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From the category archives: Medicare

Chatting with Rep. Joe Kennedy, Eloquent Advocate for Working Americans

Anyone who has the opportunity to chat with Rep. Joe Kennedy III about Americans’ health and retirement security should jump at the chance.  This week, we had the honor of interviewing him on Facebook Live from his office on Capitol Hill. 

Now in his third term representing Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional district, Rep. Kennedy is much more than a member of one America’s most famous political families. (He is grandson of Ethel and Robert Kennedy, and grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy).  

He is a thoughtful, persuasive policy expert on health care, and a champion of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  He sits on the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee – which has jurisdiction over federal healthcare programs, mental health, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Interviewed by National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman, Rep. Kennedy affirmed his reputation as an eloquent advocate for America’s current and future retirees.

MEDICAID 

Rep. Kennedy wants to see greater access to Medicaid services, and higher reimbursements for doctors and other providers who currently don’t find it worthwhile to participate. He excoriates Republicans for demonstrating an “extraordinary level of cynicism” in trying to gut Medicaid by repealing Obamacare.  After numerous GOP efforts to undermine Medicaid since President Trump took office, Rep. Kennedy insists the program is more popular than ever.

“The Republicans did something that Democrats have been trying to do for a long time, but couldn’t. They have made Medicaid popular. We’ve actually seen far more Americans understand the integrity, the importance of what Medicaid actually does, and how it forms a backbone of our health care infrastructure across the country.”

TRUMP/GOP TAX LAW

The Congressman is intensely critical of the tax law enacted by Republicans and signed by the President last December, which showers the wealthy and big corporations with tax breaks while blowing a $1.5 trillion hole in the federal debt.  Rep. Kennedy believes the gaping deficit caused by the tax law will invite deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

“This bill is going to bankrupt the United States of America.  With the GOP leadership racking up deficits, those of us who care about the stability of these programs are going to have to do something to make sure that they are there for families when they need them.” 

“[The Republicans’] long-term goal has always been to gut… these programs.  We need to make sure American families understand:  1) How important these programs are; 2) What they actually do.”

SOCIAL SECURITY

The pending retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan notwithstanding, Rep. Kennedy remains concerned that the political right will continue to try to undermine Social Security and Medicare – by privatizing, cutting, and raising eligibility ages – even after Ryan departs the Hill.  He argues that now is the time for awareness and vigilance to protect Americans’ earned benefits.

“No one gets rich off of Social Security. It’s something that you pay into your entire life to make sure that you can afford the basic necessities in retirement.  That’s not something that should be targeted.  That’s something that should be expanded so that we are preserving economic dignity for seniors in the golden years of life.”

“The education part of it is a critical first step:  making sure American families understand just how important these programs are.  They have paid into them during the course of their working lives and they should be able to depend on them as a foundation on which they can build their retirement.”  

Watch Rep. Kennedy’s entire conversation with Max Richtman on Facebook Live here.

Seniors Dodge Devastation of Balanced Budget Amendment

The Balanced Budget Amendment introduced by House Republicans went down to defeat Thursday night by a vote of 233-184, falling fall short of the 2/3 majority required to advance the measure to the Senate.  The amendment’s demise was a relief for our nation’s seniors, because it threatened the earned benefits they have contributed to during their entire working lives.  Seniors and their advocates can rightly take credit for the Balanced Budget Amendment's defeat.  The National Committee sent a letter to Congress on April 10th urging members to reject this ill-considered, dangerous change to our nation's Constitution. 

National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman issued the following statement in response to last night’s vote:

“Social Security and Medicare were spared a terrible fate when House leadership was unable to pressure 2/3 of their colleagues to vote for a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution.  The BBA would have prevented Social Security and Medicare Part A from using trust fund reserves to pay benefits for millions of Americans – including retirement, disability, and hospitalization.  The House members who voted against the BBA did the right thing today." – Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

A balanced budget amendment would have blocked benefit payments from the Social Security and Medicare Part A trust funds since all federal expenditures, including these earned benefits, would have to be covered by revenue collected in the same year.  It also would have required draconian spending cuts, inviting Congress to slash Medicare Parts B, C and D, Medicaid, and many other social safety net programs for seniors, while opening the door to massive new tax cuts.   

