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From the category archives: Max Richtman

Social Security Made the Difference in Hawaii Senate Primary

Hawaii’s Democratic Senate primary win for Sen. Brian Schatz sends an important signal to candidates nationwide about the huge role Social Security can and will play in their Congressional re-election bids.  From the chained CPI to the Bowles-Simpson amendment, many centrist “new Democrats” like Hawaii’s Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, have quietly cast votes for proposals designed to cut benefits to millions of retirees, people with disabilities and their families, while at the same time promising to protect benefits back home.

In Rep. Hanabusa’s case, there were clear differences between her and opponent Sen. Brian Schatz on Social Security.  While Schatz supports boosting benefits and co-sponsors legislation to do that, Rep. Hanabusa voted in support of the Bowles-Simpson amendment to HR 444 which advocated for Social Security benefits cuts, raising the retirement age and deficit reduction through 75% in cuts an only 25% in revenue. The Bowles-Simpson plan would be disastrous for America’s families, which is why NCPSSM provided a rare primary endorsement to Senator Schatz:

“You understand, too, that Social Security benefits are earned and that this most successful social insurance program ever should not—must not!—be undermined as some have proposed by cutting benefits.  You appreciate that Social Security has not contributed one dime to the nation’s debt and proposals to raise the retirement age and reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment in the name of bipartisanship would be disastrous to Americans of all ages.  You have underscored your commitment to Social Security by joining with Senate colleagues supporting the “Strengthening Social Security Act” and opposing the oft-cited “chained Consumer Price Index.” NCPSSM Endorsement Letter to Sen. Bryan Schatz, May 27, 2014

Senator Schatz isn’t the only candidate who understands just how disconnected Washington has become from the majority of Americans who -- across all ages and political parties -- oppose cutting Social Security.

Two Democrats in tough Senate races — Mark Begich and Jeff Merkley – have already staked out aggressive postures on expanding Social Security. It’s also supported by Elizabeth Warren and Tom Harkin, and 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Expanding Social Security would have to be paid for by lifting or changing the cap or some other means, which could leave Dems vulnerable to charges they are raising taxes. But Brown brushed off that worry. “Democrats win the argument by saying Republicans again are cutting taxes on the rich to deny Social Security beneficiaries the expanded Social Security they should get and have earned,” Brown said. “Most of us should be willing to make that argument.”  Washington Post, May 2014

Until now, too many in Congress have not been willing to make that argument and refocus its attention on the retirement deficit facing millions of working Americans.  Hopefully, the Hawaii experience will change all that.

79 years old and Still Hard at Work – Happy Anniversary Social Security

Each year we mark Social Security’s anniversary in a different way.  But ultimately the goal is always the same...to remind us all how vital America’s most successful program is to millions of families.

“As we celebrate Social Security’s 79th anniversary today, it’s important to acknowledge the program’s vital role in protecting both current and future generations of Americans. Social Security has made a profound improvement in the economic security of millions of families, especially during these tough economic times. For too many Americans, personal savings have been difficult to accumulate because middle class wages have remained stagnant for three decades.  More than half of all workers have no retirement plans at work and millions more have no retirement savings. 

It’s time Washington addresses our nation’s retirement deficit and its potentially devastating impact on the lives of working class families. This economic recession has clearly shown that Congress must search for ways to improve Social Security’s benefits, not cut them.  The National Committee has endorsed nine different pieces of legislation that would enhance Social Security. These include S. 567 and H.R. 3118 which, when fully phased in, would boost benefits by approximately $70 per month for new beneficiaries and adopt the more accurate consumer price index for the elderly (CPI-E) for determining the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA).  As a fiscally responsible way to increase and strengthen Social Security finances, we also support lifting the payroll tax cap. NCPSSM’s national Boost Social Security Now Campaign continues to raise awareness of the need to increase benefits.

Our nation needs more from Social Security, not less.  These modest earned benefits have become the last remaining pillar of economic security for millions of Americans who will depend on the program for most, if not all, of their retirement income.”....Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

This year we used this 79th anniversary as an opportunity to hear directly from our large and vocal Facebook community.  We asked our nearly 60,000 followers there to complete this thought:

 

 

Here’s a sample of what they said:

 

“All I can say is, thank goodness for Social Security. I'd be destitute without it.”

 

“I would be homeless and hungry”

 

“I would be destitute, starving, and without vital medical help. SS is my only source of dependable income that I can rely on.”

 

“I would be hard pressed to take care of Mom and the house without our Social Security!”

 

For all of these reasons, now is the time Washington should be looking for ways to Boost Social Security.  Wouldn’t that be a terrific Anniversary present?

Celebrating 49 Years of Medicare Success

Medicare Means Healthier Lives for Millions of Americans

“In the hyper-partisan, budget-slashing environment that drives our Washington debate these days, the impact that Medicare has on the lives of average American families is often overlooked.  The truth is Medicare saves lives and money.  Without Medicare many more seniors would be impoverished, sicker and dependent on others, including federal, state and local governments.  A healthy nation depends on a healthy populace, physically and fiscally.  Medicare helps us to achieve the American dream of a stable and independent retirement after working a lifetime to help build the nation’s economy. As we celebrate Medicare’s anniversary, we should pledge to preserve that dream for the future.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Medicare – Then and Now

  • Before the enactment of Medicare, one-half of older Americans were uninsured and one-third were living in poverty.  Today, with access to health care coverage, the poverty rate for seniors is nine percent.
  • 52.4 million Americans receive guaranteed health care benefits through the Medicare program regardless of their medical condition or income.  This includes: 43.6 million Americans age 65 and above and 8.8 million disabled Americans receiving Social Security benefits. By the time the last of the baby boomers reaches age 65, it is expected that close to 80 million people will be covered through Medicare.
  • Over half of Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes of less than $23,500 and savings of less than $61,400. Forty percent have three or more chronic conditions. Even a minor illness or injury could bankrupt older Americans and their families. 
  • While health care costs have increased three times faster than wages over the past decade, health care reform has slowed the cost growth in Medicare.  The 2014 Trustees Report added an additional 4 years of solvency to the Trust Fund, extending to 2030.

