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From the category archives: Max Richtman

Seniors Applaud Clinton Plan to Stop Rx Drug Price Gouging

It’s become an all-too-common story...

America’s drug industry has raised the prices of nearly 400 generic drugs by over 1,000% between 2008 and 2015.  The truth is, these drugs are not cutting-edge and revolutionary discoveries but in fact many weren’t even developed by the company which jacked up the price.  Instead, these lifesaving treatments, which have often been on the market for years, are being bought with the purpose of raising the price and maximizing profits. 

Remember Turing and pharma bad-boy Martin Shkreli’s decision to raise the cost of a life-saving AIDS drug 5,000%? Most recently we have pharma giant, Mylan’s, announcement that EpiPen’s price tag would jump more than 400%.  Skyrocketing costs for prescription drugs certainly isn’t news for America’s seniors who’ve already seen a growing percentage of their retirement income eaten away by health care costs but the trend continues.

That’s why today’s announcement by the Clinton campaign to create a consumer panel to protect Americans from unjustified price hikes is especially welcomed by seniors.

The National Committee’s members and supporters applaud Hillary Clinton’s plan to create a consumer response team to identify and intervene in cases where drug manufacturers are hiking costs without justification. For too long America’s drug industry has been allowed to raise prices excessively for treatments that have been available for years. The recent EpiPen 400% price hike is just the latest example of companies putting profits ahead of patients.  The sky-rocketing cost of prescription drugs is hurting average Americans, our health system and the federal budget. 

This growing trend is especially harmful for seniors who spend a higher percentage of their income on healthcare costs and have seen their prescription drug costs grow exponentially in recent years. The Medicare Trustees report out-of-pocket costs, premiums and cost-sharing consumes 23 percent of the average Social Security check. This trend is devastating for America’s seniors.

This move, combined with Clinton’s early proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and demand higher rebates for beneficiaries are important proposals which could make a real difference in the fiscal and physical health of millions of American seniors.” ...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

According to her statement, this newest addition to Clinton’s prescription drug plan would:

“establish dedicated consumer oversight at our public health and competition agencies. They will determine an unjustified, outlier price increase based on specific criteria including:

1) the trajectory of the price increase;

2) the cost of production; and

3) the relative value to patients, among other factors that pose a threat to public health.

Should an excessive, outlier price increase be determined for a long-standing treatment, Hillary’s plan would make new enforcement tools available, including:

Making alternatives available and increasing competition: Directly intervening to make treatments available, and supporting alternative manufacturers that enter the market and increase competition, to bring down prices and spur innovation in new treatments.

Emergency importation of safe treatments: Broadening access to safe, high-quality alternatives through emergency importation from developed countries with strong safety standards.

Penalties for unjustified price increases to hold drug companies accountable and fund expanded access: Holding drug makers accountable for unjustified price increases with new penalties, such as fines – and using the funds or savings to expand access and competition.”

Kaiser Family Foundation poll found a large majority of the public (72%) view the cost of prescription drugs as unreasonable.  Our NCPSSM polling, and many others too, shows most Americans across party lines support allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies as a way to lower drug costs for seniors.  Reigning in high drugs costs is a critical step to making America’s health care more affordable for both patients and federal programs like Medicare. 

Social Security Should Change New Cell Phone Security Rule

As we first reported last week, new federal online security rules have led the Social Security Administration to require all new and current account holders to SSA’s online portal,  my Social Security, to have a text-enabled cell phone to access their account online. 

Since only a quarter (27%) of adults ages 65 and older own smartphones this new rule is baffling.  NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, has urged Social Security’s Acting Commission, Carolyn Colvin, to change the new requirement:

We are concerned that the new authentication requirements will mean that millions of Americans will find themselves cut off from this convenient avenue of service delivery. That’s why we urge you to move quickly to protect seniors by expanding your authentication procedures to include options that can be used by those who do not have text-capable cell phones. One option would be to send an authentication code to mySocialSecurity account holders via email. Such an expansion would go a long way in ensuring that seniors will continue to be able to access their accounts.

We understand the dilemma SSA confronts in making individuals’ personally-identifiable information available to them through an online service portal such as mySocialSecurity.

“Too little security can compromise the privacy of millions of Americans. Authentication procedures that are overly-rigorous or that offer too few options can close off an important avenue of service delivery and lead to increased phone and walk-in traffic in local Social Security offices. We urge you to review the new authentication procedures with the goal of striking the right balance between access and security. Establishing an authentication option based on email or a person’s landline telephone would significantly increase the number of account holders who would continue to have access to the services that mySocialSecurity so admirably provides.”

