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From the category archives: Budget

The Truth about the 2016 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Report

Social Security is still fully funded for nearly two decades, a miniscule COLA increase in 2017 likely, and health care reform continues to preserve Medicare’s solvency.

“What’s likely to be missing in headlines about today’s Social Security Trustees Report is that the program remains well-funded with total income, again, projected to exceed expenses. However, in order to head off a benefit cut in 2034 Washington should embrace the growing movement to lift the payroll tax cap and expand benefits for the millions of seniors struggling to get by on an average $1,300 retirement benefit.

The Trustees also project there will be a tiny .2% cost of living adjustment next year yet Medicare premiums will increase in 2017. Seniors continue to see their modest Social Security benefits eaten away by growing healthcare costs which illustrates, once again, that the current Social Security COLA formula isn’t accurately measuring seniors’ expenses. Congress needs to adopt a fully developed CPI for the elderly (CPI-E) and begin work on the many Social Security expansion bills now languishing in the House and Senate.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Here are some of the key points in the 2016 Trustees Report:

  • Trustees project Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until the year 2034, the same as projected last year.  After that, Social Security will still have sufficient revenue to pay about 79% of benefits if no changes are made to the program.
  • Social Security remains well-funded. In 2016, as the economy continues to improve, Social Security’s total income is projected to exceed its expenses. In fact, the Trustees estimate that total annual income will exceed program obligations until 2020. 
  • Trustees project a .2% Cost of Living Adjustment increase.
  • The Trustees report there is now $2.81 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $23 billion more than last year and that it will continue to grow by payroll contributions and interest on the Trust Fund's assets.   

On Medicare, the 2016 Trustees report shows slowing the growth of health care costs has improved Medicare’s Trust Fund

  • Medicare Part B premiums are projected to increase by only a very small amount for about 70 percent of beneficiaries in 2017 from $104.90 to $107.60. The standard monthly premium is projected to increase from $121.80 to $149.00 while the annual deductible is projected to increase from $166 to $204 for all beneficiaries.
  • Medicare solvency remains greatly improved thanks to passage of healthcare reform, with the program paying full benefits until 2028, 11 years later than was projected prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act. However, this is two years earlier than projected in 2015.
You can also read: 

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's comments

The Social Security Trustees Report 

The Medicare Trustees Report 

The Economics Policy Institute also has a terrific description of the political spin which always accompanies the release of these reports.  

GOP Appropriators Want to Eliminate Funding for Medicare SHIP Programs

 

Each day 10 thousand Americans become eligible for Medicare.  The aging of the baby boom generation certainly isn’t a surprise to anyone and yet, instead of boosting programs to serve this increased need, Republican Congressional leaders continue to slash and now eliminate programs designed to help millions of aging Americans and their families. 

The latest target is one of the nation’s most effective consumer resources for seniors, the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

“The SHIP network provides critical information upon which people with Medicare rely to make informed decisions about their coverage options and enrollment decisions,” says Judith A. Stein, Executive Director, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc. “The SHIPs are critical to providing assistance with these increasingly complicated choices. People with Medicare and their families from all over the country depend on SHIPs as the key source of unbiased guidance.” 

Incredibly, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a Fiscal Year 2017 budget appropriations bill that completely eliminates the $52.1 million in funding for SHIP. 

“Senate appropriators have turned their backs on a growing number of people who will need SHIP services to navigate the complexities of Medicare coverage by proposing to eliminate program funding. This kind of penny-wise, pound-foolish lawmaking will threaten the economic security of millions of Medicare beneficiaries and their families.”…Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

“Understanding the complexities and decisions required for Medicare is an overwhelming, isolating experience for seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers who don’t know where to get help. For millions of Americans, their only option for that help is their SHIP. If SHIPs disappear, there is no replacement for the critical services they provide. The loss of SHIPs threatens the economic security and the health of all current Medicare beneficiaries and the thousands who become eligible every day.”…James Firman, President and CEO of the NCOA 

"Eliminating SHIPs would leave millions of older Americans, people with disabilities, and families who need help comparing coverage options, appealing denials, applying for financial assistance, and navigating an evolving and increasingly complex program stranded—with nowhere to turn. With 10,000 Baby Boomers aging into Medicare each day, it is imperative that the U.S. House of Representatives reject this unprecedented, nonsensical cut."…Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center

In case you have any doubt about the need for SHIP services consider this:  today’s Medicare beneficiary must choose among more than 20 prescription drug plans, an average of 19 Medicare Advantage plans, as well as various Medigap supplemental insurance policies—all with different premiums, cost sharing, provider networks, and coverage rules. SHIPs also help beneficiaries resolve fraud and abuse issues, billing problems, appeals, and enrollment in low-income health assistance programs. In 2015, SHIPs provided one-on-one assistance to more than seven million individuals and in the past decade, the number of beneficiaries receiving personalized counseling from SHIPs has tripled.

