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Did You Get the Most of Your Medicare This Year?

There’s no doubt about it...Medicare can be confusing.  However, there are many benefits out there that many seniors may not even realize exist.  Here’s a quick look at a few of the often overlooked Medicare benefits that you should be sure you are fully utilizing.

 

 

Annual wellness visit

If President-elect Trump follows up on his campaign promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, this benefit will disappear, which is a real loss for millions of seniors who’ve used these visits preventatively to avoid potentially larger health issues in the future.  If you haven’t already, get your annual visit in soon.

Wellness visits are with your primary-care physician once a year, even when you're feeling fine. These visits give you and your doctor a chance to review your health and see where attention might be needed or improvements might be made. The focus is on your overall health and allows patients and doctors to red-flag any concerns that might seem small now but could lead to a more serious issue if ignored. Wellness visits are available to anyone covered by Part B or Medicare Advantage plans.  For now, anyway.

Depression screening

Once a year, every Medicare Part B recipient can receive free depression screening from his or her primary-care doctor.  This is an important benefit because one in six seniors suffers from depression yet estimates are only 10% of chronically depressed seniors receive the treatment they need for their disease.

Late life depression is an important public health problem. It is associated with increased risk of illness, increased risk of suicide, decreased physical, cognitive and social functioning, and greater self-neglect, all of which are in turn associated with an increased likelihood of death. 

Smoking cessation

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 40 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes.  Smoking is the #1 cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.  In fact, more than 480,000 Americans die, or 1 of every 5 deaths, from tobacco use.  It’s never too late to stop smoking.  That’s why Medicare provides its beneficiaries help quitting. Anyone who uses tobacco and has Medicare Part B coverage can get up to eight smoking-cessation visits covered over a 12-month period. The only stipulation is that the visits are with a qualified doctor or other Medicare-recognized practitioner. These visits will not cost you a penny out of pocket, so if you're a smoker who wants to quit for good, make sure you take advantage of this Medicare benefit.

In the Fight for Retirement Security, It's 2005 All Over Again... But Ten Times Worse

After his re-election in 2004, President George W. Bush declared he would spend his political capital to realize a long-held conservative goal: end Social Security as we know it and turn it over to Wall Street.  Bush didn't realize he had stepped on a political landmine. I was Executive Vice President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare in 2005, when we beat back Bush's attempt to privatize one of America's most popular and successful government programs.  

We and other advocacy groups banded together to oppose the plan.  We lobbied on Capitol Hill.  We held town halls and rallies across the country.  We mobilized at the grass roots level.  We mounted a paid media campaign. By the summer of 2005, Bush's scheme was dead.  Not a single piece of privatization legislation made it to the floor in Congress. The people had spoken:   Hands Off our Social Security!  

Here we are, eleven years later, facing another existential threat to our health and retirement income security.  But this time the threat is worse, the peril more palpable.  The millions of workers, retirees, the disabled and their families who depend on Social Security and Medicare have cause for grave concern.  Why do I say that?  After all, we prevailed in saving Social Security in 2005, with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress - just like today.  But there are several key differences between then and now: 

*In 2005, there were more GOP moderates in the House and Senate.  There was no Tea Party or Freedom Caucus.  We've seen in the past 6 years how these extremists are the tail that wags the dog in the House.  They are determined to privatize or cut Social Security and Medicare, and they have considerable clout with the House GOP leadership. 

*The 2005 privatization proposal came from the White House; Congressional Republicans were lukewarm to the idea of monkeying with Social Security.  Today, House Republicans are leading the charge to privatize both programs.  While Speaker Paul Ryan nearly salivates at the opportunity to convert Medicare into "Coupon-Care", the House Social Security Subcommittee Chairman, Sam Johnson (R-TX), has already introduced a bill that would raise the Social Security retirement age, slash benefits, and cut Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs).  No doubt, similar GOP bills will quickly follow in the new Congress this January.

*On the Senate side, the two most powerful Republicans on this issue have openly advocated "Social Security reform" - which is usually code for replacing guaranteed benefits with personal investment accounts.  Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has perpetuated the myth that Social Security and Medicare have "driven the [national] debt," going so far as to call these cherished entitlement programs "the single biggest threats to our future."  Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch peddles the falsehood that Social Security "will be bankrupt unless we enact significant reform." 

*President-elect Trump, who promised not to touch Social Security and Medicare during the campaign, advocates reform on his transition website and nominated a fervent privatizer, Rep. Tom Price, as Secretary of Health and Human Services.  His second in command, Governor Mike Pence, is a well-documented privatization proponent. We can't count on Mr. Trump to protect current and future Social Security beneficiaries. 

The movement in Washington to gut our most crucial social insurance programs - not only Social Security and Medicare, but Medicaid, too - amounts to nothing less than a war on the working class:  people at all levels of income and employment who are counting on retirement income and health security. We in the advocacy community, empowered by workers and beneficiaries across the country, are gearing up for battle.

We are gathering millions of petition signatures demanding that Congress keep its hands off of Social Security and Medicare. We are organizing phone banks and letter writing campaigns to our elected representatives.  Borrowing a campaign idea from Mr. Trump, we also need to build a wall - a firewall to be specific - in the Senate, to ensure that none of the privatization or benefit-cutting legislation makes it out of Capitol Hill and up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Senate Democrats and Independents must stand together. Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Bernie Sanders will make that happen with the reinforcement of seniors' advocates. However, several in the GOP must also stand with Democrats to put a simple majority vote out of reach.  Senators including John McCain (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), Lamar Alexander (TN), and Charles Grassley (IA) know how important Social Security and Medicare benefits are to their constituents - and value the billions of dollars pumped into their state economies. We call upon these Senators to stand up for the future retirement security of America's workers.       