While the balanced budget amendment did not dictate any particular approach to deficit reduction, by altering established Congressional voting procedures it would have increased the likelihood that the fiscal policies adopted in coming decades would favor the well-off at the expense of middle- and low-income Americans. The amendment would have require a two-thirds vote of the full membership of the House and Senate to raise taxes. Spending cuts, by contrast, would continue to require only a majority of those present and voting and could be passed on a voice vote.

Adding to these problems, the amendment would have heightened the risk of a federal government default by requiring a three-fifths vote of both the House and the Senate to raise the debt limit, rather than the current simple majority. Consider the scenario where budgets thought to be balanced at the start of a fiscal year fall out of balance during the year as a result of factors such as slower-than-expected economic growth or a natural disaster. If sizable deficits emerged with only part of the year remaining, Congress and the President may have been unable to agree on a package of budget cuts resulting in Congress being unable to raise the debt limit and allow a deficit. The President may have been bound, at the point at which the "government runs out of money," to stop issuing checks.

The political right has hauled out spurious arguments to push a balanced budget amendment for years. (The last time the GOP tried to pass one was 2011).  Among these canards:  States balance their budgets, they say.  Why can’t the federal government?  Families balance their budgets? Why not Congress?  We debunked these arguments in a recent article in this space:

While it’s true that some states have balanced budget amendments, many of those apply only to operating budgets, not capital expenditures for long-term projects.  Regardless, states do not have the sweeping responsibilities of the federal government, including national defense, federal disaster response, and Social Security or Medicare. As for families, many do strive to balance their household budgets, but still carry mortgages on their homes, auto loans, and sometimes, lines of credit.  In other words, like the federal government, states and families are leveraged to meet their vital needs. - Entitled to Know, 3/30/18

The National Committee supports responsible government budgeting. However, we oppose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it would significantly harm the economy, result in a government default and force severe cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other vital federal programs.



Farewell to Paul Ryan and His Insidious "Entitlement Reforms"

Will seniors and their families miss Paul Ryan in the U.S. Congress? Not a chance. His impending retirement lifts a dark cloud that has hung over older Americans – not to mention the poor, sick, and disabled – for nearly two decades. Speaker Ryan has spent his 11 terms on Capitol Hill fighting to enrich the wealthy and powerful, while undermining programs that serve as a lifeline for America’s most vulnerable citizens.

As America’s Privatizer-in-Chief, he spearheaded attempts to turn Medicare into a voucher program and to gamble retirees’ Social Security benefits on the whims of Wall Street.  He passed legislation in the House to cut more than $1 trillion from Medicaid by imposing per capita caps and turning it into a block grant program.  If the Senate had passed it, too, millions of low income Americans would have lost health coverage, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office. At the end of last year, Speaker Ryan muscled-through the Trump/GOP tax giveaway to the rich and profitable corporations, inviting deep cuts to seniors’ earned benefits. “We’re going to have to get back next year [2018] at entitlement reform,” he said last December, “which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.”

Here is a man who has been downright giddy while championing Scrooge-like policies from his powerful perch in Washington. In 2017, he gloated about gutting Medicaid in the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  “This is why I’m so excited about it… We are de-federalizing an entitlement, block-granting it back to the states, and capping its growth rate. That’s never been done before,” he told a conservative radio host. Ryan boasted at a National Review forum that he had been “dreaming” of cutting federal Medicaid funds “since you and I were drinking at a keg” – barely able to contain his glee about stripping health coverage from poor people. 

Paul Ryan was never a traditional fiscal hawk in the mold of old school Republicans.  His fondness for slashing the social safety net while cutting taxes for the rich wasn't just a matter of dollars and cents.  An acolyte of Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy of selfishness,’ Ryan’s disdain for the poor or anyone who relied on federal benefits to survive was deeply ideological. 

