From the category archives: Max Richtman
“It’s long past time for Congress to acknowledge the hard truth that the sky-rocketing cost of prescription drugs is hurting average Americans and our federal budget. Medicare spends billions providing Part D drug coverage each year while beneficiaries including seniors, the disabled and their families also face rising out-of-pocket costs and higher premiums. All the while, drug makers continue to reap the profits of their price gouging. In his budget, President Obama has again proposed lifting the ban preventing Medicare from negotiating prices with the drug companies. Big Pharma has lobbied hard to keep the ban in place but seniors expect, this time, Congress will do the right thing and finally allow Medicare to negotiate for fair prices.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
Among the other budget provisions beneficial to seniors include:
- closing the Part D donut hole two years earlier
- additional funding for in-home services
- reforms for overpayments going to private insurers in Medicare Advantage
- a 7.44% increase in administrative funding for the Social Security Administration
However, the President’s budget was not all good news. Once again, the budget proposes shifting even more healthcare costs to seniors by extending Medicare means-testing to the middle class and increasing out-of-pocket costs such as the home health care copayment and the Part B deductible.
“The average Medicare beneficiary already spends nearly $4,800 per year in out-of-pocket health care costs with half of all people on Medicare having incomes of less than $24,150. People in Medicare simply can’t afford increased cost-sharing year-after-year. What’s especially worrisome are efforts to portray expanding means-testing in Medicare as impacting only ‘high-income seniors.’ While that may be good political rhetoric the truth is, if passed, further means testing will actually target middle-class individuals”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
In 2014, 46.7 million people (14.8%) were living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. The poverty rate for people aged 65 and older was lower, at 10%, thanks to the success of earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare. In spite of these programs’ undeniable success in providing improved income and health security for older Americas, GOP leaders in Congress and most running for President, continue to target Social Security and Medicare for cuts. They also have supported cuts to other vital safety net programs serving America’s poor.
While this weekend’s GOP Poverty forum may have signaled a shift to softer rhetoric on poverty (an issue that has seldom been addressed by Republican candidates, so far) there’s no sign that their policy prescriptions have changed at all.
Robert Greenstein is the founder and President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and provides this Huffington Post analysis of the GOP’s primary poverty proposal:
“Our analysis suggests Paul Ryan's "Opportunity Grant" proposal carries substantial risk of increasing poverty, rather than reducing it, for the following reasons:
Economist Jared Bernstein
- Although Speaker Ryan has described the proposal as maintaining the same overall funding for anti-poverty programs, that would be a practical impossibility.
- Funds would likely be shifted away from direct assistance to needy families.
- The proposal would jeopardize basic nutrition assistance for poor children, which research has shown reduces child malnutrition and improves children's long-term prospects.
- Not only would food assistance funding likely decline, but total funding to assist low-income families would likely decline as well.
- History shows that when federal policymakers merge programs into a broad block grant, federal funding typically declines over time, often dramatically.”
“This is merely a gussied up version of “if your only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” The idea, and Ryan’s budgets very much underscore this point, is that we can help the poor more by doing less for them.
The evidence points strongly in the opposite direction. As CBPP’s Arloc Sherman noted yesterday (and Ben Spielberg and I have explained in detail), a large and growing body of high-quality research...shows that the impact of income support and safety net programs like SNAP and Medicaid do not just occur upon receipt and immediately fade away. They have important, positive long-term benefits for children. Next, the idea that liberal policies have failed is belied by…you know…data.”
Paul Ryan’s long-held and often-expressed Ayn Randian view of every man for himself and claims that federal safety-net programs (including earned benefits in Social Security, Medicare) only provide a “hammock” for the “dependency culture” of “makers and takers” remain as the core value that fuels the GOP approach to poverty. Although, Speaker Ryan now acknowledges his “maker-taker” rhetoric was a mistake, that clearly hasn’t moderated his policy approach.
“Under his “Opportunity Grant” proposal, Ryan has proposed converting a number of programs to state block grants, a decision that nonpartisan analysis suggests would reduce families’ ability to access key programs such as nutrition and housing assistance. In crafting this idea, Ryan and other conservatives often point to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program as a model—even though it does very little to mitigate poverty and hardship and is unresponsive to recessions.
