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Social Security and the Jacksons

Chances are Katherine Jackson never imagined Social Security would be her only source of income.  But truth be told...that's probably the case for countless other Americans, rich and poor, who face retirement in a much different fiscal situation then they had dreamed.  That's why these short references  buried in all the recent coverage of Michael Jackson's death really caught our attention:
"Lawyers for the estate wrote: ‘We are informed that Mrs. Jackson was also financially dependent upon Michael Jackson and that other than extremely modest social security benefits, Mrs. Jackson has no independent means of support.'... Jackson's children will receive Social Security benefits, which have been applied for but payments have not yet started. Their monthly stipends from the estate may be reduced, depending on much money they receive from Social Security, the filings state." You can think what you want about how the Jackson's ended up in this situation but regardless, it's a reminder of the role that Social Security plays in the lives of Americans who have the rug pulled out from under them and face a loss of income through retirement, disability or the death of a parent.  At the end of 2007, nearly 50 million people were receiving approximately $585 billion in Social Security benefits: 34 million retired workers and their dependents, 6 million survivors of deceased workers, and 9 million disabled workers and their families. During the year, an estimated 163 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.   If you pay in to Social Security you have a right to that benefit, rich or poor.  Social Security isn't welfare it's a benefit that Americans work to earn...a benefit that's there, even if you don't think you'll ever need it.

"MedPac on Steroids" or Permanent Entitlement Commission?

For many older Americans, the give and take necessary to pass meaningful and successful health care reform makes sense. That's why we here at the National Committee have worked hard to mobilize their support for health care reform proposals that would improve efficiency and care for millions of Medicare beneficiaries while also providing savings for system-wide health care reform efforts. However, today we are opposing any effort to transfer Congress' authority to manage Medicare to an appointed Commission charged primarily with cutting costs.   The Independent Medicare Advisory Council proposal being considered in the House includes many of the same flawed approaches seen in entitlement reform commission plans offered in the past, including; fast-tracked legislation which prohibits amendments and requires an up or down vote, statutory spending caps and sequestration of funding.  These provisions put spending cuts as the Medicare commission's top priority.  That leaves little room for concerns about access to services or affordability, and could ultimately lead to a serious erosion of the benefits relied upon by millions of seniors and the disabled.   Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly, sent this letter  to Congress and the White House laying out our objections to the creations of a permanent Medicare Commission: 
"As the President himself has said, America does not face an entitlement crisis, we face a health care crisis.  In light of this, proposals that single out Medicare for aggressive cost cutting are not only unwise but patently unfair.  We believe that it is an imperative of health reform that cost growth throughout the entire health care system be addressed, not simply in the Medicare program.  Submitting major changes to such an important program on a fast track through Congress with little opportunity for amendment runs counter to the Administration's call for transparency and participation by the American public in policy decisions. Enacting procedures to push through changes of this importance to millions of Americans, especially senior Americans, ultimately disenfranchises the public and hurts the political process."    
Medicare reforms can and should be a part of the national health care transformation.   However, analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has shown that Medicare spending is only a portion of the cost growth trend seen system-wide; underlining the need to control the growth trend throughout the entire health care system, not simply in the Medicare program.  This Medicare Advisory Council proposal shifts the focus away from system-wide reforms in favor of cutting Medicare to reduce the cost of health care reform.       A copy of the National Committee's letter to Congress opposing the creation of a permanent Medicare commission is available on our website.

Medicare Reforms play Critical Role in Congressional Health Care Proposal

"This Health care reform proposal is a pivotal step in Medicare reform. We now have a House bill which includes some important changes in Medicare to help control runaway health care costs for millions of seniors.  Closing the Part D doughnut hole, improving low-income coverage and eliminating wasteful subsidies to private Medicare Advantage insurers are all necessary steps towards meaningful reform. But there is still more work to be done on this bill and we must ensure that these basic improvements do not get traded away in the quest for even more savings." Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO

The House bill is called America's Affordable Health Choices Act and you can see it here.

Head of GOP Health Care Group Says We'd Be Better Off Without Medicare...

