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From the category archives: baby boomers

GOP Obamacare Replacement Hurts Older Americans; Gives wealthy $600 Billion tax break

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. 

 

 

A Dangerous New Year for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid

At a family gathering over the holidays in Florida, the conversation inevitably turned to politics.  Some of the seniors at the table who voted for Trump expressed their certainty that no one in Washington will really touch their earned benefits.  “Trump’s not going to let the Congress cut Social Security,” said a Great Aunt in her 70s.  “Paul Ryan’s not really going to mess with Medicare,” insisted her husband. Of course, these beloved family members could not be more wrong.

Their complacency (or, in this case, complicity) sets up a dangerous opportunity for the GOP-controlled 115th Congress, which was just sworn in yesterday.  Claiming a mandate that most certainly does not exist, Congressional Republicans are rolling out proposals that will destroy Social Security and Medicare as we know them, not to mention deep cuts to Medicaid and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  These actions will hurt not only the seniors at the holiday table, but their children and grandchildren, too.  As we have been warning for years, all Americans have a lot to lose if these programs are compromised by capricious politicians.

President-Elect Trump shows no signs of honoring his campaign pledge not to touch Social and Medicare.  He has been strangely silent about Congressional proposals that will wreck these two programs, and his appointments to crucial administration positions speak volumes – most notably Rep. Tom Price (a notorious privatization proponent) as Health and Human Services Secretary and Rep. Rick Mulvaney (a fiscal hardliner) as director of the Office of Management and Budget --- a likely ally for Congressional Republicans looking to cut entitlements.

A quick survey of GOP proposals shows just how much current and future beneficiaries of these crucial income security programs have to lose.  House Social Security Subcommittee Chair Sam Johnson (R-TX) has introduced a so-called Social Security “reform” bill that will result in benefit cuts, raise the retirement age to 69, and reduce Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) that seniors on fixed incomes rely on.  House Speaker Paul Ryan, who Tuesday gaveled the 115th Congress into session, has long promised to privatize Medicare, turning it into a voucher (or “Coupon Care”) program that would leave future beneficiaries to fend for themselves in the private insurance market while traditional Medicare slowly dies.  This will mean skyrocketing premiums and reduced coverage for seniors thrust into the private insurance market.

The 115th Congress just took the first procedural steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which not only jeopardizes health care coverage for 30 million Americans, but puts real improvements to Medicare at great risk.  If the Affordable Care Act is recklessly repealed, seniors will lose free preventative screenings under Medicare.  The Part D prescription drug “donut hole” will open up again, costing more than 11 million Medicare beneficiaries $2,100 per person on prescriptions.  Worse yet, Medicare beneficiaries will face higher premiums and deductibles to make up for the roughly $800 billion in cost savings that the ACA provided over 10 years.  Insurers will once again be able to overcharge or deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Combine this with GOP plans to block-grant Medicaid, which millions of seniors depend on for nursing home care and long term care services, and Americans are confronting a full-fledged assault on their earned benefits and income security.  As the 115th Congress convened yesterday, Democrats promised vigilance.  Incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer declared from the Senate floor, “We demand that (Trump) keep his promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare… We will hold the President-elect accountable.”  On GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Schumer warned, “It is not acceptable to repeal the law, throw our health care system into chaos” and leave the solution for another day.  Senator Bernie Sanders has called for a national Day of Action on January 15th “to oppose any cuts to health-care plans or subsidies,” including rallies in Congressional districts across the country.

We stand with our allies on Capitol Hill, our fellow advocacy groups, and our millions of members to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.  We see the danger quite clearly… and hope that the seniors and their families who sat around holiday tables the past two weeks will, too.

 

 

Paul Ryan Peddles Dangerous Fictions on "60 Minutes"

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.

Social Security Administration Cuts Hurt Americans in Every State

Congress has cut the Social Security Administration’s core operating budget by 10 percent since 2010, after adjusting for inflation. Incredibly, this is happening at the same time a record number of Americans retire each year.  It’s not like the baby boom generation is a surprise.  Our nation built extra schools when they were young and housing as they reached adulthood; however, today’s Congress has chosen to ignore the fiscal realities of their retirement. 

