Nearly 400,000 people in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida received their Social Security checks early (last Friday and Saturday) so that Gulf state beneficiaries could receive help before Gustav hit the coast. Just as during Katrina, Social Security has once again proven to be an effective and efficient responder during times of crisis. Commissioner Mike Astrue said:
"Delivering these checks early to residents from Texas to Florida eliminates one concern people might have as they prepare for the storm. As beneficiaries take steps to ensure their own safety, this is one step we can take to help them in a difficult time. In the future, beneficiaries should be mindful that Direct Deposit is a more secure and convenient way to receive payments, particularly when natural disasters strike."
Social Security worked closely with the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of the Treasury to make the early delivery of checks possible. People living in areas with the following first three digits in their zip codes received early delivery:
Texas 770-779 and 783-785
The Health and Human Services Department has also declared a public health emergency
to ensure that individuals, including those enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), in Gulf Coast states receive their health care. For Medicare beneficiaries that means rules preventing early refills for Medicare Part D beneficiaries are waived. CMS says this should help seniors who left their prescriptions in evacuated homes or lost their prescriptions when they had to leave their homes.
Beneficiaries in Medicare health plans will also be able to go out of network during this emergency. CMS says it's working with the health insurance industry to ensure there are no barriers to this service for those enrolled in these plans. Some rules in Critical Access Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Long-Term Care Hospitals and Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities will also be waived
HHS also has a Hurricane assistance page
for Gulf Coast residents.
Two National Advocacy Groups challenge the film's position on Social Security and Medicare
For years, Americans have been told revenue-slashing tax cuts are the answer to our financial woes and a borrow-and-spend economy is not a problem. Now, when faced with the ensuing budget deficits and an economic meltdown we're being told we can't afford Social Security and Medicare. This is not "speaking the truth" as David Walker has claimed. Instead, we are seeing the same old anti-Social Security and anti-Medicare ideology now masquerading as fiscal responsibility. We must talk about tax reform, spending and responsible healthcare reform if we're serious about controlling our fiscal future. Unfortunately, that balance is still missing in this debate."...Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
"Medicare suffers from the same skyrocketing healthcare costs seen nationwide. Yet David Walker, Pete Peterson and others would rather talk about Medicare as if it's the cause of our problems rather than a victim. Billions of dollars in subsidies are being wasted to try to privatize Medicare, even though the private healthcare system has run amok. Destroying safety net programs like Medicare rather than tackling nationwide healthcare reform threatens the safety and security of millions of seniors, the disabled and their families who care for them and does nothing to solve one of the root causes of our fiscal problems...escalating healthcare costs." ...Judith Stein, Executive Director, Center for Medicare Advocacy
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and the Center for Medicare Advocacy represent millions of seniors nationwide. We see first hand the critical role these programs play in the lives of retirees and their families. We've also seen Social Security and Medicare increasingly demonized as a primary source of our current fiscal mess. No doubt about it, the film I.O.U.S.A. calls attention to the fact that America faces budget deficits which will require the next President and Congress to make very difficult choices about our national priorities; however, the myth that we "can't afford" Social Security and Medicare is just that...a myth.
- The fuzzy math of "Unfunded Liabilities". David Walker and the Peterson Foundation use worst-case assumptions about Medicare and Social Security, add the national debt, assume no changes in either program or tax revenues and then extend these costs into the indefinite future rather than the customary 75-year horizon. In a letter to the Social Security Trustees, the American Academy of Actuaries, the leading professional organization of actuaries, warned that infinite-horizon projections "provide little if any useful information about the program's long-term finances and indeed are likely to mislead anyone lacking technical expertise".
- National Healthcare Reform must be part of the solution. Cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits at the same time our nation's aging population is growing is short-sighted and ignores a primary source of our fiscal problem-the unchecked rise in healthcare costs. Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag has testified: "The rate at which health care costs grow relative to income is the most important determinant of the long-term fiscal balance; it exerts a significantly larger influence on the budget over the long term than other commonly cited factors, such as the aging of the population".
- Fomenting Generational Warfare through the "greedy geezer" myth is destructive and divisive. Contrary to this too-often expressed view, America is not facing our current fiscal challenges because baby-boomers will drain federal resources. In fact, our financial picture would look much bleaker if not for the Social Security surplus built up over the past 25 years. There have been adjustments made to Social Security in the past and they will be made again. Social Security is not bankrupt, it's not in crisis and with modest and manageable changes, it will be there for generations to come.
The National Committee and the Center for Medicare Advocacy believe slowing the growth in healthcare spending nationwide, raising more revenue, passing reasonable Medicare reforms, and closing the long-term Social Security shortfall are critical steps to addressing our federal debt and deficit challenges. However, those who consider social insurance programs an "entitlement monster" which is "bankrupting" our nation should not be allowed to use our current debt and deficits as political cover for supporting massive cuts that will hurt millions of America seniors, the disabled, and their families.
Let us say, right up front that we haven't seen I.O.U.S.A yet
...but soon will. We're very curious to see if the movie sticks to its billing and delivers the facts about borrow-and-spend policies run amuck.
No doubt about it, there is an important message there to deliver. However, what worries us is the inevitable next step promised by the billion-dollar Peterson Foundation
to target Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as the "entitlement monster" that founder and conservative financier Pete Peterson says is bankrupting our nation.
As we all head to the theaters for a dose of fiscal "truth", it's important to know who's delivering the message. So, here's some background on the organization and its founder.
is no stranger to the battle over America's retirement safety net. For decades, the conservative financier and Nixon Commerce Secretary has been writing books, giving speeches, and crusading against social insurance programs. The multi-billionaire co-founder of the Blackstone Group has committed $1 billion to broaden his nationwide "entitlement crisis" campaign through a foundation bearing his name, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. I.O.U.S.A is the Foundation's first project out of the box.
