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From the category archives: Aging Issues

High RX Drug Prices Certainly Not News to Seniors

While Turing Pharmaceuticals Martin Shkreli’s decision to raise the cost of a drug 5,000% certainly got a lot of attention earlier this year, the fact that the high cost of prescription drugs in America continues to soar beyond the reach of many isn’t news to anyone who’s made a trip to the pharmacy lately.  In fact, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found a large majority of the public (72%) view the cost of prescription drugs as unreasonable.

The federal Health and Human Services Department has signaled they’re looking for a way to curb rising prescription drug prices.  They need to do so because rising drug costs have now overtaken a long stretch of stable premiums.  In other words, while Medicare has successfully controlled premiums those successes are lost when seniors in Part D continue to face growing prescription costs. 

“Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said his agency spent $140 billion on prescription drugs and that spending on medicines increased 13 percent in 2014 while overall health spending grew 5 percent.” ....HHS Airs Concerns About Rising Drug Prices, Congressional Quarterly

“Spending on medicines increased 13 percent in 2014, compared to 5 percent for health care overall, Slavitt said. It was the highest rate of drug spending growth since 2001.”...Obama administration sets stage for a debate on drug costs, Associated Press

One simple solution is to allow Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs which could save the program and its beneficiaries billions of dollars.

“The law that established Medicare Part D explicitly prohibits the prescription drug program from negotiating lower drug costs for beneficiaries. The major pharmaceutical companies adamantly defend this rule, contending that the higher prices are necessary to support the industry’s investment in research and development. However, a comparison of the prices paid by Part D with those paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other agencies shows that Part D could save billions of dollars through the use of additional negotiation techniques. Our analysis finds that the VA attains drug prices that, on average, are 48 percent lower than Part D plan prices for the top 10 drugs covered by the program.” ...”Price Negotiation for the Medicare Drug Program: It is Time to Lower Costs for Seniors,” NCPSSM Issue Brief

It’s time to hold America’s drug makers accountable. 

“Heather Block, a breast cancer patient from Lewes, Delaware, told the forum that her costs have been so high she could face bankruptcy if she beats the odds against her advanced disease. ‘Innovation is meaningless if nobody can afford it,’ she said”... Associated Press


Will Congress Put Budget $’s to Work for Average Americans?

Passing a budget in Washington these days is uglier than making sausage. The next step (now underway), when Congressional appropriators actually decide where to spend those budgeted dollars, may be even worse.

As a reminder, the 2016 budget deal passed last month was far from perfect; however, it did:

·         Prevent a 19% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits that would have occurred in late 2016

·         Mitigate a 52% Medicare Part B premium increase for 30% of Medicare beneficiaries

·         Alleviate an increase in the Part B deductible for all beneficiaries, lowering it from a projected $223 to $167

The budget deal also provided for a roughly $33 billion increase in domestic programs. Many, like Older Americans Act programs, have been devastated by the sequester so loosening that budget noose should have been good news.

However, Congressional conservatives have very different ideas than Democrats of where those extra budget dollars should go. In a classic “guns vs. butter” battle, GOP appropriators propose less for domestic programs, like the Older Americans Act, and $8 billion more for the nondefense war account beyond the increase already requested by the President.  According to Congressional Quarterly:

“Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro, ranking member of the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, on Tuesday slammed the new, post-budget-deal allocation for the spending bill she helps oversee, which typically accounts for roughly one-third of all nondefense discretionary spending.

DeLauro said the revised discretionary allocation for Labor-HHS-Education is $5.2 billion above the fiscal 2015 enacted level (PL 113-235) of $156.76 billion, or roughly $161.69 billion. She said the bill should receive an increase of closer to $10 billion above the enacted level. The budget accord provided a roughly $33 billion increase to domestic programs above the sequester level, when a roughly $8 billion increase to the nondefense war account beyond the president’s request is included.

“I’m opposed to the allocation. The recent allocation is well below the percentage that Labor-H should have, given that Labor-H is 32 percent of the nondefense discretionary dollars,” DeLauro said.”

The Older Americans Act is the backbone of the nation’s home and community supports system, helping older adults age with independence and dignity by providing them with much-needed in-home support, meals, transportation, caregiver assistance and ombudsman programs to help protect residents in nursing homes.

The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, chaired by NCPSSM, is mobilizing Americans to call their members of Congress and ask them to do more, not less, for the growing number of older Americans by protecting aging services and increasing funding for the Older Americans Act and Elder Justice programs. Our seniors are counting on them.



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It’s Inequality, Stupid. Why Income Inequality, the Longevity Gap and Social Security are All Connected

One of the favored political tropes repeated often by the billion-dollar anti-Social Security lobby and its supporters in Congress as a justification to cut Social Security is:  “Americans are living longer so they should just work longer.”  That’s usually followed up with a personal anecdote like “Everyone I know plans to keep working into their 70’s.”  Maybe that’s true for hedge-fund billionaires like Pete Peterson and politicians like Alan Simpson.  Rich, white men live longer, healthier lives and no doubt it’s easier to consider working until 70 if the boardroom or committee room is where you spend your work day.

However, for the rest of America the “you can work until your 70” claim is built on the lie that “Americans are living longer.”  Multiple studies have shown the opposite to be true.  All Americans are definitely not living long. Yet another report from the National Academy of Science this week reports:  

“Men at the top of the economic ladder saw an eight-year increase in life expectancy, while men at the bottom saw virtually no change.” 

No change. 

According to researchers, an increasing gap in life expectancy between the wealthy and the working class has come – and may even be caused by -- the growing inequality of wealth and income in America. If you can afford the best healthcare, work in high income careers requiring less physical labor and have a higher education allowing you to navigate America’s complicated healthcare system, is it any surprise you might live longer?  As more income goes to the richest Americans, our middle-class is shrinking leaving even more people vulnerable.