You can read our entire letter here


Will America's Seniors Vote Against Their Own Self-Interests...Again?

Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEOby Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

As a seniors’ advocate who’s worked on aging policy issues for decades, one of the most common questions I hear during campaign season is, “Why do America’s seniors vote against their own economic self-interests?” or more specifically, “Why have so many older (65+) Americans shifted to the Republican Party, even as it supports cutting the Social Security and Medicare benefits they depend on?” There is no single answer to this political quandary because there is far more at work in our fractured, divisive and polarized political system than simply age demographics. However, there’s no denying we could see American seniors vote against their own self-interests, once again in 2016, unless there’s a major awakening to what that vote means for them economically.

It’s important to start with some historical context. Democratic Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, created Social Security and Medicare and -- for decades -- the party’s strong support among seniors and the middle-class reflected that reality. However, that was then. The erosion of senior support for Democratic candidates has been steady.  In 1993, Democrats had a 12 point advantage over Republicans among senior voters.  Today, that advantage is gone and is instead a deficit.

While the GOP claims this shift proves cutting earned benefits is no longer the “third rail” of American politics, the increasingly populist tone of this 2016 Presidential campaign combined with the nomination of a GOP Presidential candidate who’s promised no cuts certainly belies that assertion. In truth what’s happened in recent years is that conservatives have successfully co-opted the Social Security and Medicare political debate by promising Americans they’ll “preserve” and “strengthen” these vital programs on the campaign trail, while actually proposing benefit cuts, Social Security private accounts, or coupon care for seniors in Medicare only after they’re elected. This Orwellian doublespeak isn’t accidental but a well-crafted (and apparently effective) messaging strategy. Donald Trump has now taken that messaging a step further by promising he’ll leave Social Security and Medicare alone, even as he surrounds himself with staff and a Vice Presidential running mate with very different plans. Trump himself supported the privatization of Social Security for more than a decade, calling it a “Ponzi scheme,” but by 2013 he’d done the political calculus and warned conservatives they simply couldn’t win elections that way:

“ ‘As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen,’ Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed."  Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times

You know the Republicans also have to get elected, you do know that. And if you watch Bernie, and if you watch Hillary, they don't only want to not cut, they want to increase Social Security.” Donald Trump, Morning Joe, February 2016

The American people, of all ages and political parties understand we don’t have to destroy Social Security and Medicare to “save” them. The latest survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance shows large majorities of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, agree on ways to strengthen Social Security, without cutting benefits. 74 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats agree that “it is critical to preserve Social Security even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans.”  Simply put, the American people are willing to pay more for Social Security.  They understand the growing impact these benefits have on individual lives and on our larger economy.  They know first-hand what America’s retirement crisis looks and feels like.

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. Vanguard reports that 401K balances, for those who do have them, fell a median of 11% last year.  Social Security remains the only stable retirement income for many Americans.

Social Security is also a stabilizing force for the economy.  A new report from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation shows that, in 2014 alone, Social Security delivered a $1.6 trillion fiscal boost nationwide as benefits were spent and cycled through the economy.  Unfortunately, Social Security’s economic contributions to communities, counties, and states continue to be misunderstood and often ignored in Washington’s fiscal debates. This election could change that.

The party that created Social Security and Medicare has an opportunity to regain lost ground by drawing a clear line in the sand in defense of the core American values of hard work, fairness and compassion embodied in our nation’s most successful programs – Social Security and Medicare. The Democrat’s 2016 platform is the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades.  By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans. Conversely, the Republican 2016 platform says benefit cuts must be considered, raising revenue rejected and privatization (the “power of the markets”) preferred. It’s no wonder Donald Trump has been running noticeably silent on Social Security and Medicare this summer, given the Republican Party’s clear rejection of his Social Security and Medicare campaign promises.

Senior turnout will play a huge role in November’s elections which means Democrats must continue to say what they mean, and mean what they say in a full-throated defense against attacks to America’s most effective health and retirement security programs.  Senior voters must also remain vigilant and demand more from candidates than empty promises and political double-speak, otherwise they may cast yet another vote against their own economic self-interests and end up with the biggest case of buyers’ remorse in American political history. 