Furthermore, in their most recent congressional budgets, Republicans obtained two-thirds of their cuts from programs helping low- and moderate-income families, while channeling additional resources towards tax cuts for the wealthy.” The Nation
The GOP/Ryan budgets have all been characterized by tax cuts for the wealthy, program cuts for the poor and turning Medicare into “Coupon Care.”
“Once again, the House GOP’s budget would privatize Medicare with a voucher plan, leaving seniors and the disabled – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies. Over time, this will end traditional Medicare and make it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor. Vouchers will not keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance… that is why seniors will pay more.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
The GOP/Ryan Budget:
- Ends the Medicaid joint federal/state financing partnership and replacing it with fixed dollar amount block grants, giving states less money than they would receive under current law.
- Repeals Medicaid expansion. Since 2014, states have had the option to receive federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage. Over half of the states have expanded their Medicaid programs, and others will likely do so in the future. Repealing this option would result in at least 14 million people losing their Medicaid coverage and state Medicaid programs would lose a total of $900 billion over 10 years.
- Cuts Medicare by $431 billion over ten years. Over half of Medicare beneficiaries had incomes below $23,500 per year in 2013, and they are already paying 23 percent of their average Social Security check for Medicare cost-sharing in addition to out-of-pocket costs.
Talking about poverty in America is a welcome first step from the Republican candidates; however, talk is cheap if action is just more of the same benefit cuts to pay for tax cuts.
By Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
Originally on Huffington Post.
Saving for retirement continues to be a significant challenge for millions of workers still searching for economic stability in this post-recession era. What’s worse is it will likely become much more difficult if Congress adopts the privatization, benefit cutting and cost-shifting plans the GOP Presidential candidates’ propose for Social Security and Medicare. Before we look at what some of these plans would mean for generations of retirees and their families, it’s important to understand what the current retirement crisis actually looks like for the average American.
Retirement USA reports the gap between what Americans need to retire and what they actually have is $7.7 trillion. In fact, about half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings and a third of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement. Unfortunately, the median retirement account balance is a puny $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. Contrary to the political rhetoric that all Americans are living longer, the truth is high income men have gained 8 years of life expectancy while low income men have seen virtually no change. White men also live about 12% longer at age 65 than black men. At the same time, a survey of older people in 11 countries finds that U.S. adults are sicker than their counterparts abroad, and are more likely to have problems paying their medical bills and getting needed healthcare. Unfortunately, America’s retirement crisis has earned almost as many “deniers” as the climate change issue. We can’t continue turning a blind eye to the millions of American families struggling with how to ensure grandparents, parents and ultimately their children can age with dignity without impoverishing themselves.
Rather than acknowledge our national retirement crisis and propose policy prescriptions to improve the ability of average Americans’ to save for retirement and boost benefits for Social Security and Medicare, policy proposals of most of the Republican Presidential candidates do just the opposite – cut benefits and shift more costs to middle-class families. The gap between what Americans need to remain economically secure as they age and what these candidates propose is huge. This is why 2016 will be critical to the economic security of generations of American workers who can’t, nor should they have to, work until the day they die.
Just as we’ve seen from climate change deniers, many Republican politicians won’t even acknowledge the retirement crisis exists because improving the nation’s most successful federal retirement programs is anathema to their misguided belief that Wall Street should be handling your savings and for-profit insurance companies managing your health. When you look at proposals for Social Security and Medicare offered this campaign season, there is virtually no disagreement among Republican Presidential candidates. On one end of a very narrow political spectrum, Governor Christie aggressively attacked Social Security early in the race to prove his conservative bona-fides as a “truth-teller” and to show that he’s willing to tell average Americans that he plans to cut their earned benefits. On the opposite end of the GOP field strategically is Mike Huckabee. He’s taken a more populist tone in defense of Social Security and Medicare while also maligning both programs as federal “confiscation” and “pick-pocketing.” His actual proposals come from the same GOP political playbook: repeal Obamacare which would terminate the billions in Medicare benefits and years of solvency that comes with it, privatize programs, and replace Social Security’s funding with a regressive tax changing the program from an earned benefit into a welfare program.
