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Your Vote Matters -- Take the Eleanor's Hope Pledge

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Fulfilling Eleanor's Hope for America

This was originally posted at The Huffington Post by NCPSSM President/CEO Max Richtman

America’s longest-serving First Lady and social activist, Eleanor Roosevelt, would have celebrated her birthday this week.  There have been so many momentous changes in our nation during the fifty-plus years since her death.  Even so, one can’t help but wonder if we have truly fulfilled Eleanor’s hope for America, particularly when it comes to equity for women.

In so many ways, women have come a long way; however, American women are still lagging behind their male peers in too many significant measures. Retirement security is one of those areas where women still face a future marked by inequality.  That’s why we at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare have launched “Eleanor’s Hope,” a national initiative mobilizing women of all ages to advocate for income equality, retirement security and health protection. 

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

The demographic reality facing most American women simply can’t be ignored.  Women live longer than men, on average, yet their lifetime earnings are generally lower.  They are more likely to work in part-time jobs that don’t qualify for a retirement plan or interrupt their careers to take care of family.  The gender wage gap continues, meaning women earn only 78 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. Lower wages mean less is contributed to Social Security for their retirement.  The good news is more women are participating in pension and retirement savings plans than ever before.  The bad news is that the retirement savings gap persists.

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.  The economic downturn was especially difficult for elderly women.  The latest census reports that nearly 2.6 million elderly women are living in poverty and 733,000 of those live in extreme poverty.  For women who live longer on lower benefits, America’s retirement crisis is very real.  That’s why the financial protection Social Security provides is even more critical for the millions of women who depend on this vital program to keep them from poverty.

Not only do women live longer than men they are also more likely to suffer from three or more chronic conditions including arthritis, hypertension and osteoporosis, making Medicare especially vital for older women. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that out-of-pocket spending in 2009 for Medicare beneficiaries 65 and older was $4,844 for women compared to $4,230 for men.  As beneficiaries age, out-of-pocket spending consumes a larger share of their income.  At age 85, total out-of-pocket spending for women was estimated to be $7,555 compared to $5,835 for men.  Clearly, the inequity women face in the workplace continues to follow them even into retirement.

 “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us

should countenance anything which undermines it.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

There are ways to address these inequities if we can find the political will.  Our “Eleanor’s Hope” campaign will lead grassroots advocacy and education efforts in our communities and on Capitol Hill to build momentum in Congress to address these critical retirement issues.  Our goal is to raise awareness, recruit and train new activists and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s health and retirement security issues.  We’ll advocate for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women.  Some of our proposals for Social Security and Medicare include:

  • Providing Social Security credits for caregivers
  • Improving Social Security survivor benefits
  • Equalizing Social Security’s rules for disabled widows
  • Strengthening the Social Security Cost of Living Allowance
  • Boosting the basic Social Security benefit of all current and future beneficiaries
  • Building on preventive care provisions in the Affordable Care Act and expanding coordination of care for beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions.
  • Generating greater savings on the cost of prescription drugs by increasing manufacturer discounts, allowing Medicare to receive the same drug rebates as Medicaid for dual-eligibles, and promoting lower drug costs by providing for faster development of generic drugs. 

If this sounds ambitious, it’s because it is.  However, just under 77 million baby boomers are retiring and more than half of them are women.  Too many will face retirement inequity and insecurity.  As we honor Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy this week and into the future, we must continue the work necessary to fulfill Eleanor’s hope for America.

“The future is literally in our hands to mold as we like. We cannot wait

until tomorrow. Tomorrow is now.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Poorer, Older and Sicker: The Challenges Facing America's Senior Women

New Women's Initiative Focuses on Income Inequality, Health and Retirement Security

“Eleanor’s Hope” continues Roosevelt legacy of social progress
 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare was joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), NOW President Terry O’Neill and Tufts Health Plan President/CEO, James Roosevelt, Jr. on a press call today to announce the launch of a new national initiative called Eleanor’s Hope, to help bring an end to the disparity between men’s and women’s income, health and retirement security.

