Category: entitlement reform
The Congressional Budget Office’s new budget projections show that despite the sky-is-falling crisis calls made by Wall Street backed austerity fanatics like: Fix The Debt, Bowles-Simpson and the rest of the Pete Peterson funded anti-Social Security brigade, our deficit is now the smallest it's been since 2008. And that’s without the so-called “Grand Bargain” this billion dollar lobby claims is absolutely necessary for our nation’s survival. The Daily Intelligencer explains:
It's hard not to see the CBO's projections as the latest in a long series of demoralizing developments for the Simpson-Bowles-led deficit scold movement. Overall, the CBO says that barring unforeseen policy changes, the deficit will shrink to 2.1 percent of GDP in 2015. That's better than the 2.3 percent target Simpson and Bowles originally set out in their 2010 report. And it will happen even without the grand bargain they've so desperately sought.
Neither is the federal debt piling up to unsustainable levels. As the CBO's chart shows, the debt-to-GDP ratio is now projected to peak in 2014 at 76.2 percent, before falling to 70.8 percent in 2018. That's a long way from the now-discredited 90 percent threshold budget scolds have used to scare policymakers, and the projections —combined with record-low interest rates and eerily calm bond markets — should put our concerns about an immediate debt crisis to rest.
Now, it’s really hard to keep a crisis mentality ginned up if the facts keep getting in the way (see also the Reinhart Rogoff debacle). So, as expected, the Wall Streeters have chosen just to ignore what doesn’t fit their frame:
The Campaign to Fix the Debt, which marshals corporate resources to lobby for deficit reduction, said that "the rosier-than-expected near-term projections do not change the fact that rising health care costs, an aging population, Social Security’s looming insolvency, and ever-increasing interest payments will greatly expand the national debt as a share of the economy starting at the end of the current decade." The Hill Newspaper
Again, the true challenge facing this nation is health care costs. Reforms through the Affordable Care Act have helped reduce the deficit and system-wide reforms need to continue, not just in Medicare. Talking about Social Security and Medicare, as if they’re the same program, is a favored ploy of these Wall Streeters; however, it conveniently ignores the fact that there is $2.7 trillion currently in the Social Security trust fund and that figure keeps growing. Economist Jared Bernstein offers some too-little-heard fact-based analysis:
Longer term, even with the recent improvement in the pace of health care costs, we still face pressure from the intersection of our aging demographics and health care spending. To bend those curves at the end of the figure, we’ll need to keep up the pressure on health costs as well as boost our revenues. Cuts alone won’t do it.
It would be nice if policy makers looked at the figure below and recognized that we need less austerity now and more health savings/revs later. But that would mean spraying water on their flaming heads, and that can be kind of uncomfortable.
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [Medicare], [Social Security], [stimulus]
Sometimes we hate it when we’re right. Earlier this month we reported on the Obama administration’s policy reversal which not only blocked proposed cuts to massive private insurers in Medicare but actually give them a rate increase. As predicted, as soon as Washington gave the nation’s highly profitable private insurance industry their cookie --they asked for the milk.
Kaiser Health News explains how United Health’s CEO claims the company’s $2.1 billion profits last quarter just aren’t enough. They want taxpayers to pony up even more to subsidize their participation in Medicare.
KAISER HEALTH NEWS
If the Obama administration expected the biggest health insurance company to give thanks for this month’s decision to reverse cuts to private Medicare plans, it was wrong. UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen Hemsley said Thursday that Medicare Advantage rates are still far too low and that the company may shrink its business of managing care for seniors.
“We did not expect the fastest growing, most popular and most effective Medicare benefit option serving America’s seniors to be underfunded to this extent in 2014,” Hemsley said on a conference call with investment analysts. UnitedHealth’s Medicare Advantage business, he added, “will likely experience market exits as well as in market membership contraction as we reshape Medicare networks and benefits to respond to the continuing underfunding of this program.”
The administration’s decision to reverse cuts for Medicare Advantage, in which private insurers operate managed care networks for seniors, was seen as a significant industry victory. As the biggest seller of Medicare Advantage plans, UnitedHealth was deemed a primary beneficiary. More than one Medicare member in four is in a Medicare Advantage plan.
In February the Department of Health and Human Services surprised insurers by announcing a cut of more than 2 percent per Medicare member for 2014. The industry launched a lobbying and advertising campaign in protest. On April 1, the administration pulled back, announcing that instead of reducing payments it would raise them by 3.3 percent. UnitedHealth’s stock stock rose 8 percent that day and the next.
But in Thursday’s call to discuss the company’s quarterly profits of $2.1 billion on revenue of $30.3 billion, Hemsley said other changes — including the Affordable Care Act’s long-term reduction in Medicare Advantage payments – would still lead to a net reduction next year of more than 4 percent. That’s inadequate when medical costs are rising in the 3 percent neighborhood, he said.
CATEGORY: [entitlement reform], [Medicare], [Medicare Advantage], [privatization]
Well...where to start on a Budget day when we already knew just how bad it would be long before the document was actually released. As expected, President Obama is continuing his flawed political and policy strategy that proposes seniors, veterans and people with disabilities take benefit cuts to reduce the deficit. You surely already know what we think about that...
