Donald Trump made a lot of promises to the American people during the Presidential campaign. For seniors, who supported him overwhelmingly, none was more important that his promise “not to touch” middle-class benefits in Social Security and Medicare. There’s no doubt his political calculus during this campaign accurately tapped in to a core middle-class value:
"As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen."...Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times
The problem for President-elect Trump is that the American people fully expect his administration to now keep that campaign promise. Unfortunately, preserving Medicare and Social Security benefits could be among the first of his promises to go. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have vowed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act will be one of their first acts. For seniors, that means billions in lost Medicare benefits, the return of the Part D prescription drug donut hole and years of solvency taken from Medicare. Millions of seniors will immediately feel the effects of these Medicare cuts which will weaken the program itself.
“The Affordable Care Act strengthens Medicare's financing by increasing efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse; slowing the rate of increase in payments to providers; improving quality of care and phasing out overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans, plans that are continuing to increase their enrollments each year. The impact of these provisions has already resulted in extending the solvency of the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by more than a decade and lowering Part B out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.
In addition to Medicare beneficiaries, the Affordable Care Act is very important to millions of adults ages 50-64 who are uninsured because they do not have access to affordable private insurance. Many of these individuals are now able to purchase private insurance even if they have pre-existing medical conditions, and costs are more affordable due to the law's limits on age rating and the subsidies available for lower-income beneficiaries.
The number of uninsured “young seniors,” aged 50-64, would increase, leaving them in poorer health by the time they are eligible for Medicare – thereby increasing Medicare’s costs.”...NCPSSM, 2015 ACA Repeal Letter to Congress
In addition to the immediate Medicare cuts that come with the repeal of Obamacare, the Republican Congress has made it clear another top priority is to turn Medicare into CouponCare. In fact, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPac), has already announced it will include analysis of the GOP’s Medicare privatization plan in its annual report next year. The Republican plans for Medicare, passed in GOP budgets over many years was most recently described in the “A Better Way” campaign led by House Speaker Paul Ryan. It has already been embraced by Vice President-elect Mike Pence:
“What’s so inspiring to me is how much consistency there is between Donald Trump and the agenda House Republicans have put forward with a ‘Better Way.'”...Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Again, President-elect Trump won’t be able to have it both ways on this issue. If he wants to preserve seniors’ benefits in Medicare, as promised during the campaign, then adopting a voucher plan designed to shift costs to seniors fundamentally violates that pledge. Privatizing Medicare with a voucher plan, will leave seniors and people with disabilities – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies and making it even harder for seniors to choose their own doctors. Beneficiaries will pay more money for less coverage because vouchers will not keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance. That is how the program saves money – at seniors’ expense. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office predicted the CouponCare proposal in the GOP’s 2011 budget would cost seniors $20,000 more each year. Over time, this proposal will create a death-spiral ending traditional Medicare. This scheme is, by definition, the antithesis of “not touching” seniors’ benefits.
This conundrum for the Trump administration doesn’t end there. On Social Security, unfortunately, the warning signs for seniors are just as alarming. Trump advisors and the Republican platform have made it clear that “entitlements” will very likely be on the agenda of a Trump presidency.
“After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. We’ll start taking a hard look at those to start seeing what we can do in a bipartisan way.”
“...I think that whoever [is] the next president is going to have a horrible time in dealing with this, because those entitlements will race to the front of all the economic issues we have in this country.” Sam Clovis, Trump campaign Chief Policy Advisor, May 2016
"I think you're going to see him do it across the board on entitlements."
"He's not making the case because it's a political suicide to make this case. If you go up and start saying I'm going to attack Social Security, I'm going to attack Medicaid...there goes those votes. So no smart politician is going to step into this milieu."
"At the end of the day, somebody's gotta say you've got to move the retirement age up two years."...Tom Barrack, Trump Economic Advisor, August 2016
The American people have spoken. They said they wanted change – they got it. And yet...they’ve also made it clear they don’t support cutting middle-class benefits for millions of American families who depend on Social Security and Medicare. Time will tell whether President Trump will keep the promises candidate Trump has made and what this “change” election will actually mean to workers who’ve earned their Social Security and Medicare benefits and expect them to be protected, as promised.
As a 2106 Influencer in Aging honoree, NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, answered the question: “What is the one thing you would like to change about aging in America?” Max’s answer can be found in Forbes, Next Avenue and we’ve reposted it here:
Why We Must Combat Ageism In America
By Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to write essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is the first of the essays.)
Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” If you or someone you love has been there, you’ll likely agree.
Thankfully, Americans have Social Security and Medicare to help ease their transition into retirement and improve the likelihood they’ll age financially and medically secure. Social Security keeps 22 million Americans out of poverty, while Medicare provides universal health care for 55 million seniors and people with disabilities.
Pitting Young vs. Old
Social Security and Medicare are among our nation’s most successful federal programs, touching the lives of virtually every American family. In spite of this, these programs continue to be political targets by those who have tried to pit young vs. old, creating a generational battle over limited budget resources.
Portraying America’s parents and grandparents as “greedy geezers” who care only about their own benefits (which they’ve earned after a lifetime) at the expense of future generations is one of the most pernicious examples of the ageism that is all too common in our nation. We see it in the workplace, in public debate, between generations and in social policy.
Time for Government Leaders to Address Ageism
If I could change one thing about aging in the U.S., it would be how our government leaders address ageism through public law. They must ensure that all retirees and their families, present and future, have ample and easy access to health, income and job security, community supports and a robust aging network that offers choice, independence and dignity.
The retirement of America’s Baby Boom generation has provided us with a unique opportunity to create innovative and responsive aging policies that would serve our nation well for generations to come. Unfortunately, we have not done enough to modernize and revolutionize our aging policies.
