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From the category archives: Retirement

The Best Mother's Day Gift of All: Retirement Security

Let’s add something to the gift list for mom this Mother’s Day along with flowers and candy: financial security in retirement.   Our nation’s mothers – indeed, all American women – are at greater risk of financial insecurity in their senior years than fathers (and other men). For myriad reasons, the women in our lives are less able to save for retirement than men, and their Social Security benefits are typically lower.  At the same time, nearly half of elderly unmarried women rely on Social Security for 90% of their income.  Working women who take time off to care for loved ones pay an especially steep price, losing an average $324,000 in wages and retirement benefits over their lifetimes.  

As we discussed on Facebook Live from Capitol Hill on Thursday, the major factors contributing to women’s poorer retirement status include:

 *Pay inequity, which means women can’t save as much as men during their working lives. (Women working full-time still earn only about 78 cents annually for every dollar earned by men doing the same job.)

 *Loss of wages during time spent caring for children, parents and spouses. (Women make up 66% of unpaid caregivers). 

 *Women’s tendency to work part-time rather than full-time for family reasons. (26% of employed women work part time compared with only 13% for men.)

 *Lack of retirement savings plans or pensions in jobs predominantly held by women.

 *Women, on average, live longer than men, meaning their retirement savings are stretched thinner.  (The average life expectancy for women in the U.S. is 81.2 years compared to 76.5 years for men.)

Even when women continue to work past 65, they face a startling wage gap.  Women in this age group earn 25% less than men.  By the age of 80, the gender wage gap widens to 44%!

Since 2014, our Eleanor’s Hope initiative has advocated for common sense measures to reverse the retirement security crisis for women.  The initiative honors first lady (and first mother!) Eleanor Roosevelt –  a fierce advocate for women’s rights and her husband President Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act.  Their son, James Roosevelt, Sr., founded the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Our founder’s son, James Roosevelt, Jr., reflected on his grandmother’s legacy during a recent “Behind the Headlines” Facebook Live interview:

“My grandmother would say many important things, but one was, ‘It’s up to the women.’   Eleanor would tell my female siblings and cousins, ‘You’ve got to get out, and you’ve got to be part of fighting for what’s been done already (Social Security) and moving things farther forward.’” – James Roosevelt, Jr. 3/23/17

We believe Eleanor Roosevelt would be dismayed by the retirement inequities plaguing today’s women.  Fortunately, the solutions are intuitive, if too long in coming.  Here are a just a few:

*Public policies to promote pay equity between the genders.

*Reforms to the employer-based system to encourage retirement plans that are universal, secure, and adequate – where financial risk is not borne entirely by workers.

*Spousal consent in defined contribution plans similar to those required for traditional pension plans.

To close the tremendous gap in women’s Social Security benefits, we support legislation to credit caregivers for time spent out of the workforce attending to loved ones.  Such credits would count toward future Social Security benefits.  Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) is reintroducing legislation to do just that.  Her Social Security Caregiver Credit Act would “provide caregivers with a… credit when they take unpaid time off from their job to provide care.” For example, a full-time caregiver would receive a Social Security credit of about $22,000 per year, increasing her future benefits.  Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) plans to introduce similar legislation based on the National Average Wage Index (currently, $48,099) to formulate caregiver credits.  We at the National Committee feel these bills could go a long way toward equalizing women’s and men’s Social Security benefits. 

Mother’s Day is a reminder of all we owe our mothers.  They dried our tears and calmed our fears. One of the best things we can do for them – and all the other women in our lives – is make it possible to live out their retirement years without fear of financial strife. 

 

 

No Spring Break Ceasefire in the War on the Working Class

Congress may be home for Easter break and President Trump is busy dropping bombs in Syria and Afghanistan, but the War on the Working Class continues unabated.  In fact, it was quite a busy week for floating dangerous ideas about our nation’s healthcare and retirement security. 

First, the Associated Press ran a story based on information from an unnamed “GOP lobbyist” saying that Republicans are considering repealing the Social Security payroll tax.  Under this alleged plan, Social Security would be funded from general revenue and therefore subject to competition with other domestic programs --- and the whims of Congressional budget cutters.  Never mind that the payroll tax is what makes Social Security an earned benefit.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt set it up that way on purpose to “give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect” their Social Security checks.  Plus, the current payroll tax deduction has been working pretty well for the past 80 years.

Since enough members of Congress realize this is an awful proposal that would never pass the House and Senate, clearly someone is out there floating crazy ideas in the press.  (In addition, the A.P. story itself lacked any real sense of balance or context.) While the source for the A.P. story was unnamed, a top Trump administration official very publicly floated notions that seem to undermine President Trump’s promise not to touch Social Security and Medicare.  In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood on Tuesday, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney just couldn't say whether President Trump would veto legislation to privatize Medicare.  “Let [Congress] pass that and let’s talk about it,” he demurred. 

