From the category archives: Aging Issues
House Speaker Paul Ryan perpetuated dangerous falsehoods about Medicare on CBS “60 Minutes” Sunday night. In an interview with correspondent Scott Pelley, Ryan hauled out the myth that “Medicare goes bankrupt in about 10 years.” He continued, “The trust fund runs out of money. So we have to make sure that we shore this program up.” Really?
To Ryan, “shoring up” Medicare means privatizing it, creating what we at the National Committee call “coupon care.” Seniors would have to fend for themselves in the private insurance market with government-provided vouchers that wouldn’t fully cover their premiums or out-of-pocket costs. Traditional Medicare would be left to wither and die.
Ryan’s plan is based on a fake crisis. Contrary to the Speaker’s claims on “60 Minutes,” Medicare does not go bankrupt in 10 years. It’s true that – without increasing payroll taxes – the Medicare Hospital Trust fund (which finances Medicare Part A) will become depleted in 2028. However, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) points out, “incoming payroll taxes and other revenue will still cover 87% of Medicare hospital insurance costs.” That’s a far cry from bankruptcy, Mr. Ryan.
Any shortfalls, CBPP notes, could be covered by “raising revenues, slowing the growth in costs, or most likely both,” without wrecking traditional Medicare - options that Ryan doesn’t seem inclined to consider.
The other fiction that Ryan perpetrates in his “60 Minutes” appearance is that his Medicare “reforms” wouldn’t “change the benefit” for anybody who is in or near retirement – only Gen X’ers (like Ryan himself) and subsequent generations. This is simply untrue. Our own analysis at NCPSSM indicates that privatizing Medicare could adversely impact anyone 55 and older (including people currently enrolled in traditional Medicare) because of potentially higher premiums, benefit cuts, and higher out-of-pockets. Neither seniors nor their children and grandchildren should believe Ryan’s false assurances. There is simply too much at stake.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the Kaiser Family Foundation examined Medicare’s costs for end-of-life care and created this interesting infographic. Some of the results might surprise you:
- Of 2.6 million total deaths in the United States in 2014, 2.1 million were among Medicare beneficiaries.
- The share of total Medicare spending for people at the end of life decreased from 18.6% to 13.5% between 2000 and 2014.
- Medicare spending for people at the end of life also decreased with age.
- Surveys show that more than 7 in 10 people aged 65 years and older have not discussed end-of-life care with a physician and that 4 in 10 have not documented their end-of-life care wishes.
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.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare’s President/CEO, Max Richtman, has been named a “2016 Influencer in Aging” by Next Avenue, America’s online magazine for seniors.
“This is a transformative time in which millions of Americans are redefining what it means to grow old. It is a quiet revolution,” said Susan Donley, managing director of Next Avenue. “This year’s list uncovers a range of leaders who have made exceptional contributions to that sea change. Next Avenue is proud to honor and celebrate these men and women, and their remarkable work.”
Max Richtman is a former staff director of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and 16-year veteran of Capitol Hill. As NCPSSM’s President/CEO, he leads the National Committee’s policy and advocacy work on behalf of millions of American seniors who depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
In addition to being appointed to the 2016 Platform Committee for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), he is vice-chair of the Seniors Coordinating Council of the DNC, a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance, Bloomberg BNA Medicare Report Advisory Board, the District of Columbia Bar and a recipient of the 2013 Gray Panthers Social Justice Award and 2014 Winn Newman Equality Award from Americans for Democratic Action.
When asked, “If you could change one thing about aging in America, what would it be?” Richtman said:
"Ageism continues to exist. We see it in the workplace, in public debate, between generations and in social policy. 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 seniors and their families have ample and easy access to health, income and job security, community supports and a robust aging network that offers choice, independence and dignity."
This year’s Influencers in Aging list also includes researchers like; MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner Anne Basting, legendary television producer/writer Norman Lear, Sarita Gupta, co-founder of Caring Across Generations and advocate for government policies supporting home care workers; Phyllis Borzi, the person in charge of the Employee Benefits Security Administration for the U.S. Department of Labor.
OK...we're just 18 days until election day and the final debate has come and gone. Thank goodness.
While Social Security and Medicare finally got their 90 seconds of fame last night, as expected, the question was framed exactly how Washington's well-funded fiscal hawks had hoped -- America can't afford "entitlements," (wrong), the programs are the biggest drivers of our debt (nope), are going bankrupt (actually no, they're not) and then the real heart of the question: How are you going to cut benefits?
Unfortunately, this approach guaranteed there would be no real conversation about the benefits millions of seniors depend on. Here is NCPSSM's President/CEO, Max Richtman's reaction:
“Rather than focusing on the candidate’s plans for improving Social Security and Medicare’s long-term solvency, strengthening benefits and tackling the retirement crisis looming for millions of workers and retirees, last night’s viewers were stuck with the same old crisis calls that ‘entitlements’ are bankrupting America. No doubt, Washington’s billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby was happy to have some life pumped back into their middle-class killing campaign to cut benefits; however, America’s voters deserved far more from this debate.
Make no mistake about it, the choices between Clinton and Trump couldn’t be starker. Donald Trump’s Social Security shape-shifting leaves voters with no idea of how he plans to improve solvency and benefit adequacy. Doing nothing isn’t an option. Contrary to his insult last night, hearing Hillary Clinton tell the truth about how to strengthen Social Security's funding isn't ‘nasty,’ it's just reality. As long as America's wealthiest are allowed to avoid paying their share of payroll taxes, Social Security suffers. Period. While Clinton supports expanding benefits, Trump’s only policy promise last night was to repeal Obamacare. That cuts years from Medicare’s solvency and billions in preventive care, prescription drugs and cost-reducing benefits to seniors.
Most Americans know that our nation faces a retirement crisis. Our economy depends on strong Social Security and Medicare programs and improving benefits is vital to keeping millions from poverty. Too bad voters weren’t allowed to hear any of that debated last night.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
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