“The National Committee is excited to launch the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative today with the support of many influential allies and Members of Congress. Women have a lot at stake in November’s election and beyond.  Through grassroots advocacy and education in our communities and on Capitol Hill, the “Eleanor’s Hope” project will raise awareness, recruit and train new activists, highlight female leaders who are making a difference and generate national interest in women’s health and retirement security issues leading up to the 2014 and 2016 elections.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee was founded in 1982 by Eleanor & Franklin Roosevelt’s son, former Congressman James Roosevelt. It is that Roosevelt heritage, and in the spirit of Eleanor’s work on women’s and social issues, that this new project will honor her name.

“Social Security has contributed to the financial well-being of almost every American family and is among my grandparents’ greatest legacies. My grandmother’s activism for women’s equity, poverty prevention and other social issues was based on her boundless optimism that the American people could move mountains if only freed from the fear of want and destitution.  Her hope has yet to be fully realized for too many Americans -- I believe the Eleanor’s Hope initiative will help to change that.”.... James Roosevelt, Jr., President/CEO Tufts Health Plan & Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson 

While Social Security is a program that is vitally important to all Americans, it is especially important to the financial security of women. Not only do women, on average, live longer than men they also earn less in Social Security benefits. These fiscal realities facing millions of American women increase the risk that they may outlive their savings, impoverishing them and their families.

"We are on the front edge of a retirement crisis, which means that protecting and expanding Social Security is an increasingly important part of improving retirement security. Because women earn less than men, they are more vulnerable in retirement.  I’m happy the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is focusing on this issue through the Eleanor's Hope initiative," Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said. "For nearly half of women age 65 and older, Social Security is all that stands between them and poverty. We must keep our commitment to our seniors by strengthening Social Security, so that after a lifetime of hard work, everyone has a chance to retire with dignity.”

“The time is now to address and improve the fiscal outlook for Social Security and extend the solvency of the system. Women, people of color and low-income families are counting on us to update and improve this critical social safety net. This is why the National Committee’s 'Eleanor’s Hope' initiative is so vital. Through advocacy, recruitment, and training programs, America’s female leaders are given a valuable platform to raise awareness around the health and retirement security issues of our American women and girls. I'm proud to be a part of this important effort.”... Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) 

When it comes to the issues of retirement security and gender equity, the differences in policy choices offered by candidates are stark.  The future of generations of women and their families depend on providing income equality during their working years and strong Social Security and Medicare programs in their retirement, so women have a lot at stake in these upcoming elections. 

Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in nearly half of all families in the U.S. -- yet two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and nearly 80 percent of sub-minimum wage tipped workers, are women.  Candidates for office need to realize that women, along with the men in their lives, will vote for those who support wage equality and policies that ensure their retirement security.”...Terry O’Neill, NOW President

The goal of Eleanor’s Hope is to raise awareness through community–based and on-line education, recruit and train new activists, and bolster Congressional leaders who are making a difference on women’s income, health and retirement security issues.  We’ll advocate for legislation that addresses the inequities threatening millions of retired women.  Some of the National Committee’s proposals for improving benefits in Social Security and Medicare include:

  • Providing Social Security credits for caregivers
  • Improving Social Security survivor benefits
  • Equalizing Social Security’s rules for disabled widows
  • Strengthening the Social Security Cost of Living Allowance
  • Boosting the basic Social Security benefit of all current and future beneficiaries
  • Building on preventive care provisions in the Affordable Care Act and expanding coordination of care for beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions.
  • Generating greater savings on the cost of prescription drugs by increasing manufacturer discounts, allowing Medicare to receive the same drug rebates as Medicaid for dual-eligibles, and promoting lower drug costs by providing for faster development of generic drugs. 

The National Committee will hold a Congressional staff briefing, Tuesday, October 14th, on the issues and policy prescriptions needed to address the income inequality, retirement insecurity and health inequities facing women. Then on October 15th we’ll join members of the nation’s only all-female Congressional delegation in New Hampshire to talk about the “Eleanor’s Hope” initiative.  Nationwide, our activists are already in the field educating, advocating and collecting “Eleanor’s Hope” pledges from women who have promised to get out and vote in November and beyond.  We’ve also engaged our membership and active on-line communities to convince Washington that now’s the time to address the retirement crisis facing millions of American women and their families.