When Harwood asked if Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was on the list of potential programs to be cut, Mulvaney offered this non-reassuring response:

“I continue to look forward to talking to the president about ways to fix that program. Because that is one of the fastest growing programs that we have. It's become effectively a long-term unemployment, permanent unemployment program.” – Mick Mulvaney

Of course, that response is riddled with inaccuracies.  SSDI is not growing, it’s leveling off at a lower rate that is likely to plateau for the next 20 years.  It most definitely is not an unemployment program of any kind – permanent or otherwise. SSDI is one of the strictest federal disability programs in the world in terms of qualifying for benefits.  Only those who are able to demonstrate that they are unable to work for medical reasons qualify.  Among all the people who apply, only 40% are accepted.  If accepted, the average beneficiary receives only $1,170 per month, less than one could earn in a full time job at the federal minimum wage.

That didn’t stop the Washington Post from echoing some of the same right-wing myths about SSDI in a recent feature story and an editorial entitled, “The Social Security Disability Program Needs Reform.”  The story wrongly intimates that rural, working-class Americans are using SSDI as a unemployment program.  On Monday, Media Matters for America attempted to correct the record:

“The Post’s mischaracterization of SSDI follows a long history of misinformation from mainstream outlets, which often publish error-riddled stories filled with anecdotal evidence portraying disability recipients as undeserving. These pieces sound as if they come from right-wing media, which have spent years attacking the program and its recipients.” – Media Matters, 4/10/17

While the press was replete with nutty notions about Social Security and Medicare, the President and Congressional Republicans were reviving the specter of the moribund GOP healthcare bill.  Just when you thought it was dead, Freedom Caucus members say they are close to a deal with the White House and Speaker Ryan to repeal and replace Obamacare within three weeks.  Meanwhile, Politico reports that President Trump is threatening to cut off cost-sharing subsidies that help pay for low income earners’ health coverage in order to force Democrats to the negotiating table on the GOP health plan.

Fortunately, protesters are out in full force this week at town halls pushing back against supporters of the Republican bill, including one of the National Committee’s own grassroots volunteers who organized a rally outside a Florida congressman’s office.  This proves that Spring break is a good time for grassroots action. Just because it’s holiday time doesn’t mean those waging war against the working class won’t put some rotten eggs in our Easter baskets.

GOP Obamacare Replacement Hurts Older Americans; Gives wealthy $600 Billion tax break

MSNBC’s Ali Velshi summed up the problem with the GOP’s Obamacare replacement plan succinctly:  The winners are the young, the wealthy, and insurance companies.  The losers are the elderly, poor, and sick.  That seems like the opposite of what would be morally just – and smart policy – for the wealthiest nation on earth.  Instead, the healthiest and wealthiest benefit while the sickest and most vulnerable suffer under this new plan.  Our nation’s seniors, in particular, will fare significantly worse if the American Health Care Act (as it’s benignly named) becomes law, because it weakens Medicare and radically restructures Medicaid – two of the most important federal programs for the elderly.  Meanwhile, the bill gives the wealthy a $600 billion tax cut over ten years.

Here are some of the most harmful facets of the GOP plan affecting seniors:

*Imposes “per capita” caps on Medicaid payments to the states after 2020, amounting to a $370 billion funding cut over 10 years.  This will likely compel states to cut benefits to seniors who rely on Medicaid to pay for skilled nursing and long-term care.  Standard & Poor’s estimates that 4-6 million beneficiaries will lose Medicaid coverage altogether.

*Rolls back insurance premium support for Americans in their 50s and 60s, putting their health and wellness at risk in the crucial years before they are eligible for Medicare.

*Allows insurance companies to charge older Americans up to five times more than younger enrollees, putting health coverage out of reach for millions of middle-aged Americans and younger seniors.

*Repeals a tax on wealthy Americans that was helping to keep Medicare solvent.  Eliminating those taxes on high earners will reduce the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by at least 4 years.

The Republican plan replaces Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies with tax credits that will barely make a dent in older Americans’ premiums.  Individuals between the ages of 50 to 59 would receive a tax credit of $3,500 per year; Anyone over 60 would receive a meager $4,000 per year.  What’s more, the tax credits are phased out for individuals earning over $75,000 annually or $150,000 jointly.  Given that healthcare premiums for a 64 year-old are projected to climb to $13,125 per year under the GOP plan, these tax credits will fall pathetically short.

Even with the tax credits, fresh analyses indicate that Americans’ out-of-pocket healthcare costs will rise under the GOP plan.  In its blog, The Big Idea, today Vox concludes:

"Once the differences in tax credits are accounted for, the bill would increase costs significantly.  [Higher] cost-sharing would greatly increase financial risk.  If you’re now paying 50 percent of your costs, instead of 75%, a big hospital bill could be devastating.”  - Vox’s The Big Idea

For all the Republicans’ griping about Obamacare premiums being too expensive, Vox estimates the average policyholders’ out-of-pocket costs will increase by $1,542 per year even if their premiums go down.

