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From the category archives: Aging Issues

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 corporations...it 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. 

SEND YOUR EMAIL TODAY!

Social Security Privatization – Then and Now

Orginally published in Huffington Post.

by Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

About this time ten years ago it was becoming clear that President George Bush’s plan to forever change Social Security by turning the program over to Wall Street was on the ropes.  Even though his Social Security privatization road tour still had two more months of scheduled stops, the more the President talked about his plan, the less people liked it.  Gallup reported disapproval of privatizing Social Security rose by 16 points from 48 to 64 percent between the President’s State of the Union address and June. It was an incredibly risky and unpopular idea that rapidly flat-lined thanks to the overwhelming rejection by the public.  Yet here we are a decade later and conservatives campaigning for Congress and the White House are resuscitating the Bush strategy by offering up approaches to Social Security which are stark reminders that the GOP playbook really hasn’t changed that much. 

What Else Has NOT Changed

Americans of all ages, political parties and income levels, continue to oppose cutting Social Security benefits through privatization or other means.  They understand the retirement crisis is real. A recent Gallup poll reports more non-retirees believe Social Security will be a major source of income in their retirement now than at any point in the last 15 years. The National Academy of Social Insurance’s survey, "Americans Make Hard Choices on Social Security" shows that Americans' support for Social Security is unparalleled and they are willing to pay more in taxes to stabilize the system's finances and improve benefits. Seven out of 10 participants prefer a package that would eliminate Social Security's long-term financing gap without cutting benefits.

Even though Americans clearly understand the value of Social Security and are willing to pay more to strengthen it, Republicans in Congress and GOP candidates for President continue to push for Social Security cuts and/or privatization plans. Governor Chris Christie may have hoped savaging the program would give him the attention and conservative credentials needed to revive his flagging poll numbers before announcing his Presidential campaign against a roster of other candidates who already offered their own plans to cut Social Security benefits.  The GOP Presidential primary has become a race to see who can deny more benefits for seniors, people with disabilities, survivors and their families faster.  While cutting benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid isn’t really new among conservatives, what has changed in the decade since the Democrats led the charge against Social Security privatization is how some Democrats are now talking about these vital programs in the language of the conservatives.

Why Opposing Privatization Isn’t Enough

During the last decade I’ve observed a growing willingness by some Democrats to buy into the conservative mythology that targeting average Americans for benefit cuts makes them more “honest” and “courageous” than other politicians.  This Republican talking point is built on the false premise that supporting successful federal programs which keep millions of Americans economically and medically secure is “pandering to seniors” while supporting billionaire tax breaks and corporate giveaways costing the federal treasury billions of dollars is “fiscal responsibility.”

Ten years ago Democrats were united in their opposition to Social Security privatization.  That’s still largely true today; however, given the lessons of the past decade, opposing privatization simply isn’t enough to convince constituents that their benefits are fully protected.  The broader questions voters should ask incumbents and candidates alike include: Do they support benefit cuts in any other form such as the Chained CPI, raising the retirement age, and means testing? Do they support the failed Bowles-Simpson plan which would have done all of these things? Do they support the reallocation of trust fund monies to avoid a 20 percent cut to Social Security disability benefits? The answers to these questions can reveal the truth about a candidate’s vision for the future of Social Security and the generations of Americans who have earned their benefits. “I oppose privatization” was enough ten years ago but it doesn’t tell us whether an incumbent has been a Social Security defender or benefit cuts collaborator in the many battles since then. 

While it’s safe for Democrats to declare their opposition to privatization, the bolder step they need to make in this politically charged benefit-cuts environment is to demand that any Social Security conversation must address benefit adequacy as well as long-term solvency.  It’s clear that the majority in Congress has little interest in protecting this program even though our nation faces a retirement crisis leaving the average working household with virtually no retirement savings. The truth is Congress should Boost Social Security benefits not cut them.  That’s a position that demonstrates true political leadership.  Not because it’s unrealistic or opportunistic, as the billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby would like you to believe, but because it pushes back against a decade long quest to cut Social Security benefits as the next best thing to privatization. “Death by a thousand cuts” is a political goal the American people simply can not afford nor should they have to. We have Democratic and Independent leaders in Congress who understand this and they support legislation to improve Social Security benefits. The National Committee has endorsed numerous pieces of legislation that would enhance Social Security, boost benefits, lift the payroll tax cap and adopt the more accurate consumer price index for the elderly (CPI-E).  Proposals like the Social Security 2100 Act not only improve benefits but also extend Social Security’s long-term solvency. 

