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Still Confused about Health Reform?

Many Medicare beneficiaries are and it's no wonder given all the misinformation swirling around health reform legislation.   Today Congressional leadership and the administration have teamed up to help seniors understand how health reform will impact Medicare. 
“Older Americans are dependent on Medicare for their health coverage.  So seniors are especially susceptible to misinformation that Medicare is threatened by reforms. They are anxious and looking for information and they absolutely need a reliable place where they can get their questions answered accurately.  It’s critical that seniors get the facts about provisions that will benefit them as soon as next month.”  Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO
For 84-year-old Ben Williamowsky, the health care reform debate was often confusing and frustrating.  As a retired dentist, he understands our current health system well, yet was discouraged by the amount of misinformation being targeted to seniors, during the debate and even now.  Williamowsky described his frustration at a Capitol Hill news conference hosted by House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi today: 
“I’m old enough that I remember what it was like in the early days after Medicare was created – when similar scare tactics were used – threatening seniors with all sorts of bad things if Medicare was enacted.  None of them happened.  Doctors didn’t go out of business or stop seeing seniors.  In fact, life was much better for millions of seniors who desperately needed health coverage and today Medicare is a tremendous success story.  But not everyone remembers history the way I do.  That’s why we absolutely need someplace we can trust to answer our questions and dispel the false rumors about this new law. “ Dr. Ben Williamowsky, Medicare Recipient   
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described a new brochure being mailed to Medicare beneficiaries to help them sort fact from fiction, avoid scammers who want to profit from seniors’ confusion and give beneficiaries the information they need to take advantage of historic reforms in the donut hole, preventative services and more.   The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is committed to providing America’s seniors with updated and detailed analyses of how healthcare reform legislation will affect their medical coverage in Medicare.  In our newly released web video, “Health Reform and Seniors”, we describe many of the provisions in health reform which will touch the lives of seniors, some as soon as next year.  The video is available on the National Committee’s YouTube Channel and will also be made available to seniors groups, town hall meetings, and grassroots events.  This video supplements the National Committee’s popular newsletter, Secure Retirement, which provides detailed coverage of health care reform in its spring issue.  In fact, we’ve run a second printing of this publication due to very high demand from seniors nationwide.

America’s Budget Matters (So Does Yours)

When Older Americans Month  was established in 1963, only 17 million  Americans had reached their 65th birthdays. About a third of older Americans lived in poverty and there were few programs to meet their needs. Today, our senior population has more than doubled and thanks to the passage of Medicare and the Older Americans Act, our nation is much better prepared to help ensure older Americans age strong and live long. But did you know that according to the National Academy of Sciences almost 19% of seniors  still live in poverty? That’s nearly 7 million seniors. This recession has hit America’s retirees especially hard as they’ve seen their savings decimated, home values plummet, healthcare costs skyrocket and face potentially two years with no cost of living increase.  However, the fiscal hawks in Washington who hope to use seniors’ programs (especially Social Security) to balance the federal books, seldom mention these fiscal facts.  Today in celebration of Older Americans month, we’re joining other senior issues bloggers led by Wider Opportunities for Women for a day of blogging on the fiscal realities facing America’s seniors. It’s vital that we understand more about our nation’s fiscal picture than what we’re being told by those leading a billion dollar crusade to cut Social Security.  The American people have been bombarded with a steady stream of pronouncements that Social Security is bankrupt, broken, or just too generous. In truth, what these folks really mean is that they don’t Washington to honor its obligations to the Social Security trust fund.  America’s seniors want fiscal sanity to return to Washington but there’s nothing sane about cutting programs, which touch the lives of virtually every American family, while ignoring the true causes of our current fiscal failures.  Today, the President’s Fiscal Commission  holds its second public meeting following a month’s worth of closed-door meetings. We’ve written extensively about this commission, it’s mission, and member makeup before.   Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly, also continues to remind everyone that Social Security isn’t the trouble and it shouldn’t be the target: 
“If this commission’s goal is to get our nation’s fiscal house in order then its attention should be on programs which contribute to our debt and the revenue reforms necessary to improve the federal balance sheet. Unfortunately, too much attention thus far has been focused on using Social Security as the piggy bank for fiscal reform.  Let’s be clear about this, Social Security has not contributed one dime to our current fiscal woes because that money was contributed by America’s workers over decades. Cutting benefits under the guise of ‘fiscal responsibility’ is anything but responsible during a time when retirees and near retirees are still suffering the effects of this recession”...Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO
We posted the first in a series of web videos on our YouTube channel addressing Social Security and the role it does (and in this case doesn’t ) play in our ongoing fiscal debate. “Social Security – Yours, Mine & Ours” reminds us all who really funds Social Security--the generations of American workers who’ve contributed $2.6 trillion dollars and counting to the Social Security trust fund.  Dollars which have been promised to America’s retirees not Washington or Wall Street.  Which brings us back to today’s blogging theme... America’s Budget Matters and So Does Yours.  It's vital that citizens, of all ages, take the time to educated themselves about the true causes of our current deficits and the what proposals currently being considered in Washington will mean to their day-to-day lives.

