From the category archives: Retirement
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ve written a lot about how pay inequity has hurt generations of working women, not just while they’re on the job, but lasting throughout their retirement. The economic challenges facing American women in retirement is the heart of our “Eleanor’s Hope” project, designed to raise awareness and advocate for legislation to address the inequities threatening millions of retired women.
“Over a working woman’s career, that pay gap could accumulate to a half million dollars in lost income and even more for women of color. A comprehensive analysis of gender pay inequality, released by the Joint Economic Committee’s Democratic staff, shows how the gender pay gap grows over time. It’s not just an issue for working women because this inequality can also have a compounding and devastating impact on retired women.
The thought of running out of money in retirement keeps 57% of women awake at night. That’s not a surprise when you consider the many combined factors which make retirement especially challenging for American women. Women earn less than men even when doing the same jobs, they more often work part-time or in jobs that do not offer retirement savings plans, and they tend to spend more time out of the workforce as a consequence of their caregiving responsibilities. Women could lose $430,480 in earnings over the course of a 40-year career due to the wage gap alone.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
That is a staggering number. But what does it really mean to you?
A new tool created by the Economic Policy Institute allows women workers to calculate how much you could be earning, in an equal pay world. Remember, that equal pay would have also meant a more equal retirement benefit.
As a 2106 Influencer in Aging honoree, NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, answered the question: “What is the one thing you would like to change about aging in America?” Max’s answer can be found in Forbes, Next Avenue and we’ve reposted it here:
Why We Must Combat Ageism In America
By Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to write essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is the first of the essays.)
Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” If you or someone you love has been there, you’ll likely agree.
Thankfully, Americans have Social Security and Medicare to help ease their transition into retirement and improve the likelihood they’ll age financially and medically secure. Social Security keeps 22 million Americans out of poverty, while Medicare provides universal health care for 55 million seniors and people with disabilities.
Pitting Young vs. Old
Social Security and Medicare are among our nation’s most successful federal programs, touching the lives of virtually every American family. In spite of this, these programs continue to be political targets by those who have tried to pit young vs. old, creating a generational battle over limited budget resources.
Portraying America’s parents and grandparents as “greedy geezers” who care only about their own benefits (which they’ve earned after a lifetime) at the expense of future generations is one of the most pernicious examples of the ageism that is all too common in our nation. We see it in the workplace, in public debate, between generations and in social policy.
Time for Government Leaders to Address Ageism
If I could change one thing about aging in the U.S., it would be how our government leaders address ageism through public law. They must ensure that all retirees and their families, present and future, have ample and easy access to health, income and job security, community supports and a robust aging network that offers choice, independence and dignity.
The retirement of America’s Baby Boom generation has provided us with a unique opportunity to create innovative and responsive aging policies that would serve our nation well for generations to come. Unfortunately, we have not done enough to modernize and revolutionize our aging policies.
It’s not like we didn’t know the boomers would retire someday. America built schools when this growing demographic was young, houses as it matured and large surpluses in the Social Security Trust Fund in anticipation of its retirement. However, now that 10,000 boomers turn 65 each day, the graying of America is too often presented as simply a drain on our national resources and — even worse — used as an opportunity to pit generations against each other.
How Ageism Hurts America
Ageism, sadly, pervades our policy discourse, squandering this unique opportunity in our history to create policies, systems and programs that tap into the wealth of experience, knowledge and opportunities that our aging community provides.
The 14 percent of America that is now over 65 should be at the heart of public policies to improve our nation’s health care system and to increase employment opportunities, fair housing, and economic equity that can stretch across all generations.
Let’s remember these words of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
We must fight back against ageism, which ignores the reality that America is strongest when the young, old and everyone in between are economically empowered, healthy and secure.
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