As Medicare approaches a half-century of successfully keeping older Americans healthy, while also curbing costs for seniors and the program itself, Washington should be looking for ways to build on those successes not destroy them through further privatization and cost-shifting.

 National Committee advocates and volunteers joined Members of Congress to celebrate Medicare's anniversary at a Capitol Hill event on the 30th.

Real Retirement Security Solutions or More of the Same?

It’s easy to become cynical if watching Washington work (or not work, as is often the case) is your job.  So forgive us for not popping a cork in celebration of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s new Personal Savings Initiative.  Don’t get us wrong, it’s the right idea for the right time.  We’ve been saying for a long time that our nation is facing a retirement crisis far greater than the fiscal Armageddon promised by conservatives if we refused to take their advice to slash middle-class benefits. As NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, has written before:

“Three decades of stagnant middle-class incomes, disappearing pensions, limited ability to start and maintain personal savings, and the failure of the 401K experiment lay the foundation for a retirement crisis that could further threaten millions of older Americans and their families.

According to the New School for Social Research, 75 percent of Americans nearing retirement have less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. Almost half of middle-class workers will be poor or near poor in retirement and living on a $5-per-day food budget. The National Institute for Retirement Security reports four out of five working families have retirement savings less than one times their annual income and 45 percent do not have any retirement assets at all.

While Washington has been obsessed with the federal budget deficit, there's been virtually no Congressional conversation about the $6.8 trillion retirement savings deficit. What will happen to the millions of American families who are ill-prepared for retirement? There's almost no conversation about how to prevent this retirement crisis from impoverishing our families or about how younger generations will handle parents and grandparents who cannot support themselves. In spite of this current and growing retirement crisis, Social Security and Medicare, programs vital to a basic secure retirement, continue to be the favored targets for some in Congress who are determined to use benefit cuts to reduce the federal deficit.”

While the Pete Peterson funded Bipartisan Policy Center’s stated goal is to address personal savings, Social Security benefits received an inordinate amount of attention in today’s kickoff event.  Not so surprising when you consider that this group is chaired by former Democratic Senator and fiscal hawk Kent Conrad and Wall Streeter/former Bush appointee, Jim Lockhart.  The group is dominated by conservatives and center right former politicians and staffers, Republican political appointees, industry reps and think-tankers.  As was the case with the failed Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Commission, there are a few members who break that mold and will no doubt find themselves swimming against the tide once the discussion turns to Social Security.  Which the Chairmen made very clear today, it will, since “everything is on the table.”

Sound familiar?  It should since that’s Washington-speak for get ready for middle-class benefit cuts -- but this time they’ll be wrapped in a package to increase personal savings and strengthen retirement security?  It’s no wonder we’re cynical. 

New Medicare Advantage Rates Preserve Insurance Industry Subsidies...Again

For the second year in a row, America’s massive health insurance industry lobby launched a Washington lobbying and advertising blitz hoping to scare seniors into believing they’ll lose their Medicare and politicians will lose their seats if the industry’s government overpayments aren’t protected.  Mission accomplished. Rather than trimming rates, the Obama administration raised them:

“Private Medicare plans would see a 0.4 percent boost in their payment rates for 2015 under a final rate announcement made by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials Monday.

Officials with Medicare said the better-than-expected news for insurers came about in part as a result of healthier enrollees signed up for both Medicare Advantage and traditional fee-for-service plans, which means less of a cost burden on the health insurance system for the aged.” Congressional Quarterly

When CMS says “in part” what they aren’t mentioning is the part where the administration basically caved (for the second year in a row) to the insurance industry’s million dollar lobbying blitz to keep its billions of dollars of federal overpayments intact.   

“Today’s announcement by CMS to, once again, preserve government overpayments to private insurers in Medicare Advantage is bad policy and bad economics for the Medicare program. These subsidies were supposed to be gradually trimmed in order to expand benefits and improve the quality of care for all seniors in Medicare. However, each year the insurance lobby threatens to cancel coverage or charge more to seniors in MA plans rather than accept a reduction in their overpayments or reimbursement rates. 

For many years, private insurance companies have claimed they can provide better coverage to seniors at a lower cost.  The reality proves otherwise.  Since 2003, all seniors in Medicare (including those not even enrolled in Medicare Advantage) have paid higher premiums to help fund the billions in government overpayments to private Medicare Advantage insurance companies.  Over the years, as much as 14% more per beneficiary has been paid to MA plans than is paid to cover individuals enrolled in traditional Medicare.  It’s a wasteful federal boondoggle that was rightfully corrected by passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010.  Additionally, thanks to the ACA, growth in health care costs have been decreasing which means that reimbursement rates also go down.   As reimbursement rates have decreased, MA plan enrollment has increased. 

Let’s be clear, contrary to the health insurance industry’s massive lobbying campaign claims, Medicare doesn’t make the decision about cuts to seniors’ MA coverage, including increasing premiums or reducing access to doctors. That decision rests squarely in the board rooms of the nation’s private insurance industry, which is unwilling to give up a penny of their government giveaway in favor of continued threats of diminished coverage and higher premiums for seniors.

This annual drama with private insurers in Medicare proves, once again, that when private MA plans are unwilling to compete on a level playing field with traditional Medicare, seniors will ultimately pay the price. So much for providing better coverage for less.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO 

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