"He... justified his agenda in moral terms, speaking frequently about 'makers' (i.e., people who work and earn good incomes) and 'takers' (i.e., lazy people who subsist on government assistance)." - Huffington Post, 4/11/18

At the same time, he was blatantly hypocritical, at least on Social Security. In 2005, he backed President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize the program and risk retirees’ payroll contributions on the stock market.  It’s a position he continued to hold as presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 --- and during his two-and-a-half years as Speaker.  Yet the Speaker himself was a 'taker' when he collected Social Security survivor’s benefits after his father died when Ryan was 16.  He saved up his Social Security checks to pay for college tuition, but somehow doesn’t see the irony in advocating policies that would compromise other Americans’ ability to collect their own earned benefits.

Like other ideologues, Ryan cloaked his attempts to undermine Social Security and Medicare as “preserving” or “saving” them for future generations.  He repeatedly insisted that these programs were going “bankrupt,” when, in fact, there are common sense measures that could keep both trust funds solvent for decades to come – without cutting benefits or raising eligibility ages.  But during Ryan’s Speakership, legislation to do just that never made it the floor, including bills from Rep. John Larson (D-CT) and others that would boost benefits while infusing Social Security with new revenue – or measures to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.  

Ryan tried to divide the generations by vowing that any “reforms” to earned benefits wouldn’t affect current retirees – only younger folks like him, ignoring the fact that stagnant wages make it impossible for today’s workers to save enough for retirement to make up for cuts in Social Security benefits.

Thanks to the vigilance of America’s seniors and their advocates, Ryan’s fight to gut the social safety net has fizzled – so far.  But he remains as Speaker until the end of the 115th Congress and doesn’t wish to see his quest end in failure. 

“Entitlement reform is the one thing, the one other great thing [besides tax cuts] that I spent most of my career working on,” said Ryan at the press conference announcing his retirement. “More work needs to be done [on] entitlements… and I’m going to keep fighting for that.” 

Even if Ryan is unable to advance his “entitlement reform” agenda before he leaves Congress, there are other ideologues on the Hill (especially in the Freedom Caucus) who will be happy to take up the mantle. The best way for the poor, the elderly, the disabled and their families to protect and expand these crucial programs is to vote for candidates who champion Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  We’ll have the chance this November.

 

Rick Scott the Wrong Choice for FL Seniors; NCPSSM Endorses Bill Nelson

 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has enthusiastically endorsed Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) for re-election in November.  The three-term Florida Senator will face Republican Governor Rick Scott, who announced his candidacy today. 

“We need a fighter like Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate. He is a key ally for protecting and expanding programs that seniors in Florida – and across the nation – depend upon for basic health and financial security.  When Senator Nelson talks about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, he speaks from the heart. He is a true fighter for Floridians and older Americans everywhere.” - National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman.

Senator Nelson has been a staunch advocate of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid since taking office in 2001.  His voting record on these issues has consistently earned him a 100% rating from the National Committee.  He fought President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security in 2005, pushed for the closure of the Medicare Part D prescription drug “doughnut hole,” and opposed converting Medicare into a voucher system and raising the program’s eligibility age.  In 2017, he introduced a bill to prevent the federal government from garnishing Social Security benefits to pay off student loans.

Governor Scott’s positions on these issues stand in stark contrast to Senator Nelson’s.  During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Scott advocated privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ health services.  He appeared sympathetic to the idea of privatizing Social Security, as well. Last year, he endorsed the Republican plan to block-grant Medicaid, which could lead to huge funding cuts and reduced eligibility – or loss of coverage –  for 4.3 million low income Floridians.

“Governor Scott's record makes it clear that he is the wrong choice for Florida seniors. He has taken policy positions that would undermine Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which are lifelines for older Americans.” – Max Richtman.

The National Committee endorsed Senator Nelson on behalf of its millions of members and supporters, including more than 108,000 Florida residents.