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear horror stories of seniors and their families who face severe economic hardship and even bankruptcy because of a bad choice made in their healthcare options.  That’s exactly why SHIP is so vitally important.    

We’re proud to join a coalition of aging organizations including; The Center for Medicare Advocacy, Medicare Rights Center, and National Council on Aging (NCOA) to fight for a reversal of this outrageous Senate move to eliminate seniors’ access to desperately needed SHIP services.

We urge you to call your Senators and Representative and tell them:  Americans Need SHIP.

 

1-800-998-0180

Ryan Says Trump Will Promote House Agenda -- You Know What That Means for Medicare!

No one was really surprised when House Speaker Paul Ryan lined up behind the rest of the GOP party leadership to endorse Donald Trump.  It’s also not too surprising that Ryan is confident Trump will support the Ryan/House agenda, regardless of his pesky campaign promises to leave seniors’ programs alone:

“We’ve discussed how the House can be a driver of policy ideas. We’ve talked about how important these reforms are to saving our country. Through these conversations, I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives. That’s why I’ll be voting for him this fall.”...Rep. Paul Ryan

Modern Healthcare says:

“Last month, I raised the question of whether Trump would follow the politically risky healthcare policy path Ryan has blazed on Medicare, Medicaid and other big issues.

The House speaker apparently has concluded that he would.

Ryan
 has spearheaded a series of partisan House budget outlines that would significantly restructure Medicare and Medicaid and sharply reduce federal spending on those two programs. The Wisconsin Republican wants to convert Medicare into a defined-contribution, voucher-style program and change Medicaid into a capped state block grant program. Some experts say the plan would impose significantly higher costs on seniors.”

Let’s not forget that it’s already been reported by sources in on the Ryan/Trump Capitol Hill meeting that cutting Social Security and Medicare was something Trump could “morally support”.  He just doesn’t think he can win if he says it.

“From a moral standpoint, I believe in it,” Trump told Ryan. “But you also have to get elected. And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.’ ”

Which also fits with the message his campaign staff delivered to fiscal hawks at last month’s annual Pete Peterson “how to cut middle-class benefits” soiree:

“After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. We’ll start taking a hard look at those to start seeing what we can do in a bipartisan way.”

 

“...I think that whoever [is] the next president is going to have a horrible time in dealing with this, because those entitlements will race to the front of all the economic issues we have in this country.”...Sam Clovis, Trump campaign chief policy advisor.

So, while Trump’s actual plans for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid remain ever-elusive Paul Ryan’s plans for these programs – which he apparently believes President Trump will deliver on – are very clear

“The House GOP’s budget would privatize Medicare with a voucher plan, leaving seniors and the disabled – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies.  Over time, this will end traditional Medicare and make it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor.  Vouchers will not keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance… that is why seniors will pay more.  Incredibly, the GOP budget also tries to have it both ways by counting the savings in Medicare since the passage of health care reform and then repealing the law that delivered those same savings. Seniors need to pay careful attention to this next fact: if the GOP isn’t stopped from repealing healthcare reform, Medicare beneficiaries would immediately lose billions in prescription drug savings, wellness visits and preventative services with no out-of-pocket costs, and years of solvency will be lost to the Medicare program.” ...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO.

Trump’s Debt Idea = Social Security Default

 

The latest idea from Donald Trump, the GOP Presidential candidate and self-proclaimed “king of debt,” would have devastating effects on the Social Security Trust Fund. While we could write pages on the Treasury bond market, federal debt and the Social Security Trust fund, chances are you wouldn’t want to read it, so instead, here is a quick summary of the issue.  