A Social Security Must-Read

Our friends, Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, have written a wonderfully clear description of the presidential Fiscal Commission, its goals and make-up. 
 President Obama and the leadership in Congress have delegated enormous, unaccountable authority to 18 unrepresentative, inordinately wealthy individuals. The 18 individuals are meeting regularly, in secret, behind closed doors, until safely beyond this year’s mid-term election. If they reach agreement, their proposal will be voted on in December by a lame duck Congress, without the benefit of open hearings and deliberations in the pertinent committees and without the opportunity for open debate and amendment on the floors of the House and Senate. Despite the speed and lack of accountability, the legislation will affect, in substantial ways, every man, woman, and child in this nation.
Their piece in Nieman Watchdog is geared toward the press to encourage some serious question-asking that -- so far-- is not being done. Questions such as:
 Q. Have the members of the Commission made up their minds, at least with respect to the broad outlines, making the whole exercise simply an effort by elected officials to escape political accountability? Q. Why is the Commission apparently working so closely with billionaire Peter G. Peterson, who served in the Nixon administration and who has a clear ideological agenda? Q. Mr. Peterson has been on a decades-long crusade against Social Security. The day after the first meeting of the commission, which focused heavily on the need to cut Social Security, the co-chairs and two other members of the commission participated in a Peterson event that reinforced the same message. A Peterson-funded foundation is supplying commission staff. And Peterson’s foundation is funding America Speaks to develop a series of high-profile town halls across the country to host “a national discussion to find common ground on tough choices about our federal budget.” (For more background about Mr. Peterson, see William Greider in the Nation on Looting Social Security -- Part 2.)
 This is our recommended must-read (and forward) of the week.

Foreign Bankers, Low Hanging Fruit and Social Security

In these days of billion dollar public relations campaigns designed to convince the American people that somehow Social Security must foot the bill for a decade of unrelated fiscal failures, the headlines hardly surprise us anymore.  But today on CNN Money we came across something which has really set the bar for balanced media coverage at a new low. Jeanne Sahadi’s “Fixing Social Security: the Low Hanging Fruit”  reads like a Peterson Foundation News Release.  Quoting liberally from the multi-billionaire anti-entitlement crusader  and the director of another Peterson funded group, the Concord Coalition, provides lop-sided sources for a story about Social Security.  Surely CNN could have found at least one Social Security expert in Washington to balance the anti-Social Security rhetoric?  Rhetoric like: 
“it (cutting Social Security) would be a confidence builder with our foreign lenders”    Peter Peterson, Peterson Foundation  “They could begin with Social Security, which oddly enough has gone from being the ‘third rail of American politics’ to the low-hanging fruit” Robert Bixby, Concord Coalition 
These “experts” Sahadi consulted view Social Security cuts as low-hanging fruit and a confidence builder for foreign bankers ...really?  Is that really all there is to this story? How about a quote reminding CNN viewers and its online readers that Social Security hasn’t contributed one dime to our current fiscal mess--that Social Security is funded by contributions from American workers, not federal dollars? How about a quote from an economist or Social Security policy expert explaining that what fiscal hawks really want is for Washington to renege on its repayment to the Social Security trust fund—a trust fund built up by contributions from America’s workers over decades and now made to be the scapegoat for failed borrow and spend policies, skyrocketing health care costs, two wars, tax cuts for the wealthy and a Wall Street run amok (which ultimately collapsed our economy).   Robert Creamer had this analysis in Huffington Post:
Frankly, I'm getting pretty sick of hearing guys who make ten million dollar bonuses on Wall Street tell Social Security recipients who make $13,000 a year that they have to "tighten their belts" because we "can't afford them." Let's remember that the Wall Street types that make deficit reduction an end in itself are the same geniuses whose reckless speculation caused the collapse of the economy, cost eight million Americans their jobs and cost retirees tens of billions in pensions. You don't see the people who caused this catastrophe "sacrificing" or "tightening their belts" for the good of the national economy.  
This view, any many more like it, may not have the billion dollar backing of the Peterson Foundation, but to CNN, and for that matter, all news outlets, it’s value is intrinsic to the public’s demand for fair and balanced reporting.