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities details the dramatic impact Congress’ SSA budget cuts have on service nationwide:

  • SSA’s staff has shrunk 6 percent nationwide since 2010. Five states — Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and West Virginia — have lost more than 15 percent of their staff since 2010.
  • Disability Determination Service (DDS) staff, who decide whether applicants’ disabilities are severe enough to qualify for Disability Insurance (DI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) has shrunk 14 percent nationwide since 2010.  Seven states — Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas — have lost over 20 percent of their DDS staff.
  • Staff shortages have contributed to a record-high disability hearing backlog of over 1 million applicants.
  • SSA has been forced to close 64 field offices since 2010, at least one in nearly every state.

Added to this list, according to a recent audit of the SSA, are reduced hours of service at the remaining offices, the limited mailing of the annual earnings statement, increased wait times, crowded lobbies and limited appointment availability.  

As we reported last month:

Unfortunately, this budget slashing effort is nothing new. “Starve the beast” and shrinking government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub" are long-held goals for Congressional conservatives.  Today’s budget cutters are continuing that decades-long campaign to diminish successful government programs which, since the vast majority of the American public of both parties supports them, can’t be killed outright.

“Cutting staff when SSA is processing historically high claims is irresponsible and a sign that the Republicans who voted for this cut are not interested in providing tax payers with good service regarding SSA,” said Witold Skwierczynski, president of the American Federation of Government Employees SSA Council. “Instead they appear to be creating a scenario that insures the collapse of the program and will enhance the push to privatize it.  If the public loses trust and faith that the federal government can administer SSA, they will look to privatization proposals as an alternative.”...Washington Post, August 9, 2016 

We recommend you read the full CBPP report here to see what’s happening in your state and nationwide. 

New Federal Privacy Rules Pose a Challenge for Some Seniors in Social Security

All new and current account holders to Social Security’s online portal,  my Social Security, will now be required to have a text-enabled cell phone to access their account online. The Social Security Administration says:

“People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number. We understand the inconvenience the text message solution may cause for some of our customers. We recognize that not every my Social Security account holder may have a cell phone, have consistent cell service in a rural area, or be able to receive a text message.”

In fact, a Pew Research Center report shows a small minority of adults ages 65 and older own smartphones.

“Overall, older Americans are less likely to be online, have broadband at home or own a mobile device. The same applies to smartphones: Only a quarter (27%) of adults ages 65 and older own them.”

Leading many to wonder:

“Certainly, cybersecurity is important and more so for Social Security numbers that can be used for identity theft. But there MUST be a better way than locking out the majority of people the agency exists to serve.”...Time Goes By blog

This change was prompted by a new executive order requiring all federal agencies that provide online access to consumers’ personal information to use something called multi-factor authentication; this means that to login to a site, account holders need to enter more than one credential — in this case a username/password and a text code — in order to verify their identity. The new system has already encountered snags. Verizon customers complained that they could not get the cellphone security code. The SSA now says it has fixed the problem; however,

“Due to high volume of traffic to our website, you may experience problems receiving your security code via text message or entering the security code you receive. The problem preventing all Verizon wireless customers from receiving the cell phone security code has been fixed. Please check back in a few days.”

SSA’s use of technology to reach a growing number of retirees, particularly baby boomers who have been increasing their online/cell usage, makes sense.  However, the agency’s backup for those beneficiaries who can’t access their online accounts without a cell phone are its call centers, which Congress continues to underfund:

“When the teleservice centers are adequately funded and staffed, SSA’s 800 number performs well.  However, starting in 2011, budget cuts forced SSA to freeze hiring, and the teleservice centers lost many agents through attrition.  In just three years, SSA lost more than 15 percent of its 800 number staff. Wait times and busy rates spiked. In 2014, wait times peaked at over 22 minutes and busy rates at 13 percent.  After a small funding increase in 2014 enabled SSA to replace some of the agents lost during the hiring freeze, service began to rebound — though it remains well below previous levels.”...Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Surely, there must be a better way to improve security and provide convenient access to online Social Security accounts without shifting so many seniors without cell phones back to currently underfunded teleservice centers and district offices which Congress, so far, seems unwilling to fund at levels needed to serve the retiring baby boom generation. 

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