The rest of the GOP candidates have staked out their own version of “saving” Social Security by slashing benefits and “improving” Medicare by shifting even more costs to seniors. As you can see in the interactive chart below -- based on the candidates’ public comments, written proposals and legislative record -- they have plenty to say about their plans to privatize, cut benefits and shift costs in Social Security and Medicare. The only slight exception is Carly Fiorina, who says she won’t detail her Social Security and Medicare plans until after she’s elected President. In other words, vote first and ask questions later.
On the Democratic side, all three candidates have plans for Social Security and Medicare which illustrate stark differences between the parties when it comes to addressing America’s retirement crisis. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley would boost Social Security benefits in differing ways and none support privatization. As one the Senate’s most vocal defenders of Social Security and Medicare, Sanders has introduced legislation to boost basic Social Security benefits and lift the payroll tax cap so that the wealthy pay the same percentage of their wages as the middle class. O’Malley supports the same proposals. O’Malley and Clinton support creating caregiver credits in Social Security for those who take time away from work to raise a family or care for a family member. While Clinton has opposed lifting the payroll tax cap in the past, she now suggests she’s open to the idea. Clinton supports increasing Social Security benefits for the poorest recipients.
While it’s clear that the future of Social Security and Medicare would be radically different if GOP Presidential candidates have their way, the story doesn’t end at the White House. In Congress, Democrats have had their share of political successes and miscues in negotiations with GOP Congressional leaders. This year alone, there have been multiple attempts by Congress to use Social Security and/or Medicare as an ATM to pay for completely unrelated priorities. Medicare sequester cuts have been extended into 2025. Then Medicare was cut again to help pay for the Trade bill. There was also a failed attempt this summer to fund the highway bill with Social Security cuts and let’s not forget that many Democrats have expressed support for the ill-fated Bowles-Simpson “Grand Bargain” deficit plan which would have been devastating for programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Sounding the alarm about these damaging proposals isn’t just about protecting the current generation of seniors. Cutting America’s most successful retirement income and health security programs at the same time younger workers are coping with stagnant wage growth, higher inflation, college loan debt, and an inability to save enough for retirement threatens their future financial security too. The 2016 elections will be a defining moment for whether America’s retirement safety net stays or goes. It’s critical that American voters of all ages demand that candidates for President and Congress – Republicans and Democrats – are held accountable for policies which will impact generations of American families.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has introduced legislation, cosponsored by a host of Democratic Senators and supported by us here at the National Committee, to send every senior citizen and disabled veteran in America a check for $580. The “SAVE Benefits Act” follows the announcement last month that beneficiaries would not receive any COLA increase next year.
Senator Warren describes her legislation this way:
“Although the cost of core goods and services is projected to rise next year, millions of Americans will see no increase in the benefits they rely on to make ends meet. Meanwhile, CEO compensation for the top 350 firms increased by 3.9 percent last year. The Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act (SAVE Benefits Act) would give about 70 million seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and others an emergency payment equal to 3.9 percent of the average annual Social Security benefit, about $581 - the same percentage raise as the top CEOs.
A $581 increase could cover almost three months of groceries for seniors or a year's worth of out-of-pocket costs on critical prescription drugs for the average Medicare beneficiary. The bill would lift more than 1 million Americans out of poverty. The cost of this emergency payment would be covered by closing a tax loophole allowing corporations to write off executive bonuses as a business expense for "performance pay." The substantial additional revenue saved by closing the CEO compensation loophole would be used to bolster and extend the life of the Social Security and Disability trust funds.”
For seniors who continue to see their costs increase, particularly their healthcare, news that there would be no COLA increase in 2016 makes no sense. It highlights the need to adopt a more accurate measure of seniors’ true expenses through the adoption of a CPI for the elderly (CPI-E).