If We Truly Care About America’s Future We’ll Cut Social Security...Right?

This is one of the deficit hawk’s favorite frames as they continue to rachet up their campaign to balance our federal books with cuts in Social Security.  Their logic, expressed repeatedly at yesterday’s Presidential Fiscal Commission and again today at Pete Peterson’s fiscal extravaganza in Washington, goes something like this: 
  • We (meaning you—definitely not Wall Street) must sacrifice
  • Only courageous politicians will tell you the truth (their truth being we must cut Social Security). Conversely,
  • If you don’t support this truth (cutting Social Security) you’re either not being honest, courageous, or willing to sacrifice for the good of our country. 
Dan Froomkin has this summary of today’s Peterson event:
Simpson and Bowles, along with a slew of the other members of their commission, spoke at today's "Deficit Fest", a swanky, nearly day-long symposium on "fiscal responsibility" sponsored by billionaire investment banker and deficit hawk Peter G. Peterson's eponymous foundation. The symposium's core conviction is that "everybody" (as moderator Leslie Stahl put it) recognizes what needs to be done to cut the long-term deficit. But the only concrete areas of agreement seem to be that cuts in Social Security and Medicare must be a part of deficit reduction, while cuts in military spending are (as moderator Gwen Ifil put it) "never an option." It's a fundamentally banker-friendly agenda that glosses over the current unemployment crisis and puts the burden of balancing the budget most obviously on the poor, the sick and the elderly.
CEPR Co-Director, Dean Baker, busts several other deficit myths we’ve heard over and over again today:  Deficits mean our children and grandchildren will face at a lower standard of living, Social Security is to blame for our deficits, and our debt to China is a threat:
 1)      Under any plausible set of projections, our children and grandchildren will enjoy far higher standards of living than we do today. On average, real hourly compensation is projected to rise by at least 1.2 percent a year. This means that workers in the year 2040 will enjoy compensation levels that on average are more than 40 percent higher than what workers receive today.  2)      The reason that the country is projected to face enormous deficits in the future is our broken health care system. We pay more than twice as much per person for our health care as people in Canada, Germany and other wealthy countries.  3)      The debt to China has nothing to do with the budget deficit and does not present the disastrous risks claimed by the deficit hawks. The United States borrows money from China because of the trade deficit. The budget deficit is beside the point. 
Watching the proceedings today, it’s clear the Peterson/Presidential Commission connection can’t be overstated.  Both Commission co-chairs and Commission members participated in today’s well-financed event and as, James Ridgeway reports , Peterson will also fund the Presidential Commission’s Town hall meetings: 
In June, according to the Washington Post,  Obama’s deficit commission will be participating in a 20-city electronic town hall meeting, put together by an organization called America Speaks. It is financed by Peterson, along with the MacArthur Foundation and Kellogg Foundation. This is a truly unusual event because it marks the first time a presidential commission’s activities are financed by a private group that has long been lobbying the government on the very subjects the commission is supposed to “study.” 
In additon, Fiscal Commission’s Director, Bruce Reed, reported yesterday that one of the three staffers at the Commission is “on loan” from the Committee for a Responsible Budget, which is-- you guessed it-- yet another organization funded by Peter Peterson.  On a brighter note today, one of the Commission’s strongest voices of reason, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) had the courage to rebut the Social Security fear-mongering in her appearance on CSPAN this morning:


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