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From the category archives: entitlement reform

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

Clinton vs Trump – What That Means for Social Security & Medicare

As Hillary Clinton declared victory after winning four of the six primaries last night, the Democratic ticket for President solidified.  While Donald Trump has been in that position for a while now, his campaign has now entered rough political waters...again. 

And so it will likely go until November...

Unfortunately, what’s lost as the media and political punditry focus on the horserace, who’s stuck their foot in it today and the inevitable mud-slinging that Trump has already promised to begin on Monday, are the important policy differences between candidates.  There are plenty of them, especially on economic issues impacting average Americans.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign ensured that issues of income inequality, economic security and fairness, social justice and boosting Social Security remained top of the political agenda.  He vowed to continue that effort:

“Our campaign from day one has understood some very basic points and that is first, we will not allow right-wing Republicans to control our government. And that is especially true with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate. The American people, in my view, will never support a candidate whose major theme is bigotry, who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims and women, and African-Americans. 

But we understand that our mission is more than just defeating Trump; it is transforming our country. The vast — the vast majority of the American people know that it is not acceptable that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. We are going to change that. And when millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, we will not allow 57 percent of all new income to go to the top 1 percent...

We will not allow Donald Trump to become President of the United States."

When it comes to Social Security and Medicare, the differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are stark. Clinton supports expanding benefits, while Trump promises he won’t cut Social Security. That position has given the GOP party establishment heartburn but Trump has repeatedly acknowledged the GOP can’t win by promising benefit cuts and so he’s not:

"As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen," Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed."  Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times

You know the Republicans also have to get elected, you do know that. And if you watch Bernie, and if you watch Hillary, they don't only want to not cut, they want to increase Social Security.” Donald Trump, Morning Joe, February 2016

And yet his policy staff says the Trump administration is open to “entitlement changes.”

“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, May 2016

You can read more about the Trump campaign positions here, here and here.

Hillary Clinton has a long history of fighting the privatization of Social Security and Medicare, something Donald Trump supported in his first Presidential campaign. These days, that position alone is not enough but Clinton has also articulated a real plan to boost benefits, provide caregiving credits, lift the payroll tax cap and improve spousal benefits. She also opposes Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act which means seniors in Medicare would lose billions in drug savings, well-care visits, lower premiums and improved care. 

There will be many more months to draw clear comparisons between these candidates’ positions on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the Presidential campaign moves to the conventions and their platform debates

The National Committee’s SeniorVote 2016 will keep you updated and candidates’ accountable on their plans for programs which touch the lives of virtually every American family.You can sign up for email alerts to be sure the latest news comes straight to your mailbox. 

Speaker Ryan Releases Poverty Plan – Thankfully, No One Listened

In an effort to regain control of the GOP political debate, House Speaker Paul Ryan, unveiled the first of six policy papers, this one on reducing poverty, to prove the Republican Party has ideas beyond building walls and attacking judges.  Let’s just say, the event didn’t go quite as planned.  

Donald Trump’s latest racist attack ended up dominating the day, much to Ryan’s consternation and leaving many conservatives lamenting Ryan’s support for Trump in the first place:

“The Caligulan malice with which Donald Trump administered Paul Ryan’s degradation is an object lesson in the price of abject capitulation to power. This episode should be studied as a clinical case of a particular Washington myopia — the ability of career politicians to convince themselves that they and their agendas are of supreme importance.”...George Will

The Ryan agenda on poverty is already well known -- Trump’s is basically non-existent.  However, this political roadshow entitled, “A better way forward: Our vision for a confident America” was designed to put the Speaker in control of the party’s policy debate.  It is heavy on campaign-style rhetoric and purposefully thin on details, since Republicans in the House apparently couldn’t agree on them: 

“...the document focuses on painting a broad picture of a GOP-led social welfare system and the types of policies that could be created in the event a Republican is elected president. Many of the specific policy prescriptions aimed at addressing the problems identified in the paper were left out because members couldn’t agree on details such as how to prevent waste and fraud, according to aides.”...Washington Post

Of course, promising to eliminate poverty and providing the policy prescription needed to make that happen are two very different things.  While this document provides scant details, even the broad strokes echo the harmful approaches proposed in past House GOP budgets which shred the safety net and cut benefits.

