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From the category archives: Aging Issues

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. 


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

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