than 75 percent of benefits go to individuals with non-Social Security income of less than $20,000 a year and more than 90 percent of benefits go to individuals with non-Social Security income of less than $40,000 a year.”
In addition, Baker points out:
“The private pension system has largely collapsed and the current group of near retirees saw much of their home equity disappear with the collapse of the housing bubble. As a result, the situation of retirees is likely to be worse in the near future, especially after taking into account the growing burden of out-of-pocket healthcare expenses projected in the decades ahead.”
So it is the search for work, not cleaning one’s fingernails or studying French to stave off dementia, that is now a major concern for many older people. Historically they have been fired from long-held jobs because of their costly benefits and diminishing ability to handle the job, but now employers are taking a fresh look at this situation.
Business, as it turns out, may very well embrace the old -- because they often come at lower wages, with no benefits and scant legal protection. Given U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the prospect of any of these people filing old age discrimination suits is unlikely. Rather than knocking them out of a job, it may turn out to be less expensive to keep on a skilled, elderly employee, perhaps at reduced salary and reduced hours, than go through the rigamarole of hiring a young, inexperienced person, who must then undergo training.
A Different Society Emerging
As the GSA conference showed, there is no point in cutting entitlements to elders when, in fact, so little is known about their lives and their emerging future. It means there must be a full, open debate -- not backdoor political maneuvering -- on the issue.
What may be happening here is the emerging outlines of a much different society than the one we now know: a society that, for example, will require a new service sector, a different slant towards medicine, which uses the old to assist the young, as friends and caregivers -- instead of pitting generations against one another.
The late Theodore Roszak, who described and named the “counter culture” that took shape in the 1970s, thought old people were anything but a selfish bunch of useless geezers waiting to die. He called them an “audacious generation,” opening a new world of energy and hope. Let us hope, in de Beauvoir’s words, that moment is upon us.
James Ridgeway wrote this article as part of a MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a program of the Gerontological Society of America and New America Media. The article first appeared in The Guardian.
New political wrapping can’t hide privatization scheme in Wyden/Ryan
Senator Wyden and Congressman Ryan’s newly proposed voucher plan
offers a slight twist on the same failed approach to Medicare reform that was originally offered by the Ryan legislation and rejected by the majority of Americans – coupon care for seniors. The Ryan/Wyden
voucher plan would shift a growing share of Medicare costs to beneficiaries without reducing overall costs in the program while undermining traditional Medicare.
“While some in Washington remain convinced private insurers can provide more cost-effective coverage for seniors than Medicare, the facts prove otherwise. Private Medicare Advantage plans have already shown this to be a false promise. What this Ryan/Wyden plan would do is drive younger and healthier seniors out of traditional Medicare, leaving the government with a pool of increasingly costly beneficiaries. Medicare spending will increase and seniors who remain in traditional Medicare will see their costs go up as well.
The only winner in this privatization plan would be private insurers who would be given the ability to cherry-pick the nation’s healthiest seniors from the traditional Medicare program, allowing it to whither on the vine. America’s seniors understand how vital Medicare is to the health of our nation and want to find ways to strengthen the program for future generations. But this proposal increases costs for everyone while ignoring the core issue of rising health care costs. That’s not reform—that’s the end of Medicare as we know it.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
- Beneficiaries would be forced to pay more for Medicare benefits because premiums would be indexed to the gross domestic product, plus 1 percent, which historically has risen far more slowly than health care costs.
- The Ryan-Wyden plan could actually increase Medicare costs because it expands private Medicare plans that cost an average of 10 percent more than what the same coverage would cost in traditional Medicare.
- If younger retirees enter the new program and the oldest and sickest remain in traditional Medicare, the program will be faced with a pool of increasingly costly beneficiaries. Medicare spending would go up and seniors who remain in traditional Medicare would see their costs go up as well.
According to news from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
today, beneficiaries over 65 who have been paying $96.40 a month in Medicare Part B premiums, will see their premiums rise next year to $99.90. This is significantly less than the increase predicted by CMS for 2012. New Medicare enrollees who have been paying $115.40 a month will actually see their premiums go down. The Part B deductible decreases as well, by $22, and premiums for Medicare's Part D prescription benefit will remain unchanged for 2012.
Today’s Medicare announcement follows news last week that seniors will receive a 3.6% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in their 2012 Social Security checks. That means the average retiree will receive a nearly $40 per month increase in their Social Security checks even including the Part B premium increase.
“Today’s Medicare announcement is truly welcome news for millions of seniors worried that healthcare costs would once again eat away at this year’s COLA. For the first time in many years, most retirees can count on actually seeing an increase in their monthly check. We’ve said all along that healthcare reform was vital to strengthen and improve Medicare for seniors and that given time the benefits would be undeniable. Today’s announcement is further proof of exactly that.
Rather than trading away benefits in a so-called ‘grand bargain’, Congress should heed the lessons provided in today’s announcement. Instead of cutting seniors’ benefits in the name of deficit reduction, we should be building on the successful reforms already passed to continue improving Medicare efficiencies while reducing costs. The Affordable Care Act has shown we don’t have to cut benefits to seniors to save money in Medicare. The question is -- is the Super Committee even paying attention?” Max Richtman, President/CEO
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