I believe the old truism that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. When Democrats were unified in representing the American people’s views on Social Security they were on the correct side of the issue from both a policy and political perspective.  Defeating the privatization of Social Security saved millions of Americans from an even worse economic fate than they already suffered through during the great recession. Current and future Democratic lawmakers now have an opportunity to do the right thing again by joining the growing Boost Social Security movement and supporting legislation which would improve benefits while also strengthening the program’s long-term outlook.

Older Americans Month

Cutting Social Security Disability Threatens Millions of American Families

One of Congress’ strongest champions for strengthening and boosting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is Rep. Gwen Moore from Wisconsin.  Congresswoman Moore has also been an effective voice in Congress for measures that focus on improving the economic and employment conditions in low-income communities.  We’re so glad she’s agreed to share her views with us on the current Congress, Black History month and recent attempts to target Americans with disabilities by the GOP leadership in the House. 

 


 

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)

Each February, we are reminded of our country’s greatest African American leaders with the celebration of Black History Month. Black History Month provides us an opportunity not only to reflect on those who advocate on behalf of the African American community, but also to examine the critical concerns and issues facing African Americans today. Even with all of the progress made over the past half-century, African Americans still represent a disproportionate share of our nation’s poor. As we work to change the underlying causes for this reality, we must also make sure we’re providing an adequate safety net to prevent further harm of those who are already struggling to get by.

There is no program more vital to protecting those who are battling poverty than Social Security. Not only is Social Security responsible for allowing millions of Americans to enjoy a comfortable retirement after a life of hard work, but also provides insurance for more than 90% of American workers in the event of a debilitating accident or illness through the Disability Insurance program.

On the first day of the 114th Congress, House Republicans pushed through a rule change regarding the Social Security trust funds that would prevent the routine transfer of funds between the retirement and disability accounts. Without the ability to transfer funds, the Disability Trust Fund will be forced to cut all benefits by 20% in 2016. That’s 20% from a paycheck that already is not enough to keep 1.6 million people out of poverty.

A harsh truth we must come to terms with is that one out of every three young workers new to the labor force will either die or need Disability Insurance before they turn 67.  Those odds get even worse for African American workers, who make up a disproportionate percentage of Disability Insurance beneficiaries.  An unexpected disability or illness can be devastating to an individual or family, but the Disability Insurance program supplies protection to soften the blow of an immediate loss of income. While the benefits are modest, averaging around $1100 a month, they still represent the main or only source of income for over 80% of beneficiaries.  Nearly one in five beneficiaries live in poverty, which translates to roughly 1.6 million people, or approximately the population of greater metropolitan Milwaukee, my home city.

Obviously, this critical program needs more funding, but my congressional colleagues across the aisle continue to stand in the way. The rule change proposed by House Republicans was slipped under the wire as a procedural fix. But let’s call it what it is: a brazen attack on our nation’s most vulnerable. These are people who paid their dues to Social Security while they were in the labor force who are now in need of the services they paid into.

Now is not the time to weaken the Disability Insurance program, but rather we should be strengthening it. One of the major lingering effects of the recession is the sharp increase in long-term unemployment. While this number is now on the decline for the overall population, disabled workers continue to struggle to find gainful employment. Cutting what meager benefits they have now would be a death sentence.

This Black History Month, instead of only reflecting on the African Americans of the past, we should also make sure we are taking care of the African Americans of today and tomorrow. Cutting benefits to the Disability Insurance program would disproportionately affect African Americans. I believe in a vision of government where we take care of those who have fallen on hard times due to disability. Black History Month serves as a good means to highlight these issues, but I will keep fighting for this vision all year-round, day-in and day-out, until every American receives the assistance they need to live a prosperous life.

 

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