Two Party Platforms –Two Starkly Different Views on Social Security

The Democratic Platform released today clearly shows that the differences between how the Democratic and Republican parties will approach the future of Social Security couldn’t be starker. The GOP platform promises to consider all benefit cut options, refuses to lift the payroll tax cap and suggests sending Americans’ earned benefits to Wall Street through privatization. The Democratic Party platform, on the other hand, offers the strongest statement on strengthening Social Security seen in decades.  By pledging to fight efforts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, supporting expansion of the program, lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula for seniors, the Democrats have tackled head-on the critical challenges facing millions of average Americans. 

“For too long, many in Washington have ignored the retirement crisis facing Americans nationwide.  The Democratic Party’s platform acknowledges what average Americans and their families understand first-hand – Social Security is an economic lifeline to millions which should be improved. Boosting Social Security’s benefits to provide economic security while also extending the program’s solvency can be done at the same time.  The Democrats get that.

The National Committee proudly worked closely with the Democratic Platform Committee and DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to ensure efforts to improve the current cost of living allowance (COLA) formula are investigated.  The current formula isn’t measuring seniors’ expenses properly and they’ve seen no increase for too many years, while their expenses (especially health costs) continue to grow.  We need a COLA for the elderly and are happy to see Democrats address that reality in this 2016 platform.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO and Democratic Platform Committee Member

It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years -- providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.

A new National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation report also released today, called Social Security Spotlight, illustrates very clearly the huge economic impact Social Security benefits have in every state and county throughout the nation.  This research can be especially helpful during the 2016 election cycle for voters, journalists, policy makers and campaign staff as the future of Social Security is debated.


Republican Party Platform Promises Social Security Privatization

The newly released Republican Party platform provides the latest (in a growing amount of) evidence showing that no one in the party is willing to play along with Donald Trump’s empty campaign promises that he “won’t touch” Social Security and Medicare.  As the party’s nominee for President, Trump is the GOP’s leader; however, that didn’t stop Republicans from completely ignoring him in the party platform saying all options should be on the table.  That actually translates to meaning cuts only because the GOP still opposes the most popular option -- raising the payroll tax.  You'll also note the oh-so vague push for allowing Wall Street and the "power of the markets" to control your Social Security:  

“Of the many reforms being proposed, all options should be considered to preserve Social Security. As Republicans, we oppose tax increases and believe in the power of markets to create wealth and to help secure the future of our Social Security system.”

More than a decade after President Bush’s failed privatization campaign, it appears Republicans and their newly appointed party leader, Donald Trump, are caught in a time-warp where they remain determined to send Americans’ guaranteed Social Security’s benefits to Wall Street -- regardless of the financial recklessness which nearly destroyed our economy just years ago. The GOP still believes successful poverty-fighting programs like Social Security and Medicare are the true evil in our society and continue to equate these earned benefit programs to welfare.  It’s also important to remember that this missive didn’t happen in a vacuum. It came just days after Donald Trump chose one of Congress’ biggest privatizers, Mike Pence, as his running mate. 

“Mike Pence was one of Congress’ biggest proponents of privatization. He supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, reducing the COLA, means-testing and turning Medicare into “CouponCare.” As he told CNN, ‘I’m an all of the above guy.  I think we need to look at everything that’s on the menu,’ and the record shows he has done just that by supporting every form of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cut proposed in the past decade.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare scored Mike Pence at 0% on issues important to seniors during the 2011-2012 Congress since he voted for multiple pieces of legislation that would cut benefits and programs that protect senior’s health and financial security.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Before his Pence announcement, Trump also met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and admitted he supports cutting Social Security but he just doesn’t think he can be elected by saying it:

“From a moral standpoint, I believe in it,” Trump told Ryan. “But you also have to get elected. And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.’ ”

Of course, those comments also fit with the message his policy staff delivered to fiscal hawks at the annual Pete Peterson “how to cut middle-class benefits” soiree in May:

“After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. We’ll start taking a hard look at those to start seeing what we can do in a bipartisan way.”

“...I think that whoever [is] the next president is going to have a horrible time in dealing with this, because those entitlements will race to the front of all the economic issues we have in this country.”...Sam Clovis, Trump campaign chief policy advisor.

Trump himself has been noticeably silent on Social Security and Medicare this summer – leaving his staff, running mate and GOP Party members to deliver his message loud and clear:  cutting middle-class benefits, privatizing Social Security and turning Medicare into “Couponcare” remains the Republican Party’s goals if voters will give them the chance.

We’ve compiled a comprehensive timeline of Donald Trump’s evolving positions on Social Security and Medicare. You can see it and many other helpful resources for the 2016 Campaign on our NCPSSM SeniorVote2016 website. 


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