“You earned the endorsement of the National Committee because you understand and support the critical roles that Social Security and Medicare play in the retirement and health security of our nation’s older citizens and their families.  Our nation needs your continued leadership, vision and determination to fight for working families and older Americans.” – NCPSSM Letter to Senator Nelson, 4/6/18

The National Committee praised the Senator’s “stalwart support” of efforts to ensure the solvency of the Social Security and Medicare Part A trust funds, to provide adequate funding to the Social Security Administration, and to establish a meaningful Medicare prescription program. His unflagging opposition to Social Security and Medicare privatization schemes is a matter of record.

In the endorsement letter, Richtman says National Committee members and supporters want Bill Nelson in the United States Senate to continue protecting and enhancing Social Security and Medicare – “the twin pillars necessary to a good quality of life for Americans of all ages.”

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Read the National Committee’s endorsement letter here.

Balanced Budget Amendment Would Devastate Social Security, Medicare

The Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) under consideration in the U.S. House is a colossally dangerous idea.  The BBA would mandate that government expenditures not exceed revenues in any given year.  Among other disastrous effects, it would result in devastating cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  The House Republican leadership intends to schedule a vote on the amendment to the U.S. Constitution sometime this Spring – perhaps as early as mid-April.  All current and future retirees should oppose it.

In order to balance the budget every year, Congress would be forced to make draconian cuts to Medicare Part B, Medicaid and other programs that seniors depend upon. Medicare and Medicaid cannot sustain cuts (other than common sense cost-saving measures) without hurting beneficiaries.  Period.  At a time when seniors’ out of pocket health care costs are rising, the BBA puts the health and financial security of Medicare’s 58.5 million beneficiaries and Medicaid’s 72.3 million at risk.

Equally serious is the BBA’s potential impact on Social Security.  Under the BBA, if federal expenditures exceed revenues, the government would be forbidden from paying benefits from the Social Security trust fund reserves – even though the trust fund is self-financed by workers’ payroll contributions and unrelated to general revenues. Ditto for reserves in the Medicare Part A trust fund.   Benefits would then have to be slashed in order to keep the federal budget in balance, something seniors on fixed incomes could ill afford.

Under the BBA, it would also be difficult to reverse tax cuts (including Trump and the Republicans’ $1.5 giveaway to the wealthy and big corporations) to close any revenue gaps.  This could cripple the government’s ability to respond to crises like recessions, natural disasters, and war. Without the ability to leverage taxes and deficit spending, the government cannot stimulate the economy when necessary. The BBA would also increase the chances of the United States defaulting on its debts, which would have dangerous consequences for everyone.

The last time Republicans tried to push through a Balanced Budget Amendment was in 2011. It failed by less than 40 votes in the House.  Had it passed, the overall economic consequences of the BBA would hurt all Americans – retired or not.  According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):

“If such an amendment had been ratified… the effect on the economy would have been catastrophic.  It would have caused the unemployment rate to double from 9 percent to 18 percent by throwing an additional 15 million people out of work.” – CBPP quoting a report from Macroeconomic Advisors, 3/16/18

Proponents of the BBA – mainly conservative House Republicans but also some Blue Dog Democrats – are hauling out tattered, old arguments to bolster their case.  States balance their budgets, they say.  Why can’t the federal government?  Families balance their budgets? Why not Congress?  While it’s true that some states have balanced budget amendments, many of those apply only to operating budgets, not capital expenditures for long-term projects.  Regardless, states do not have the sweeping responsibilities of the federal government, including national defense, federal disaster response, and Social Security or Medicare. As for families, many do strive to balance their household budgets, but still carry mortgages on their homes, auto loans, and sometimes, lines of credit.  In other words, like the federal government, states and families are leveraged to meet their vital needs.

The National Committee supports responsible government budgeting; however, we oppose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the measure would significantly harm the economy, result in a government default, and force severe cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other vital federal programs. - National Committee" Viewpoint," 3/29/18

In sum, the BBA is a bumper sticker masquerading as sound public policy.  We expect that the BBA will fail this time around as it has in the past, since passage would require 2/3 majorities in the House and Senate – and ratification by at least 38 states.  But even bringing the amendment up for a vote in the House is playing with fire.  It's important that Americans – especially retirees or anyone hoping to retire sometime in the future – recognize the incredibly high stakes of this irresponsible scheme. 

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