Former U.S. Comptroller General, David Walker
, is the Peterson Foundation's President. As a leading voice on the so-called "entitlement crisis", Walker says this new position allows him to campaign even more aggressively than he could in his government role. According to the foundation's website, its goal is to "target undeniable, unsustainable, and untouchable threats to the nation's future and to future generations of Americans". Much like President Bush's failed efforts to privatize Social Security, the foundation will focus its message towards young people, business leaders, and the media. It is headquartered in New York to be closer to the Wall Street and media opinion makers Walker says are critical to their campaign to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare.
According to the New York Times
, Peterson also wants to organize an anti-entitlement youth group to counter seniors' advocacy organizations. With more than a billion dollars at its disposal, the Peterson Foundation is positioning itself to take up where the Bush administration failed, continuing the attack on Social Security and Medicare.
Many of Peterson's reform ideas will sound familiar because they were also a part of the President's privatization plan. Among them, raising the retirement age (Peterson suggests to 73), means testing, and massive benefit cuts. Peterson has called the current cost of living increases
in Social Security, which provide adjustments of roughly 3% a year, "one of the greatest fiscal tragedies of American history" because he considers them excessive. At the same time, he steadfastly defends a controversial private equity tax break that benefits America's wealthiest investors. The Peterson Foundation is preparing to pick up where the Bush administration started...launching a nationwide campaign to convince Americans, particularly our younger generations that we can't afford the nation's retirement safety net.
Except this time there's a billion dollars invested to sell that anti-"entitlement" argument.
has announced next year's Part D premiums for seniors. The 12% increase will hike the average monthly premium to $28 for standard coverage in 2009. CMS says seniors should be glad this is less than their original estimate 5 years ago which said Part D premiums would be even higher. Gee, thanks.
This is from the CMS Press Release:
The estimated average monthly premium for 2009 of roughly $28 for basic coverage is far below the original estimate for 2009 of $44.12, which was made at the time the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (MMA) was enacted in 2003.
CMS Acting Administrator, Kerry Weems, also offered this not so subtle reminder to seniors that they better plan on shopping for plans again this year since drug insurers may (read that will)
be making changes which could dramatically effect coverage.
"Of course, individual plans' premiums and benefits may change. Given their past record of making smart choices, I expect beneficiaries will continue to compare their plan options in the upcoming enrollment period based on cost, coverage and convenience."
Lastly CMS says:
Average plan bids have increased at roughly the same rate as drug costs.
And that's part of the problem. Healthcare costs systemwide have been skyrocketing with no end in sight, not just in Medicare but nationwide. That's one reason we continue to advocate the need for national healthcare reform and drug price negotiation
for seniors in Medicare in the short term. Establishing Medicare as the collective buyer of prescription drugs-rather than thousands of individual private plans-would better harness the purchasing power of Medicare's 43 million beneficiaries and provide substantially lower prices for seniors.
All of the terrific opinion pieces, issue papers and blog posts written today in honor of Social Security's 73rd
birthday truly seem like gifts as we continue to offer the truth about Social Security and counter all of the anti-‘entitlement' propaganda out there these days.
Our favorite headline comes from Economic Policy Institute. "Social Security: Here today, still here tomorrow"
is a wonderful synopsis of the program's true fiscal condition. They write:
The bottom line is that Social Security is in good shape-we should all be so lucky at age 73. Changes to shore up the program's financing and make it more progressive are warranted, but there is no crisis, and certainly no need to rush to dramatic reform.
Our favorite Oped was written by Nancy Altman
and Eric Kingson (both Greenspan Commission advisors in 1983) and appeared today in the San Francisco Chronicle.
They provide some desperately needed historical and philosophical perspective to the privatization debate:
What opponents saw as socialism in the 1930s and what McCain today sees as "an absolute disgrace" - the government compelling citizens to mandatory collective action - we see as the most basic of American values - Americans using, in the words of FDR, "the agencies of Government to provide sound and adequate protection against the vicissitudes of modern life." What some still see as unwarranted government intrusion, most see as our shared responsibility as Americans. Far more than a benefit distribution system, to paraphrase former Sen. Bill Bradley, Social Security is the nation's best expression of community. It is a trust based on broadly shared civic and religiously-based principles - concern for our parents, for our neighbors and for the legacy we will leave for our children and those who follow. The program cleverly combines individual responsibility - benefits are based on individual work effort - with a deep understanding that our nation is strongest when we share both our prosperity and our risk.
Our own President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly blogged in The Hill Newspaper's Congress blog
As we celebrate Social Security's 73rd Anniversary today I'm reminded of one of my favorite FDR quotes: "Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth"'. That statement is as true today as it was when Social Security was created 73 years ago. Just because those who are fundamentally opposed to Social Security continue to say it's a failed program, doesn't mean it's true. Social Security is not bankrupt and it's not in crisis; however, it continues to be under attack.
The long-term challenges facing Social Security are modest and manageable and can't be solved by the hollow promise of private accounts. It's time a new Congress and a new President put Washington's focus back where it should be...preserving and strengthening Social Security for future generations not dismantling the program through privatization. Maybe this time next year we'll be able to celebrate Social Security's anniversary and the end of privatization politics at the same time.
And James Roosevelt, Jr, grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt and son of our organization's founder talked to reporters today about his grandfather's legacy and the future of Social Security. In this video, he describes FDR's goal for the program:
And lastly, on the political side here is a Social Security Greeting card distributed by the Democrats.
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