Starting first with The Donald’s plan to run the U.S. government like one of his failing casinos.  He described it on CNN:

“If we can buy back government debt at a discount -- in other words, if interest rates go up and we can buy bonds back at a discount -- if we are liquid enough as a country we should do that. ... People said I want to go and buy debt, and default on debt. These people are crazy. This is the United States government. First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you, OK? So there's never a default. ... I'm the king of debt. I understand debt better than probably anybody. I know how to deal with debt very well. I love debt. But, you know, debt is tricky, and it's dangerous; you have to be careful, and you have to know what you're doing.”

Both the Motley Fool and The Economist have raised red flags on what this strategy would actually mean for the Social Security Trust Fund -- which has $2.79 trillion invested in Treasury notes that Trump is apparently willing to devalue.

“Debt issued by the U.S. government is done so with the ‘full faith and credit’ of the United States. To consider allowing U.S. debt to get into a situation that incites a crash in bond prices would probably undermine the high quality ratings bestowed on U.S. debt and raise major red flags in the U.S. stock market and in markets around the world that look to the U.S. as a rock-solid financial leader.

The single largest holder of U.S. debt is the Social Security Trust, which held 16% of outstanding national debt at the end of Q1 2013. Other federal programs holding U.S. debt include the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust, military retirement fund, and federal civil-service retirement and disability fund. If Trump were to consider buying back debt at a discount it would potentially reduce the investment value of the Social Security Trust, which generally invests its cash reserves in extremely safe, interest-bearing U.S. Treasury notes. Doing so could wind up hurting current and future retirees who depend on this key federal program."

The Economist reminds us this approach is what got Greece into so much fiscal hot water:

“The idea, it seems, would be to get creditors {editor’s note: in the case of the Social Security Trust Fund that’s seniors, the disabled and survivors} to accept less than 100 cents on the dollar. This happens with corporate bankruptcies; if the market price has fallen to 60 cents on the dollar, and been snapped up by specialist hedge funds, then redeeming the debt at 70 cents on the dollar may be a good deal. Emerging economies have done the same in the past when they have fallen on hard times; it happened in Greece.

But with Treasury bonds, investors expect to get 100 cents on the dollar. It is the risk-free asset that underpins the entire global financial system. A forced deal, of course, would count as a default. Treasury bonds are at the heart of the financial system. Banks use them as collateral for loans; insurance companies hold them as reserves; pension funds own then to fund retirement benefits; mutual funds own them as well. Any default within the system would have cataclysmic consequences for the economy that would far outweigh any gains in refinancing costs. To cap it all, the Federal Reserve owns almost $2.5 trillion of Treasury bonds and the Social Security Fund some $2.8 trillion. So the government would, in part, be defaulting to itself.

In short, this seems like a completely nonsensical idea. Do you think it is possible that Mr Trump didn't think it through and just said the first words that came into his head? Couldn't be.”

The takeaway from all of this is that Donald Trump’s claims that he’ll “leave Social Security alone” is an empty promise because, if his debt plan becomes reality, the Social Security Trust will lose years of solvency and the billions of dollars contributed to the Trust Fund by American workers will actually be worth only pennies on the dollar.  

Celebrating Older Americans Month

Chances are if you, or anyone in your family, is 65 or older your life has been impacted by an Older Americans Act program.  From Meals on Wheels to senior centers, prevention of physical and financial abuse, computer training to legal assistance, OAA programs touch the lives of millions of seniors and their families.  This myriad of programs provides home and community-based services making it possible for older adults to remain independent, but they’ve continually faced flat or shrinking budgets at a time of growing needs.  Funding programs that allow seniors to age in place is cost-effective; however, the Older Americans Act languished for more than 5 years without Congressional reauthorization. 

Thankfully, this year is different.  Today we are celebrating Older Americans Month with a newly reauthorized OAA, signed by President Obama just a few weeks ago:

“The President believes in the Older Americans Act because it funds services that are central to older adults’ health and lasting independence, such as meals, job training, transportation, and health promotion.  And for those who do need consistent care, the law provides nursing home protections and enhances the Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs.”  Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President

The celebration continues as The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (@LCAgingOrgs), chaired by the National Committee, will host a Twitter chat on May 24 @ 1-2 p.m. ET to celebrate Older Americans Month—and call for funding investments in Older Americans Act programs. You’re invited to join the chat using #WeAreOAA.

Join at www.twitter.com/#WeAreOAA or at http://twubs.com/WeAreOAA

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