Why a Medicare Flat Line is Good News for Seniors

While a flat line in the medical world is usually bad news...when it comes to health care costs in Medicare, this flat line is a good thing.  We reported earlier on the latest Congressional Budget Office forecast for Medicare and why that news is being ignored by Washington’s well-financed anti-entitlement lobby and the fiscal hawks they support in Congress. 

Today, the New York Times provides even more good news for Medicare and bad news for anti-Social Security and Medicare scolds:

“Medicare spending isn’t just lower than experts predicted a few years ago. On a per-person basis, Medicare spending is actually falling.

If the pattern continues, as the Congressional Budget Office forecasts, it will be a rarity in the Medicare program’s history. Spending per Medicare patient has almost always grown more rapidly than the economy as a whole, often by a wide margin.”

 

For years now, Wall Street funded fiscal hawk groups have been promising fiscal Armageddon unless Congress immediately cut benefits to middle-class seniors and their families. Contrary to that billionaire-financed bluster, the truth is there are clearly ways to see savings in Medicare through lower health care costs, not just by slashing benefits:

“The recent pattern reflects two main factors. One is that the baby boom generation is entering the program. In the long term, that’s a problem for Medicare’s finances because the number of people it must care for is going to surge. But in the short term, it skews the group enrolled in Medicare toward a younger, healthier population.

The second factor is more surprising and consequential. Over the last few years, Medicare patients have been using fewer expensive medical services, particularly hospital care and prescription drugs. The budget office is increasingly persuaded that such a pattern is going to last for a while.”

And there are even more proposals that could be enacted which don’t single out seniors for benefits cuts.  How about allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug costs like the VA does for veterans?  Or fully allow the proposed reductions in billions of dollars in federal overpayments to MA private insurance companies to be enacted, as proposed by the Affordable Care Act?  This CBO report clearly proves there are ways to manage costs beyond the benefit-cutting or privatization schemes preferred by Congress’ self-proclaimed deficit hawks:

Joan McCarter at Daily Kos sums it up best this way:

“Here's what's particularly significant in this: "Reductions made in the last four years alone are responsible for 10-year savings of more than $715 billion, which dwarfs nearly every deficit-reduction measure currently under discussion." Take that, Paul Ryan.

Here's the thing. Medicare is going to be facing issues when the baby boom cohort gets older and sicker. But this trend in shrinking costs gives policymakers time to look at reforms that do not require benefit cuts, that don't require pain for Medicare patients. That means there's no reason for another Paul Ryan budget that slashes the safety net or for another catfood commission calling for raising the Medicare eligibility age or more cost-sharing by patients. Take note, Democrats, and stop with the deficit fetish already.”

Good News for Seniors in Medicare That You Won’t Hear About from Conservatives

In spite of years and years of doom-and-gloom predictions from conservatives that Obamacare will hurt Medicare, the facts just continue to tell another, very different story.  Earlier in the month the annual Medicare Trustees report showed how the ACA continues to extend the program’s solvency.  Now, the Congressional Budget Office has even more to say:

“You’re looking at the biggest story involving the federal budget and a crucial one for the future of the American economy. Every year for the last six years in a row, the Congressional Budget Office has reduced its estimate for how much the federal government will need to spend on Medicare in coming years. The latest reduction came in a report from the budget office on Wednesday morning.

The changes are big. The difference between the current estimate for Medicare’s 2019 budget and the estimate for the 2019 budget four years ago is about $95 billion. That sum is greater than the government is expected to spend that year on unemployment insurance, welfare and Amtrak — combined. It’s equal to about one-fifth of the expected Pentagon budget in 2019. Widely discussed policy changes, like raising the estate tax, would generate just a tiny fraction of the budget savings relative to the recent changes in Medicare’s spending estimates.”

Unfortunately, these fiscal facts will be ignored by those in Washington determined to cut Medicare benefits. Even though he’s on a nationwide book tour, Rep. Paul Ryan is doing everything possible to ignore talking about his plan which would turn Medicare into CouponCare while also repealing the ACA -- stealing years from Medicare’s solvency, eliminating free screenings for seniors, preserving massive subsidies for private insurers in Medicare Advantage and bringing back the costly prescription drug donut hole. 

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