Returning to Ali Velshi’s summary of winners and losers, one can see a resemblance between the way the GOP plan health pits the young against the old, the wealthy against the less fortunate, and the healthy against the sick… and the tactics they employ in attempting to cut Social Security and Medicare.  The trouble is that eventually everyone will grow old, and at some point in our lives we all will be sick.  Everyone – young and old – needs affordable health care.  In replacing Obamacare with this newer, more miserly plan, millions of Americans will not be able to afford the healthcare they need. 

 

 

Trump Snubs Seniors in Speech to Congress

Millions of current and future retirees were no doubt hoping that President Trump would use last night’s speech to Congress to reaffirm his promises not to touch Social Security and Medicare.  Instead, the President ducked and covered.  He did not even utter the words “Social Security” or “Medicare” in his entire hour-long address.  As for Medicaid – which millions of American seniors rely upon for skilled nursing care – the President only touched on it once, with a veiled reference to converting guaranteed benefits into block grants, which would hurt beneficiaries.   

This begs the question – why the silence on Social Security and Medicare?  After all, during the campaign the President broke with Republican orthodoxy and repeatedly promised not to cut either earned benefit program. “I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare.  You made a deal a long time ago,” he told a crowd of supporters in November.  The most likely explanation for omitting America’s retirement security programs from last night’s speech is that the President knows his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill vehemently disagree with him.  

There are proposals in both the House and Senate to cut and privatize Social Security and Medicare.  In fact, voucherizing Medicare is one of Speaker Paul Ryan’s highest priorities.  Perhaps the President did not want to unnecessarily ruffle feathers on the Hill last night.  If so, his refusal to recommit to protecting Social Security and Medicare is not an encouraging sign. If he’s afraid to even mention his position in a speech to Congress, he may roll over on campaign promises under pressure from the Congressional GOP.

President Trump may also be leaving himself wiggle room in negotiations with Congress over Social Security and Medicare.  The problem is, any compromise on his promise will hurt seniors and people with disabilities who depend on these programs, whether it’s cutting benefits, raising the retirement age, or trimming COLAs.  He may also be setting up a dodge, where the Congress agrees not to cut Social Security or Medicare for current retirees while leaving open the possibility of downsizing or privatizing both programs for younger Americans.  This approach is based on the falsehood that cutting benefits for future retirees doesn’t hurt current seniors, and cynically pits one generation against the others for political expediency. Mark Miller of Reuters has an excellent piece today explaining this ploy:

"The [Republicans’] political goal will be to defang public opposition, since younger workers tend not to focus much on retirement when it is several decades away. But that approach is not going to work. Retirees and their advocacy groups will fiercely resist cutting benefits down the road, because they understand the critical importance of Social Security and Medicare benefits. They also care about the future retirement of their own children.  - Mark Miller, Reuters

Social Security and Medicare are commitments that the government made to working class Americans who paid into the system most of their lives.  The President could have confirmed that commitment last night and comforted seniors who are worried about losing their retirement security and healthcare.  His silence on Capitol Hill was not reassuring.

 

Did You Get the Most of Your Medicare This Year?

There’s no doubt about it...Medicare can be confusing.  However, there are many benefits out there that many seniors may not even realize exist.  Here’s a quick look at a few of the often overlooked Medicare benefits that you should be sure you are fully utilizing.

 

 

Annual wellness visit

If President-elect Trump follows up on his campaign promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, this benefit will disappear, which is a real loss for millions of seniors who’ve used these visits preventatively to avoid potentially larger health issues in the future.  If you haven’t already, get your annual visit in soon.

Wellness visits are with your primary-care physician once a year, even when you're feeling fine. These visits give you and your doctor a chance to review your health and see where attention might be needed or improvements might be made. The focus is on your overall health and allows patients and doctors to red-flag any concerns that might seem small now but could lead to a more serious issue if ignored. Wellness visits are available to anyone covered by Part B or Medicare Advantage plans.  For now, anyway.

Depression screening

Once a year, every Medicare Part B recipient can receive free depression screening from his or her primary-care doctor.  This is an important benefit because one in six seniors suffers from depression yet estimates are only 10% of chronically depressed seniors receive the treatment they need for their disease.

Late life depression is an important public health problem. It is associated with increased risk of illness, increased risk of suicide, decreased physical, cognitive and social functioning, and greater self-neglect, all of which are in turn associated with an increased likelihood of death. 

Smoking cessation

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 40 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes.  Smoking is the #1 cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.  In fact, more than 480,000 Americans die, or 1 of every 5 deaths, from tobacco use.  It’s never too late to stop smoking.  That’s why Medicare provides its beneficiaries help quitting. Anyone who uses tobacco and has Medicare Part B coverage can get up to eight smoking-cessation visits covered over a 12-month period. The only stipulation is that the visits are with a qualified doctor or other Medicare-recognized practitioner. These visits will not cost you a penny out of pocket, so if you're a smoker who wants to quit for good, make sure you take advantage of this Medicare benefit.

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