“Federal budgets are far more than just numbers on a page. They represent national priorities for our fiscal future. That’s why so many middle-class Americans are stunned to see President Obama’s budget priorities include cutting benefits to millions of seniors, retired veterans and people with disabilities. This budget also includes more means testing for seniors in Medicare and less than half the new revenue requested in earlier budget negotiations. The President’s budget is not the balanced plan promised to Americans before November’s election.
Changing the current cost of living allowance formula to a stingier and less accurate Chained CPI is an immediate benefit cut for millions living on already modest incomes. The White House knows this formula is not more accurate for seniors, which is why it’s promised exemptions and bumps to try and soften the blow for some. But it still leaves millions of seniors facing benefit cuts, breaking the promise President Obama made to protect America’s middle class families.
Clearly it will be up to members of Congress to set fiscal priorities that actually represent the needs of the average citizens they were elected to represent. The vast majority of Americans, of all political parties, oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit. It’s more than just wishful thinking if Congress believes voters will reward them for cutting Social Security to pay for a deficit it did not create.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
There are many, many places you can go today if you want to try and figure out what in the world possessed a Democratic President to propose Social Security cuts that even the Republicans avoided their own budget. Here are a couple worthwhile political pieces:
“...without a bipartisan budget deal that backs these cuts, it’s possible Republicans just got an even bigger gift: that chained CPI becomes an idea associated with Democrats alone. That ought to play well in 2014. Of course, the Senate unanimously approved Sen. Bernie Sanders’ resolution opposing a switch to the chained CPI by voice vote, showing no senator in either party wants his or her name on the proposal. For now, publicly at least, Obama stands alone.” Salon
“The liberals’ objections are legitimate — particularly their resistance to a stingier inflation formula for Social Security, which isn’t as big a budget problem as Medicare. There’s a case to be made that the president shouldn’t negotiate with himself by opening the bidding with his final offer. There’s also a concern that he now “owns” Social Security cuts, and Republicans can use that against him.” Washington Post
On the policy side, there is also some good coverage of just how flawed this plan truly is for middle-class Americans and the massive across-party opposition:
“There are a number of problems with this proposal, including the fact that the real cost of living for the elderly probably increases faster than the CPI-W, since the elderly consume a disproportionate amount of health care, which has a higher inflation rate than the overall economy. More generally, you don't actually save any money by reducing Social Security checks. There's no "waste" in Social Security. It's a program in which one set of people pays cash to the government and the government pays virtually all of that cash back out to another set of people. Every dollar in lower benefits is one dollar less in someone's wallet.” The Atlantic
“The AARP reveals that 70 percent of voters age 50-plus oppose the use of the chained CPI to cut benefits, and two-thirds of them – including 60 percent of Republicans — say they would be “considerably less likely” to support a congressional candidate if he or she backed a new way of calculating consumer prices. And 84 percent of voters over 50 say Social Security has no place in budget-deficit discussions, since it is self-financed. On every single question, Republicans lag only a point or two behind Democrats in their opposition to Social Security cuts.” AARP
Just in case you haven’t pulled your hair out completely yet, we also recommend you check out the White House’s fact sheet for seniors, which incredibly claims this budget will strengthen Social Security while failing to provide even a single mention of Social Security benefit cuts which start at $130 the first year for the average 65 year-old retiree. The cumulative cut for that individual would be $4,631 or more than three months of benefits by age 75; $13,910 or nearly a year of benefits by age 85; and $28,004, more than a year and a half of benefits by age 95.
Seems like that might have been worth a mention by the White House today.
Lastly, a little twisted humor making the rounds on Tumblr:
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [Max Richtman], [Presidential Politics], [Social Security]
The White House provided reporters an early look at President Obama’s 2014 budget and the news for seniors is not good. This assessment by Firedoglake’s Daniel Wright sums it up best:
“President Barack Obama has once again started his negotiations by scoring into his own net. In what may be the dumbest plan yet proposed, Obama has offered cuts to Social Security hoping for a change in the Republican's position on tax loopholes for the wealthy.
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget will call for reductions in the growth of Social Security and other benefit programs by including a proposal to lower cost-of-living adjustments to government social safety net spending, a senior administration official says.
Because with poverty hitting new record levels, now is a great time to cut benefits”
The President’s budget plan ignores his statements made during and after the election that Social Security should not be used to cut the deficit and also his promises for a balanced fiscal approach that wouldn’t target middle-class Americans. In truth, President Obama’s budget will cut $127.2 billion in Social Security benefits by adopting the stingier Chained CPI and further means testing in Medicare. It also raises less than half the new revenue offered in previous proposals.
Cutting benefits by adopting the chained CPI, as proposed by the White House, would cut the COLA by 3% for workers retired for ten years and 6% for workers retired for twenty years. This translates to a benefit cut of $130 per year in Social Security benefits for a typical 65 year-old, including today’s retirees. The cumulative cut for that individual would be $4,631 or more than three months of benefits by age 75; $13,910 or nearly a year of benefits by age 85; and $28,004, more than a year and a half of benefits by age 95. While the President has promised not to “slash” benefits, losing three months up to more than a year and half of income would count as "slashing benefits" by anyone's standards, especially for America's oldest retirees, veterans and people with disabilities living on modest incomes.