“The current Social Security COLA formula isn’t accurately measuring seniors’ expenses. Seniors across this nation understand how important having an accurate measure of the increase in their real costs is to their day-to-day survival. While there has been a lot of talk in Washington about the need to find a more accurate COLA formula; unfortunately, that attention has largely focused on ways to cut the COLA even further. Leaving many Americans to wonder what’s less than zero? If accurate inflation protection for seniors is truly our goal, Congress needs to adopt a fully developed CPI for the elderly (CPI-E). Until then, we urge Congress to act quickly to mitigate the devastating Medicare hikes headed for millions of Americans who can’t afford them.” ...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
Senator Warren talked about why seniors need this legislation on “All In” with Chris Hayes.
In these days where nothing in Congress can get done without making threats to slash benefits, holding programs like Social Security and Medicare hostage or creating a crisis that could easily be fixed – today’s news that budget negotiators have reached a deal to avoid a full government default is welcome news.
But of course, the devil is in the details.
“At the risk of damning by faint praise, the newly negotiated budget deal certainly could have been a lot worse. The good news is Democrats in Congress and the White House were able to stop a 52% premium increase from hitting millions of seniors in Medicare next year. They also negotiated a re-allocation (originally blocked by the GOP) for the Social Security disability program that prevents a massive benefit cut in 2016 for Americans with disabilities. In this current Congressional atmosphere of hostage-taking and never-ending threats to benefits, these victories are significant.
Unfortunately, seniors will still receive no cost of living adjustment in 2016 and the sequester cuts to Medicare providers will continue to pay for non-Medicare programs. It’s clear the GOP-led Congress still sees Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as piggy banks to fund other legislative priorities and this hostage-taking, threats to benefits and crisis creation will continue. We hope Congress can get the votes to approve this budget deal so that seniors, people with disabilities and their families may finally see a temporary cease-fire in this ongoing assault on their benefits.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
Specifically, this budget agreement, if passed, would:
· Prevent a 19% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits that would have occurred in late 2016
· Ensure 7 years of certainty that the Social Security Disability insurance program will pay full benefits
· Mitigate a 52% Medicare Part B premium increase for 30% of Medicare beneficiaries
· Alleviate an increase in the Part B deductible for all beneficiaries, lowering it from a projected $223 to $167
· Provide sequester relief to programs like the Older Americans Act, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Social Security field offices without cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
Unfortunately, the bill would also:
· Provide NO relief to seniors who will receive no cost of living adjustment in 2016.
· Extend the Medicare provider reimbursement sequester and uses the savings to pay for unrelated programs.
· .While this two-year budget agreement could provide a cease-fire in the attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid it is likely to be fleeting as funding for the nation’s transportation system runs out again in December. What does highway funding have to do with Social Security & Medicare? The answer should be nothing. However, as we reported in July, the GOP Congress has tried to pay for the transportation bill with cuts in Social Security and are likely to try again next month.
“...there are at least two Social Security policy changes that are currently being considered as “offsets” for legislation that would extend highway transportation funding. One of these is a measure barring payment of Social Security benefits for seniors with outstanding warrants for their arrest. Almost none of the seniors who would be affected by this provision are actual fugitives from justice and most of the warrants in question are many years old and involve minor infractions. Moreover, the Social Security Administration attempted to administer a similar provision for a number of years, with catastrophic effect for many vulnerable elderly seniors, employing procedures that did not withstand judicial scrutiny. Reenacting this requirement should be something the Congress does only after careful analysis and with ample opportunity for public discussion.
The second provision relates to the concurrent receipt of both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and unemployment compensation. Given the importance that all policy makers ascribe to encouraging disabled Americans to return to the workforce, I am perplexed by the desire on the part of some in the Congress to strip working SSDI beneficiaries of their eligibility to receive unemployment compensation when, through no fault of their own, they lose a job. Concurrent eligibility, which derives directly from a disabled person’s efforts to return to work, is a work incentive. That incentive should be altered only after the committees of jurisdiction have carefully considered all of the ramifications associated with such a change and, again, after ample opportunity for public comment.” Entitled to Know, July 2015
The House is expected to vote on the 2 year budget agreement tomorrow.
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