“Consistent with that philosophy, the plan includes a bevy of policies designed to make it much harder for people in need to access federal programs: tougher work requirements for food stamps, housing aid, or cash welfare; eliminating benefits conservatives believe are making improper payments...eliminating funding for early childhood education lifeline Head Start; sealing off tax credits from some low-income families; and further allowing states to cut certain programs as they see fit.”...Think Progress

Proposals impacting seniors and families include:

  • Replacing benefits for children who receive SSI with “services” 
  • Blocking regulations that require financial advisors to provide counsel based solely on what’s best for their client rather than what’s most profitable for the advisor. 
  • Blocking the federal government from keeping the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation solvent. 
  • Reforming retirement security by loosening regulations and sending more of our savings to Wall Street.  There is literally zero mention of Social Security retiree benefits in the nearly 1,100 words written on retirement security. 

Social Security keeps millions of Americans out of poverty and contributes billions of dollars to our economy each year. You can’t have a serious conversation about addressing poverty in America while ignoring one of the nation’s most successful anti-poverty programs...that is, unless you refuse to acknowledge Social Security’s success in the first place. 

Because today’s roll-out event was largely ignored in favor of Donald Trump’s latest racist comments and this first campaign paper provides so few details, we want to provide some other sources with analysis of the GOP poverty plan Speaker Ryan has addressed in the past.  Hat tip to Media Matters for this compilation:

Paul Ryan: Federal Government "Does More Harm Than Good" When It Assists The Poor. During a discussion at CPAC 2016, Ryan and Bold Media founder Carrie Sheffield pushed a series of right-wing media-inspired myths. The two derided government assistance programs as "trapping people in poverty, by basically paying people not to work," and dismissed food and housing assistance programs started more than 50 years ago by President Johnson, commonly referred to as the "War on Poverty." Ryan also misleadingly claimed that "we basically have a stalemate on our hands" with regard to reducing poverty in the United States, despite 50 years of work and "trillions [of dollars] spent." [CSPAN3, 3/3/16]

CAP's Rebecca Vallas: While Paul Ryan's Talking Points "May Be Pitch-Perfect," His Policies Are A "Blueprint For Exacerbating Poverty, Inequality, And Wage Stagnation." The Center for American Progress' (CAP) Rebecca Vallas wrote that while "Republicans' sudden concern for struggling families is no doubt newsworthy ... unfortunately their policies remain nothing short of a blueprint for exacerbating poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation," in a January 7 Huffington Post blog. Vallas noted that "Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage at least 10 times," "has consistently opposed legislation that would help families access paid family and medical leave," and has proposed cutting "critical programs that help keep struggling families afloat -- such as nutrition assistance, housing assistance, and Medicaid -- all to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations." [The Huffington Post, 1/7/16]

NPR: Ryan Seeks To Weaken Food Assistance Programs That Have Kept Millions Out Of Poverty. In response to Speaker Ryan's push to weaken the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), NPR reported on December 29, 2015, that while Ryan claimed SNAP and other programs are "trapping people in poverty," the Council of Economic Advisers found that SNAP alone kept almost 5 million people out of poverty in 2014, the most recent available data, including 2 million children. [NPR, 12/29/15]

MSNBC's Steve Benen: Ryan's Policies Are "Brutal" For The Poor. MSNBC's Steve Benen explained on May 6, 2015, that while Paul Ryan claims to be "focused on poverty," his proposed remedies would be "brutal towards those actually in poverty." Benen added, "Ryan was, and is, perhaps best known for his far-right budget plan that cuts taxes for the wealthy by hundreds of billions of dollars, while slashing investments in programs that benefit working families." [MSNBC.com, 5/6/15]

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.  

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