Teresa Ghilarducci is a labor economist who directs the Retirement Equity lab at The New School. She sums it up this way:

“The idea that everyone should work longer since everyone is living longer is one used to justify policy proposals such as cutting Social Security benefits. But that idea is a misleading oversimplification.

The Retirement Equity Lab at The New School (a project I direct) has pointed out that the growing class and racial gaps have dire implications for retirement policies. A cut to Social Security benefits—which raising the retirement age, an oft-suggested proposal, essentially is—would induce people without means to work in old age. This would produce an unseemly form of inequality: The people who live the longest will be able to retire, and the people who have to work longer will be the same people who are losing at longevity. The poorer will work and the richer will play in old age, a class divide we’ve already seen in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If post-work benefits are not shored up, this disparity will only get worse.”

It's Time to Expand Medicare

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare celebrated Medicare’s anniversary at a Capitol Hill event today with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Johns Hopkins researcher, Dr. Frank Lin and Michigan senior, Ann Liming, who has hearing loss, urging Congress to allow Medicare to provide hearing aid coverage for millions of older Americans.

“The reality is that while Medicare provides critical health coverage to millions of beneficiaries there are very serious gaps which exist. We are working to address the hearing aid issue immediately. The Hearing Aid Coverage Act of 2015 is the first bill I’ve introduced because I think this is so important.  No one should feel isolated, confused or shut out from the world because they can’t afford the treatment they need.”...Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI)

“This is a really serious issue.  It costs thousands of dollars for hearing aids yet the vast majority of seniors who need them don’t have them because they simply can’t afford it.  That comes with a high cost to society and healthcare costs in Medicare.” ...Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)

The effects of hearing loss are devastating.  48 million Americans suffer some degree of hearing loss making it a serious public health threat behind heart disease and arthritis.  One out of three people over 65 has a hearing loss with more than 65% of those suffering a loss before retirement age. Research has shown older adults with hearing loss are 32% more likely to require hospitalization, face a 24% increased risk for cognitive impairment and increasingly suffer from isolation and depression.

“We are beginning to understand now that there are direct biological pathways through which age-related hearing loss, which all of us will experience to some degree, directly contributes to even more serious critical outcomes which are incredibly expensive. Hearing loss reaches far beyond quality of life issues.”...Dr. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

As we celebrate Medicare’s 50th anniversary on July 30th, it’s important to note that one of Medicare’s most important hallmarks is the program’s long and successful history of evolving to address the changing demographic and health security needs of America’s seniors. It’s time for Congress to address the mounting evidence that hearing loss has wide implications for the Medicare program.

“Allowing Medicare to cover the cost of hearing aids would not only improve the health and independence of millions of seniors it makes good economic and policy sense by potentially preventing the costly effects of hearing loss through increased hospitalizations, cases of depression and cognitive decline. Not covering routine hearing exams, hearing aids, or exams for fitting hearing aids leaves far too many seniors vulnerable. Medicare covers testing strips for diabetics and wheelchairs for people who can no longer walk, there’s no reason people suffering from hearing loss should be denied coverage for hearing aids.” ...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

NCPSSM has endorsed Congresswoman Dingell’s Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare Foundation has also issued a comprehensive Hearing Loss and Medicare Issue Brief detailing the research findings on hearing loss impacts and the policy prescriptions needed to address the challenges hearing loss poses for millions of seniors and the Medicare program itself.

Seniors Tell Congress Medicare Isn’t Your ATM



Seniors advocates with the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee joined Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in a press event today to express their opposition to legislation that would cut $700 million from Medicare to pay for a slice of the Trade Deal now being debated in Congress. 

“Medicare is not the piggy bank for other programs. We’ve already seen what sequester has meant for the program.  We’ve written to Congress because there’s just not enough awareness on this issue.  Across the board cuts affects the integrity of the Medicare program.” Rich Fiesta, Alliance for Retired Americans Executive Director

“The use of Medicare cuts, 700 million dollars of Medicare cuts, to finance a program totally unrelated to Medicare sets a terrible precedent.  It’s not death by a thousand cuts but that’s where we seem to be headed.  I think it’s interesting that many of the same members of Congress who condemned Obamacare and decried savings in the Medicare program as cuts--savings which were, by the way, plowed right back into the program to provide preventive screenings, close the Part D donut hole and extend the program’s solvency--are now some of the same legislators who want to really cut money from Medicare to pay for an unrelated program.”  Max Richtman, National Committee President/CEO

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Task Force on Seniors are leading the charge against this proposal:

10,000 people a day turn 65.  We should be investing and expanding Medicare not stealing from it.  People have paid into this program and expect it to be there...not to use that to fund anytime we need money to pay for another program...Medicare is not the ATM for everything Congress wants to pay for.  Cutting this social insurance program isn’t the direction we should be going in. Medicare should not be the pay-for for trade deal. The best way to help workers is to stop trade deals that take their jobs...not cut Medicare to fund fixes.” Rep. Jan Shakowsky (D-IL)

“There’s going to be untold riches earned if TPP is enacted into law.  There’s no doubt about that. Great profits will be derived for large international seems only logical that the multinationals should fund the costs of the Trade Adjustment Assistance. I can not abide this.  We’ll fight it with everything we have.”  Keith Ellison (D-MN)

Reps. Ellison and Schakowsky say many of their colleagues don’t even realize this Medicare cut was slipped into the Trade Assistance provision.  They’re raising the alarm but hope seniors and their families will also call and email their Members of Congress now since the debate is underway. 

You can do that easily from our Leg Action Center. 


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