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Live Chat on Health Reform and Seniors

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant Secretary for the Administration on Aging Kathy Greenlee will host a webchat tomorrow, Thursday, April 8, to talk about health reform and its impact on America's seniors.  From the HHS news release:
Sebelius and Greenlee will highlight some of the immediate benefits of health reform for America's seniors before answering pre-submitted questions from the public. Members of the public are encouraged to submit questions via email to HealthReform@hhs.gov. HHS officials will try to answer as many questions as possible during the web chat and post questions and answers on the web site as well.  The chat is the second in a series of discussions that is designed to help Americans understand the benefits of the newly passed health insurance reform law.  WHEN: Thursday April 8, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. EDT  WHERE: www.HealthReform.gov For more information on the new health reform law please visit www.healthreform.gov 
We encourage everyone to take a few minutes to get the details on health care reform straight from those who will implement the policy.  Ask questions and engage!  Need some more background? Try these National Committee analyses:  Seniors and Health Care Reform: Separating Truth from Fiction How Reform Will Strengthen Medicare and Expand Benefits for Seniors Medicare Advantage Provisions In Health Care Reform Legislation Closing the Donut Hole and Other Improvements To Medicare Part D Drug Coverage

Annual Social Security & Medicare Trustees Report Delayed

The annual Trustees report, which details the financial health of Social Security and Medicare, was expected this month; however, its release will now be delayed until the end of June. The Associated Press reports the Obama administration says passage of healthcare reform has made the report virtually obsolete.  
Supporters of the new health care overhaul believe it will have a favorable impact on both Medicare and Social Security, extending the life of both trust funds. The benefits would occur in large part through lowering health costs by expanding the pool of people buying insurance coverage.  For Medicare, that would result in a direct benefit in lower medical bills while the boost to Social Security would occur in an indirect way. If employers see their costs for health insurance fall, they would have more money to spend on employee salaries. Higher salaries would mean a larger amount of wages that would be subject to the Social Security payroll tax.  This year's trustees report would represent the most authoritative estimate on the impact those changes will have on both Medicare and Social Security. The report will also estimate the impact the health care overhaul will have on the premiums that Medicare recipients must pay. Supporters of the overhaul believe those premium costs will fall.
Two other important items, which should be clearer in the June report, is the potential for no Cost of Living Adjustment in 2011, for the second year in a row and health care reform’s impact on Medicare’s long term solvency: 
In January, Richard Foster, the chief actuary for Medicare, estimated that the Senate bill which passed on Christmas eve would extend the life of the Medicare hospital trust fund by 10 years. The legislation that finally passed Congress was the Senate bill but with revisions approved to win House support.
 You can read our analysis of last year’s Trustees Reports here .

Healthcare Reform is Good Medicine for Medicare

With the House passage of health care reform legislation, we’ll soon be able to leave the political war of words behind and America’s seniors will see for themselves that the fear-mongering over healthcare was just that—an attempt to scare Americans away from reforms which could finally put providing care ahead of making profits.  Reuters provides a concise summary of what health care reform means for Medicare saying this about benefits:
 WILL THE LEGISLATION CUT MEDICARE BENEFITS? There are no cuts to the traditional Medicare benefit. The lion's share of spending cuts are in Medicare Advantage -- a program that uses private firms such as Humana and UnitedHealth Group to deliver Medicare benefits. Many of these providers offer extra coverage and some of those extras could be dropped as Medicare Advantage subsidies are bought more in line with the cost of traditional Medicare benefits. Medicare Advantage payment rates will be frozen in 2011 and then gradually reduced giving companies time to adjust to the changes. 
The Washington Post offered this analysis
Medicare, the federal health program for people over 65, will undergo significant changes intended to deliver care more efficiently and at a lower price, with the aim of using the nation's largest insurance plan to force doctors, hospitals and other private-sector players to follow suit.   Medicare Advantage, a form of Medicare provided by private insurance companies to about 11 million seniors, will lose nearly $120 billion over the next decade, probably forcing providers to drop popular add-on benefits such as gym memberships.   The legislation also includes smaller changes that will take effect this year. In six months, new insurance policies will have to permit adult children to stay on their parents' policies until they turn 26. And small businesses with fewer than 25 employees and average annual wages of up to $50,000 will receive tax credits to offset the cost of buying insurance for their workers.   Meanwhile, insurance companies will be subject to new rules: In six months, all new plans will have to cover the full cost of preventive care, including annual physicals and children's immunizations. Insurers won't be able to require prior approval for patients who need to see gynecologists or go to the emergency room.   For seniors, the bill will immediately expand the Medicare drug benefit and, effective July 1, provide a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs for the low-income elderly.  
Our National Committee analysis also found health care reform will: 
  • Strengthen Medicare by slowing the rate of growth in spending for both beneficiaries and the federal government. 
-         The bills more than double the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund – adding 9 additional years (from current 2017 to 2026) 
  • Close the coverage gap (“donut hole”) in the Part D prescription drug program.
-         Provides a $250 rebate in 2010 for seniors who fall into the hole regardless of their incomes -         Provides a 50% discount for brand name drugs beginning in 2011 for seniors in the donut hole (no income limits) -         Phases in additional discounts for both brand name and generic drugs until senior co-payments are reduced to 25% by 2020 (no income limits) -         A typical senior who hits the donut hole will save $250 this year (2010), over $700 in 2011, and over $3,000 by 2020 -         Counts both the seniors’ out-of-pocket spending and the drug company discount as “True Out-of-Pocket Costs”, which will help seniors reach the catastrophic threshold more quickly 
  • Improve prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors
  • Improve the Part D program for all seniors.
  • Improve preventive health care services for seniors.
  • Improve overall health care services for seniors.
  • Make necessary changes to Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Expand protections for vulnerable seniors
  • Crack down on Medicare waste, fraud & abuse
  • Improve health coverage for near-retirees
  • Expand benefits for Long-Term Care 
President Obama will sign the legislation on Tuesday.  Meanwhile, the Senate must now act on the Reconciliation “sidecar” of changes proposed in the House.  Marketwatch describes it this way: 
Senate Democrats are planning to approve the reconciliation bill by week's end, when Congress is scheduled to go out on recess. But Republicans vow to load the bill up with amendments in an attempt to send it back to the House and kill it. 

