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From the category archives: Max Richtman

$580 Social Security Boost for Seniors?

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.

It Could Be Worse – Our Reaction to Budget Deal

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. 

No Social Security COLA Increase + Massive Medicare Hike for Millions

Today’s announcement that there will be no Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase next year, for only the third time in 40 years, means that millions of seniors who rely on their Social Security to get by will once again find their expenses outpacing their Social Security benefit.  For 30% of Medicare beneficiaries, Part B premiums are now projected to increase next year by 52%—up to $159.30 per month from $104.90. This increase will be also accompanied by an increase in the Part B deductible—up to $223 from $147. 

“The average American senior simply can’t afford a triple-digit increase for their Medicare coverage. We have urged Congress to pass legislation to address this urgent problem looming for millions of seniors, the disabled and their families. For millions of seniors, this large Medicare hike is devastating and a result of a well-intended “hold harmless” provision that left out too many Medicare beneficiaries.

All of this was triggered by a zero COLA increase in Social Security for 2016, confirming yet again, that 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

The National Committee is working with a large cross-section of the nation’s leading organizations representing seniors, people with disabilities, retirees, public service employees and health plans urging Congress to consider options that would prevent this Medicare hike from being implemented in 2016.  The coalition has told the Senate:

“We are deeply concerned by the projected Part B premium and deductible increases, most notably for current and newly eligible beneficiaries living on low- and fixed incomes. In 2014, half of the Medicare population lived on annual incomes of $24,150 or less. Newly enrolled Medicare beneficiaries, those not collecting Social Security benefits—many of whom are retired public servants—and State Medicaid programs should not be expected to carry the burden of paying for increased costs in Part B through higher premiums and cost sharing.

As you consider options, we also encourage you to consider prior, bipartisan legislation, the Medicare Premium Fairness Act of 2009. This bill effectively extended the hold harmless to all Medicare beneficiaries and passed the U.S. House of Representatives with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.”

You can read the coalition letter to the Senate and also from the Leadership Council Of Aging Organizations.


What the GOP’s Sleight of Hand Budgeting and Deflection Politics Means for Social Security & Medicare

First pulished on Huffington Post by Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Any good magician will tell you, the best tricks depend on misdirection. So while all eyes are on the spectacle of the House GOP’s in-fighting, its search for a new Speaker and the never-ending “who-insulted-who” shenanigans of the GOP Presidential primary, it’s easy to forget that Congress is now also quietly working on legislation that could impact virtually every American family, especially those that depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The American people must not be distracted by the ongoing political show to the point that they miss the real action occurring behind the scenes.

Before leaving for recess in December, Congress faces legislative deadlines to avoid a government shutdown, a default, an extension for transportation funding and tax breaks. While the shutdown has been narrowly averted, the annual appropriations process continues as the President and Congressional Democrats push GOP leaders for a deal to mitigate automatic across-the-board cuts to defense and non-defense programs – also known as the “sequester.” 

No amount of political magic can hide the fact that three years of sequester caps have had serious consequences for important seniors programs, including the Older Americans Act and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, along with service reductions at Social Security Administration field offices. That’s why the National Committee supports the President’s plan to increase spending caps. However, some conservatives in Congress insist that relief for programs like the Older Americans Act be paid for by cutting Medicare and Medicaid. This budgetary sleight-of-hand could trade partial relief for some seniors’ programs by cutting other essential health security programs like Medicare and Medicaid, thus further eroding the tenuous economic situation many older Americans face.

It’s no mystery where these Medicare and Medicaid cuts are likely to come from. You have to look no further than the GOP Budget plan for a blueprint of the House leadership’s favorite benefit cut proposals, such as:

  • Ending 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. 
  • Repealing 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. 
  • Cutting 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.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare has prepared a detailed look at the many policy options in our Fall Budget Outlook brief.

Legislation may need to be enacted by late November or early December to allow the government to continue borrowing and avoid a government default.  Allowing a default would result in an economic catastrophe and jeopardize the payment of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. In addition, default would jeopardize Medicare and Medicaid payments to doctors and hospitals and coverage for prescription drugs, which are critical to the health security of millions of Americans.

As if all of this isn’t enough, funding for the nation’s roads and public transit will also expire at the end of October.  Because the Highway Trust Fund no longer takes in enough gasoline tax revenue to cover surface transportation costs, Congress must come up with more funding.  When Congress passed a temporary funding fix this summer, House leaders proposed using Social Security funds to pay for it.  This was the third time in little over a year that Congress has attempted to use Social Security and/or Medicare as an ATM to pay for a completely unrelated priority.  Last year Congress voted to extend the Medicare sequester cuts into 2024 to cover a reversal of cost-of-living cuts to veterans' pension benefits. This summer Medicare was cut again to help pay for the Trade bill.  Rather than consider tax reform for huge corporate tax dodgers sending billions of profits oversee to avoid paying taxes, GOP leaders tried again (unsuccessfully this time) to cut benefits to seniors, people with disabilities and their families who depend on Social Security to pay for highways.  Unfortunately, Congress could pull this outrageous strategy out of its hat once again.  Need money for highways, to relieve sequester cuts, deficit reduction or anything at all? Voila!  Let’s take if from Social Security and Medicare.

There’s no doubt about it -- it will take more than legislative smoke and mirrors and political magic for Congress to get the job done right. But the American people also need to be more than an audience in this process.  We need to pull back the curtain on this benefit cut agenda so the American people can avert any surprises Congressional leaders have up their sleeves for vital programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Budget Squabbling and Its Potential Impact on Social Security & Medicare

The Office of Management and Budget is monitoring congressional actions and preparing to instruct agencies when they should begin implementing shutdown plans as funding our nation’s programs languishes amid the GOP-led Congress’ squabbling over defunding Planned Parenthood. One week prior to a potential lapse in appropriations, the OMB is expected to hold a meeting with senior agency officials to begin planning for the shutdown.

With the clock ticking, Congress is scrambling to not only avoid a government shutdown and default but also pass an extension for transportation funding and tax breaks. Will the sequester continue or can Congress find a better way to manage our nation’s finances?  This political gamesmanship and inability to get anything done impacts far more than one federal program.  Seniors programs like Social Security and Medicare are also in the cross-hairs.

“America’s seniors have become especially weary of these Congressional dramas as they have learned, the hard way, that Social Security and Medicare have become the favored target for budget cuts or “pay-fors” for a host of Congressional programs that have nothing to do with providing the earned benefits seniors depend on.  From highways to trade and beyond, Congress continues to try and use seniors’ programs as a national ATM. The next few weeks promises more of the same”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has prepared a detailed Fall Legislative Update mapping the current legislative minefield for programs which touch the lives of virtually every American family.

We’ve identified the numerous legislative hurdles still ahead, the possible threats to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and our positions on each potential pay-for or budget cut.  You can see NCPSSM’s Fall Legislative Update here. 

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