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From the category archives: Medicare

What Are the Social Security & Medicare Questions You'd Ask Candidates in Monday’s Debate?

Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet in their widely-anticipated and already heavily-analyzed first debate on Monday. NBC’s Lester Holt will moderate. We’ve already thrown in our two cents on why we believe Social Security and Medicare should be included in this debate (and it’s not because, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims, benefits need to be cut to reduce the deficit).

Past experience has shown that not all debate questions are created equal. In fact, when a moderator addresses Social Security and Medicare in a question that’s actually about deficit reduction that should be a huge red flag for the millions of American families which depend on these programs. As we told Mr. Holt earlier this week:

“We urge you to avoid buying into the premise that “saving” Social Security and Medicare has anything to do with cutting the deficit. It doesn’t.”

What Americans really want to know is what these candidates plan to do to strengthen these programs not slash them – and please, give us details!

What do you want to hear from the candidates on Monday? We’ve created this Presidential Question survey to get your thoughts. Take just a couple of minutes and rank these 5 questions about Social Security and Medicare from 1-5 stars on importance to you. If you love a question it’s a 5, your next best option would be 4 and so on...all the way down to 1 star which is the question that doesn’t really thrill you.

We’ll take all of your answers and share them Monday before the debate.

An Open Memo to Lester Holt: Actually, Social Security and Medicare Are More Than Just Deficit Reduction Tools



To: Lester Holt, NBC Nightly News anchor and moderator of the first 2016 Presidential Debate

Subject: The most important – but overlooked – issue in the presidential election isn't finding a way to cut benefits to millions of middle-class Americans

Mr. Holt,

In a campaign that’s been far more about personalities and proclivities than policy and practical solutions, we agree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that issues need to take center stage as you moderate next week’s Presidential debate.  We also agree that, for millions of average Americans and their families still struggling to see the full benefits of our economic recovery, understanding (in detail) what the Presidential candidates plan for future Social Security and Medicare benefits is important.  But we urge you to avoid buying into the premise that “saving” Social Security and Medicare has anything to do with cutting the deficit.  It doesn’t.

The push for benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the name of deficit reduction has always been the goal of the billion dollar corporate and Wall Street backed crisis campaign driving Washington's deficit hysteria. “Never let a good crisis go to waste” was a strategic political move capitalizing on deficits as a way to force middle-class benefit cuts on Americans already shell-shocked in the Great Recession.  Once deficits reduced (without the drastic cuts to benefits that corporate lobbyists assured us must happen), the anti-“entitlement” lobby lost its inside-the-Beltway political momentum.  No doubt, they hope you’ll help them get their benefit-cutting mojo back.

Not surprisingly, the Chamber’s recitation of deficit woes failed to mention the billions of dollars in federal revenue lost to the Treasury each year thanks to tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy over decades.  There was zero mention of corporate inversions which have literally robbed our nation of legally-owed taxes. If you want to ask the candidates a question about bringing down deficits, how about:

“What will you do to prevent the loss of hundreds of billions of federal revenue from American corporations who dodge paying their taxes through corporate inversions and loopholes?

There is an important Social Security and Medicare conversation to be had.  We must find long-term solvency solutions that also address our nation’s retirement and health security crisis.  Obamacare went a long way toward improving the health care picture but more work remains to be done.  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.

While the Chamber sees Social Security as solely a source of “investment-draining and economy-staling uncertainty,” the truth is, Social Security is a hugely 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.  Seniors spend their Social Security for the basics of everyday living which fuels businesses large and small. Unfortunately, Social Security’s economic contributions to communities, counties, and states continue to be misunderstood and ignored in Washington’s fiscal debates.

The American people understand how important programs like Social Security and Medicare are to re-building and strengthening the fiscal health of millions of families and our nation.  They know we cannot ignore program adequacy in favor of a benefit-cuts only approach when addressing long-term solvency. Thankfully, the economic recovery and time have provided many Members of Congress the space to craft meaningful legislation that not only extends Social Security’s solvency by decades but also boosts benefits, which is exactly what the American people have said in poll after poll they support. In fact, 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. Of those polled, 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.  Not just for today’s seniors but also for future generations which will likely depend on these programs as much, if not more, than current retirees.

With this in mind, we strongly urge you to ask the candidates: 

“What is your specific plan to ensure Social Security and Medicare’s long-term solvency?”

Regards,

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare

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. 

Vast Majority of Private Medicare Advantage Plans Overcharged the Government

New analysis by the Center for Public Integrity of Medicare Advantage audits show that 35 of the 37 companies audited by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) overcharged the government by millions of dollars each year. By “upcoding” claims, insurance companies report patients as being sicker than they are and thus collect higher payments from Medicare. 

By overstating the severity of medical conditions like diabetes and depression, extra payments are made to health plans which claimed some diabetic patients also had complications of the disease, such as eye or kidney problems. After the CMS audits, these claims were ultimately reduced or invalidated in nearly half the cases, sometimes more.  This CPI report isn’t the first time private insurers in Medicare Advantage have come under fire. In May, a Government Accountability Office report called for “fundamental improvements” to curb excess charges linked to faulty risk scores.  In addition, at least half a dozen health-industry insiders have filed whistleblower lawsuits that accuse Medicare Advantage insurers of manipulating risk scores to boost profits.

CPI also found: 

Auditors on average could confirm just 60 percent of more than 20,000 medical conditions plans were paid to treat. The confirmation rates were much lower for some conditions, such as diabetes with serious complications, depression and some forms of cancer.

Overpayments triggered by unsupported medical diagnoses at the 37 plans audited topped $10,000 per patient for more than 150 patients. The health plans overcharged the government by $2,000 or more for at least 3,500 people in the 2007 sample group.

The health plans overall were three times as likely to charge Medicare too much as too little for some of the 70 medical conditions examined as part of the audits.

None of the plans faced closer scrutiny following the audits, no matter the size of the overpayment. The 2007 audits, which collected a total of $12 million in overpayments, are the only ones CMS has completed since officials adopted risk scores in 2004 at the behest of Congress. In some cases, health plans are still appealing the results, nine years later.  

17 million seniors are enrolled in Medicare Advantage and in 2014, Medicare paid the health plans more than $160 billion. The Center for Public Integrity reported that overspending tied to inflated risk scores has cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in recent years.

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. 

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