There is no question the struggle will be harder than it was in 2005.  The political climate is more hostile.  The forces aiming to destroy our treasured social insurance programs are more insidious. The stakes are higher.  But we can protect Social Security and Medicare and keep them solvent for the future without cutting benefits for millions of Americans if we organize, mobilize, and make our voices heard on Capitol Hill.

Together, we can stop this war on the working class.

America’s Gender Pay Gap Lasts a Lifetime

We’ve written a lot about how pay inequity has hurt generations of working women, not just while they’re on the job, but lasting throughout their retirement.   The economic challenges facing American women in retirement is the heart of our “Eleanor’s Hope” project, designed to raise awareness and advocate for legislation to address the inequities threatening millions of retired women.

“Over a working woman’s career, that pay gap could accumulate to a half million dollars in lost income and even more for women of color.  A comprehensive analysis of gender pay inequality, released by the Joint Economic Committee’s Democratic staff, shows how the gender pay gap grows over time.  It’s not just an issue for working women because this inequality can also have a compounding and devastating impact on retired women.

The thought of running out of money in retirement keeps 57% of women awake at night. That’s not a surprise when you consider the many combined factors which make retirement especially challenging for American women. Women earn less than men even when doing the same jobs, they more often work part-time or in jobs that do not offer retirement savings plans, and they tend to spend more time out of the workforce as a consequence of their caregiving responsibilities. Women could lose $430,480 in earnings over the course of a 40-year career due to the wage gap alone.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

That is a staggering number. But what does it really mean to you?

A new tool created by the Economic Policy Institute allows women workers to calculate how much you could be earning, in an equal pay world.  Remember, that equal pay would have also meant a more equal retirement benefit.

 

Advocates Gear Up for Medicare Battle on Capitol Hill

 The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare participated  today in the delivery of over 1,000,000 petition signatures demanding that Congress “keep its hands off of Medicare.”  National Committee President and CEO Max Richtman joined Senators Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic Reps.Ted Deutch, Jan Schakowsky, and Tony Cárdenas in presenting the petitions on Capitol Hill this morning.

Calling GOP plans to privatize a program that 53 million Americans depend on the “War on Medicare,” Richtman warned, “We are going to hear that Medicare needs to be ‘modernized.’ Modernization is a good thing if you are remodeling a kitchen... but not for Medicare.”

The petitions were delivered to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who wants to privatize Medicare by replacing guaranteed benefits with vouchers.  Ryan’s “coupon care” program will result in benefit cuts and higher out of pocket costs for seniors.  Equally alarming is President-elect Trump’s pick of a diehard privatizer, Rep. Tom Price, for Health & Human Services Secretary.  Richtman summarized the GOP’s message to seniors on Medicare and their families, “You are going to be on your own and good luck… and I’m not even sure about the good luck part.”

Senator Sanders delivered an impassioned message to President-elect Trump, who promised during the campaign not to touch Social Security and Medicare.  “Mr. Trump,” he thundered, “We are going to hold you accountable.  Millions of us are going to demand that you keep your promise.”

Members of the National Committee’s Capital Action Team came to Capitol Hill in their bright yellow t-shirts to drive home the message that every day Americans won’t tolerate Ryan and Price’s efforts to destroy Medicare.

Richtman handed out red boxing gloves to Reps. Pelosi, Schakowsky and Deutch symbolizing advocates' readiness to take on lawmakers who try to wreck Medicare.  He ended the petition delivery event with a strong call to arms.  "Now, let's all get to work and win this war."

A National Committee on-line petition drive is underway to continue building a wall of public opposition to any proposals to cut Medicare.

 

Paul Ryan Peddles Dangerous Fictions on "60 Minutes"

House Speaker Paul Ryan perpetuated dangerous falsehoods about Medicare on CBS “60 Minutes” Sunday night.  In an interview with correspondent Scott Pelley, Ryan hauled out the myth that “Medicare goes bankrupt in about 10 years.”  He continued, “The trust fund runs out of money.  So we have to make sure that we shore this program up.”  Really? 

To Ryan, “shoring up” Medicare means privatizing it, creating what we at the National Committee call “coupon care.”  Seniors would have to fend for themselves in the private insurance market with government-provided vouchers that wouldn’t fully cover their premiums or out-of-pocket costs.  Traditional Medicare would be left to wither and die.

Ryan’s plan is based on a fake crisis.  Contrary to the Speaker’s claims on “60 Minutes,” Medicare does not go bankrupt in 10 years.  It’s true that – without increasing payroll taxes – the Medicare Hospital Trust fund (which finances Medicare Part A) will become depleted in 2028.  However, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) points out, “incoming payroll taxes and other revenue will still cover 87% of Medicare hospital insurance costs.”  That’s a far cry from bankruptcy, Mr. Ryan.

Any shortfalls, CBPP notes, could be covered by “raising revenues, slowing the growth in costs, or most likely both,” without wrecking traditional Medicare - options that Ryan doesn’t seem inclined to consider.

The other fiction that Ryan perpetrates in his “60 Minutes” appearance is that his Medicare “reforms” wouldn’t “change the benefit” for anybody who is in or near retirement – only Gen X’ers (like Ryan himself) and subsequent generations. This is simply untrue.  Our own analysis at NCPSSM indicates that privatizing Medicare could adversely impact anyone 55 and older (including people currently enrolled in traditional Medicare) because of potentially higher premiums, benefit cuts, and higher out-of-pockets.  Neither seniors nor their children and grandchildren should believe Ryan’s false assurances.  There is simply too much at stake.




   

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Pamela Causey
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causeyp@ncpssm.org
(202) 216-8378
(202) 236-2123 cell

Walter Gottlieb
Assistant Communications Director 
gottliebw@ncpssm.org
(202) 216-8414

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