This budget also continues the lopsided deficit reduction strategy used since 2011 in which more than 75% of deficit reduction has come from program cuts. So much for a “balanced approach”.
As CEPR’s Dean Baker reminds us:
Since President Obama's proposal would lead to a 3 percent cut in Social Security benefits, it would reduce the income of the typical retiree by more than 2.0 percent, more than three times the size of the hit from the tax increase to the wealthy.
Here is NCPSSM President Max Richtman’s reaction to the President Obama’s budget:
“If news reports today are correct, President Obama will soon renege on his commitment to keep Social Security out of the deficit debate, ignoring his campaign promise to millions of Americans that he would protect vital middle class programs like Social Security. By including a proposal in his 2014 budget to change the current cost of living allowance formula to a stingier and less accurate Chained CPI, the President has suggested an immediate benefit cut of $130 per year for the typical 65-year old retiree that would grow exponentially to a $1,400 cut after 30 years of retirement.
Contrary to the political spin, this chained CPI proposal isn’t a “tweak” or an “adjustment,” it’s designed to cut benefits and raises taxes, largely on the poor and middle class, totaling $208 billion over ten years. $127.2 billion of those benefits cuts come from Social Security with about $24 billion coming from VA benefits and civilian and military retirement pay cuts.
Seniors will have received an average COLA of 1.3% over 4 years with no increase in two of those years. Arguing that is too generous shows how out of touch Washington is with the real-world economic realities facing average Americans. Adopting the chained CPI is nothing more than a political sleight of hand targeting our nation’s middle class and poor.
This budget is also reported to include more means testing in Medicare and less than half the new revenue requested in earlier budget negotiations. The President’s budget is not the balanced plan promised to Americans before November’s election and will leave millions of middle-class families in even worse shape than they are today.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [Max Richtman], [Medicare], [Presidential Politics], [Social Security]
The news back in February that private insurers in Medicare would receive a 2.2% rate cut in 2014 sent their lobbyists into overdrive, flooding the halls of Congress and the media with ads bemoaning the reduction in their billions of dollars of federal overpayments. Historically, private insurers providing Medicare Advantage coverage have collected 13% more from the federal government to provide private MA coverage than it costs to cover seniors in traditional Medicare. Over the years this massive government subsidy to private for-profit insurers has cost Medicare millions of dollars, so the Obama administration correctly trimmed back those wasteful overpayments as part of the Affordable Care Act, helping to add 8 years of solvency to the program.
Incredibly the news this week is that the Obama administration has now caved to the insurance industry’s lobbying blitz and Congressional pressure and will not only reverse the 2014 Medicare Advantage cuts but will also give for-profit insurers a 3% raise. No surprisingly, this is a move that CMS actuaries (the non-politicians actually paid to do this job) opposed:
“The actuaries in charge of the calculation made clear that they did not endorse the change. The official notice, signed by Jonathan Blum, director of Medicare at CMS, and Paul Spitalnic, the chief actuary in charge of the formula, said that the change had come at the behest of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.” National Journal
“It’s about the best possible result for Medicare Advantage plans,” said Ipsita Smolinski, managing director at Capitol Street, a health care consulting firm.” Politico
Sure, it’s good news for the nation’s $884 billion dollar a year health insurance industry but what about Medicare? Not so much. While Medicare Advantage over-payments will still face future reductions thanks to health care reform, this is the classic case of political “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Will those common sense reductions survive another AHIP lobbying onslaught? It’s also important to note that many of the same members of Congress who have decried Medicare spending and support more means testing, benefits cuts and more for seniors -- all in the name of deficit reduction -- lobbied the hardest to ensure the health insurance industry keeps their government subsidies. These are subsidies that all seniors, whether they are in a Medicare Advantage plan or not, pay for with higher premiums while also burdening the Medicare program overall.
For comparison, let’s juxtaposition Congress’ rapid response this week to the insurance lobby’s pressure to keep their goodies with the inaction we’ve seen over months leading to across the board budget cuts in the ongoing sequester. Budget cuts that are impacting average Americans, not huge for-profit industries.
The Washington Post reports today that the sequester has lead to thousands of Medicare cancer patients being turned away from cancer clinics who can’t afford the 2% sequester cut for drugs needed to treat their Medicare patients.
Cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts. Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially.
Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them. “If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we’d be out of business in six months to a year,” said Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York. “The drugs we’re going to lose money on we’re not going to administer right now. After an emergency meeting Tuesday, Vacirca’s clinics decided that they would no longer see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients. “A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening,” he said. “It’s a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business.”
Cancer providers have also been lobbying Congress asking for a sequester waiver for cancer drugs so that they can continue providing their life-saving care. Washington certainly rallied quickly to reinstate massively wasteful government subsidies to one of our nation’s largest industries...yet so far, no response to those who literally control the life and death of thousands of cancer patients in Medicare.
CATEGORY: [Budget], [entitlement reform], [healthcare], [Medicare], [privatization]
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