 ...and Medicaid, and SCHIP and VA health benefits.  How about health insurance coverage for Congress, we wonder?  As chairman of the House Republicans' Health Care Solutions Group, Rep. Roy Blunt's views on President Obama's health care reform proposals are well documented and up to now have been the classic protect the market rather than improve access position held by most Congressional conservatives.   However, yesterday Congressman Blunt took that rhetoric to a strange new place when he told a Missouri conservative talk radio station that government health care programs are so terrible that it would have been "best" if the federal government never got "in the health care business" at all.  Really?   We're sure the 44 million seniors and disabled in Medicare, 7 million children in SCHIP, 5 million Veterans and 58 million low income in Medicaid would beg to differ.  These populations would have no health coverage if not for these government-run programs because the "market" Congressman Blunt guards and protects so dearly excludes these populations from access to health care.   Here's the Congressman's radio remarks provided by Fired Up! Missouri:  

"HOST MIKE FERGUSON: What is the proper role of government, and what are the potential impacts of the direction that we're going right now?

BLUNT: Well, you could certainly argue that government should have never have gotten in the health care business, and that might have been the best argument of all, to figure out how people could have had more access to a competitive marketplace. Government did get into the health care business in a big way in 1965 with Medicare, and later with Medicaid, and government already distorts the marketplace. 

A government competitor would drive all the other competitors away. What we should be doing is creating more competition. One of the reasons the marketplace doesn't work the way it should work right now is we really don't have the competitive marketplace that I'd like to see put in place. I'd like to see people have many more options, instead of fewer options. The option, for instance, to continue to get insurance at work, but also take that same tax benefit and use it on their own and use it in the new marketplace that Republicans advocate... "

 Back in February, the Urban Institute provided a frightening glimpse into the world proposed by Congressman Blunt. Researchers reported on the effects of Missouri's sweeping Medicaid cuts in 2005.  Keep in mind, this focuses on just one of the many programs the Congressman wishes never existed, Medicaid:  
"After Missouri's sweeping Medicaid cutbacks in 2005, more than 100,000 people lost coverage, and many more faced cuts in benefits and increased cost sharing. The number of uninsured people in the state increased; hospitals faced greater demand for uncompensated care; and community health centers faced revenue shortfalls that forced them to cut staffing, increase patient charges, and seek larger state grants. Moreover, Missouri's cuts slowed the growth in Medicaid spending but did not reduce Medicaid costs."
Does this sound like a winning strategy to you?

CBO Puts a Number on Medicare Savings in House Bill

The Congressional Budget Office  projects the House's health care reform draft would provide $535 billion in gross savings to Medicare over ten years.  However, factoring in spending provisions brings the net savings down to about $160 billion.  Here's how the Way and Means Committee describes the savings and spending side of their equation: 
"The draft proposals included in the estimate would slow spending, yielding more than $500 billion in gross savings to Medicare over ten years while also extending the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund and providing key payment and delivery system reforms. Included in the estimates released tonight are important investments in the Medicare program that would fix the deeply flawed physician payment system, close the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, encourage prevention and wellness by eliminating cost-sharing for preventive services, and improve access for low-income Medicare beneficiaries."
The House health care draft also includes $160 billion cut in overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans.  This is among the biggest-ticket savings items in the House plan and one we here at the National Committee have urged for years. While insurers continue to call these subsidies "cuts to Medicare"  what they don't tell you is the true price beneficiaries and the Medicare program itself are paying for these wasteful industry giveaways.  Specifically, Medicare has lost more than a year of solvency to the hospital trust fund thanks to these overpayments.  In addition, all Medicare beneficiaries (not just those enrolled in private plans) are paying extra premiums to help cover these outrageous subsidies.    Of course, other health care providers have seen the writing on the wall and have offered their own pre-emptive "deals".  The latest comes from hospital groups who have agreed to $155 billion in cuts if a health overhaul bill is passed and the numbers of uninsured are reduced.  NPR has a good description of the hospital offer.  
"But are hospitals really giving up all that much? Maybe not. A significant portion of the funds are currently for payments to help hospitals offset the cost of caring for patients who are uninsured. But in a newly reconfigured system, "there will be fewer uninsured," says Richard Kirsch,(Health Care for America Now) "and it makes perfect sense that as the number of uninsured drop, that hospitals should get less money from the federal government for taking care of those people if they now are paying customers."
Here are a couple more interesting pieces on industry's role in this debate so far, in the New York Times and Health Beat.

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