Now's the Time

National Committee members and supporters have sent 12 thousand petitions to Capitol Hill urging Congress to pass health care reform, now.  As the clock ticks and a health care vote is expected in the House within days, seniors are mobilizing to ensure their elected representatives understand that doing nothing is not a solution for our nation’s health care crisis.  More than 100 thousand email alerts have been sent to National Committee members today, urging them to contact their Representatives in Washington and push for passage of health care reform legislation.   America's seniors have been in the crosshairs of a campaign to scare them away from reforms desperately needed to preserve and strengthen Medicare; however, National Committee members understand that doing nothing is a political strategy that actually threatens Medicare. Without health care reform, Medicare will continue to suffer from skyrocketing costs associated with general health care costs, until neither seniors nor the government will be able to afford the program. This inevitably will lead to unprecedented cuts in Medicare - cuts that unlike current health care reform proposals - will directly target Medicare beneficiaries. “It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of this health care reform vote for America’s seniors—it’s historic.  Closing the Part D doughnut hole, cutting waste and eliminating billions of dollars of wasteful subsidies to private insurers in Medicare are just a few of the vital reforms benefiting seniors included in health care legislation. The status quo is not an option for seniors in Medicare.  System wide health care reform such as what it included in this health care reform plan is absolutely vital for the program’s future. “...Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO

Conflating Debt, Deficits, and Social Security

There have been a number of very good pieces written this week which provided some desperately needed perspective on our debt, deficits and the campaign to blame them on Social Security.   EJ Dionne wrote this in his piece, “Smart Debt, Dumb Debt –there is a difference”:  
 “On health care, the status quo means that more Americans will find themselves without insurance because an ever-growing number of employers simply won't be able to afford the expense. This is unsustainable. Enacting health reform now will allow us to plan how government can take on these costs gradually. As for retirement security, most Americans know their private pensions will be nothing like those enjoyed by their parents or grandparents.  So reforming Medicare and Social Security can never be a simple matter of cutting spending. We have to look at the entire health-care picture and rethink our whole retirement system.   Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has gotten credit for doing a version of this in his "Roadmap for America's Future." He proposes to balance the budget by, among other things, turning Medicare into a voucher program and partially privatizing Social Security.   Ryan gets points for being a genuinely nice person (no small thing in our mean moment) and for saying outright what many other Republicans only mumble. But the path he suggests is exactly wrong. Weakening social insurance is the opposite of what the country needs, and it doesn't even get us to fiscal nirvana.” 
Robert Kuttner, in the Boston Globe, says fiscal hawks are eyeing the wrong prey and will use the President’s fiscal commission to make the kill: 
"Obama’s large deficits are mostly the result of the legacy of the Bush tax cuts and the depleted revenues resulting from recession, not the stimulus program. Before Obama took office, the projected deficit for 2009 was already in excess of 8 percent of GDP.  Since Republicans have made clear that they will oppose tax increases, the general assumption is that the 18-member commission, with six presidential appointees and the remaining 12 to be appointed by Congress, will recommend mainly cuts in Social Security and Medicare. This is quite a message to the American people: Abuses in private financial markets whacked the value of your home, your retirement savings, and your job. Now, in order to pay for the costs of bailing out the banks, we will also have to cut back the two public benefits you can count on that were not tainted by private-sector excesses: your Social Security and your Medicare.  The commission’s members are mostly part of the club that supports deep cuts in social insurance.” 
Which leaves seniors, and the AARP bulletin asking, “You’ve worked hard all your life for benefits.  You’ve met the criteria. So what’s the problem?”  
“Does Social Security need some fixing? Yes, it does, but it’s nothing like the train wreck described by the system’s opponents. Proposed fixes generally fall into two categories: raising revenue or reducing benefits. The Center on Retirement Research at Boston College has published The Social Security Fix-It Book, which is an excellent guide to some of the proposed solutions with the pros and cons carefully explained. But fixing Social Security will take political will, reminiscent of the dedication of the National Commission on Social Security Reform in the early 1980s. Hysteria doesn’t help. Gwendolyn King, commissioner of the Social Security Administration under President George H.W. Bush, says that people have worked hard all their lives to earn the benefits of Social Security promised them. 'They are entitled and deserve to be.'  So the next time you hear criticism of entitlements, or claims that Social Security is going to wreck our economy, or charges that people who think they are entitled to Social Security might as well shoot their grandchildren, take those slurs with a grain of salt. Opponents of Social Security are entitled to free speech. But you are entitled to the facts.” 



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