It’s not like we didn’t know the boomers would retire someday. America built schools when this growing demographic was young, houses as it matured and large surpluses in the Social Security Trust Fund in anticipation of its retirement. However, now that 10,000 boomers turn 65 each day, the graying of America is too often presented as simply a drain on our national resources and — even worse — used as an opportunity to pit generations against each other.
How Ageism Hurts America
Ageism, sadly, pervades our policy discourse, squandering this unique opportunity in our history to create policies, systems and programs that tap into the wealth of experience, knowledge and opportunities that our aging community provides.
The 14 percent of America that is now over 65 should be at the heart of public policies to improve our nation’s health care system and to increase employment opportunities, fair housing, and economic equity that can stretch across all generations.
Let’s remember these words of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
We must fight back against ageism, which ignores the reality that America is strongest when the young, old and everyone in between are economically empowered, healthy and secure.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare’s President/CEO, Max Richtman, has been named a “2016 Influencer in Aging” by Next Avenue, America’s online magazine for seniors.
“This is a transformative time in which millions of Americans are redefining what it means to grow old. It is a quiet revolution,” said Susan Donley, managing director of Next Avenue. “This year’s list uncovers a range of leaders who have made exceptional contributions to that sea change. Next Avenue is proud to honor and celebrate these men and women, and their remarkable work.”
Max Richtman is a former staff director of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and 16-year veteran of Capitol Hill. As NCPSSM’s President/CEO, he leads the National Committee’s policy and advocacy work on behalf of millions of American seniors who depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
In addition to being appointed to the 2016 Platform Committee for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), he is vice-chair of the Seniors Coordinating Council of the DNC, a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance, Bloomberg BNA Medicare Report Advisory Board, the District of Columbia Bar and a recipient of the 2013 Gray Panthers Social Justice Award and 2014 Winn Newman Equality Award from Americans for Democratic Action.
When asked, “If you could change one thing about aging in America, what would it be?” Richtman said:
"Ageism continues to exist. We see it in the workplace, in public debate, between generations and in social policy. If I could change one thing about aging in the U.S. it would be how our government leaders address ageism through public law. They must ensure that all seniors and their families have ample and easy access to health, income and job security, community supports and a robust aging network that offers choice, independence and dignity."
This year’s Influencers in Aging list also includes researchers like; MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner Anne Basting, legendary television producer/writer Norman Lear, Sarita Gupta, co-founder of Caring Across Generations and advocate for government policies supporting home care workers; Phyllis Borzi, the person in charge of the Employee Benefits Security Administration for the U.S. Department of Labor.
OK...we're just 18 days until election day and the final debate has come and gone. Thank goodness.
While Social Security and Medicare finally got their 90 seconds of fame last night, as expected, the question was framed exactly how Washington's well-funded fiscal hawks had hoped -- America can't afford "entitlements," (wrong), the programs are the biggest drivers of our debt (nope), are going bankrupt (actually no, they're not) and then the real heart of the question: How are you going to cut benefits?
Unfortunately, this approach guaranteed there would be no real conversation about the benefits millions of seniors depend on. Here is NCPSSM's President/CEO, Max Richtman's reaction:
“Rather than focusing on the candidate’s plans for improving Social Security and Medicare’s long-term solvency, strengthening benefits and tackling the retirement crisis looming for millions of workers and retirees, last night’s viewers were stuck with the same old crisis calls that ‘entitlements’ are bankrupting America. No doubt, Washington’s billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby was happy to have some life pumped back into their middle-class killing campaign to cut benefits; however, America’s voters deserved far more from this debate.
Make no mistake about it, the choices between Clinton and Trump couldn’t be starker. Donald Trump’s Social Security shape-shifting leaves voters with no idea of how he plans to improve solvency and benefit adequacy. Doing nothing isn’t an option. Contrary to his insult last night, hearing Hillary Clinton tell the truth about how to strengthen Social Security's funding isn't ‘nasty,’ it's just reality. As long as America's wealthiest are allowed to avoid paying their share of payroll taxes, Social Security suffers. Period. While Clinton supports expanding benefits, Trump’s only policy promise last night was to repeal Obamacare. That cuts years from Medicare’s solvency and billions in preventive care, prescription drugs and cost-reducing benefits to seniors.
Most Americans know that our nation faces a retirement crisis. Our economy depends on strong Social Security and Medicare programs and improving benefits is vital to keeping millions from poverty. Too bad voters weren’t allowed to hear any of that debated last night.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
Today’s announcement that there will be a tiny .3% Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase next year means that 40 million seniors who rely on their Social Security to get by will once again find their expenses outpacing their Social Security benefit. This continues the trend of historically low cost-of-living adjustments for seniors. Over the past eight years, the current COLA formula has led to average increases of just over 1%, with three of those years seeing no increase at all. For the average senior, the 2017 COLA will mean an extra $4.00 per month which would barely cover the average cost of one Lipitor pill, a prescription drug frequently prescribed to seniors.
“No one can say with a straight face that providing the average senior with an additional four dollars a month will come even close to covering the true cost of living that retirees face. The average senior spends more than $5,000 a year on healthcare costs alone. A $4 Social Security COLA doesn’t even make a dent in covering rising costs for seniors.
I’ve asked seniors at town hall meetings around the country how many of them think the COLA represents their true cost of living -- laughter is always the response. We should move to a COLA formula that takes a more accurate measure of seniors’ expenses, which is a CPI for the elderly. The CPI-E has been in the experimental phase since 1982. It’s time to finish the job by fully funding the development of a more accurate COLA formula.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
While the Affordable Care Act has slowed the growth of Medicare costs, Part B premiums continue to rise much faster than the COLA. Final Medicare premiums won’t be announced until later this fall; however, the majority of beneficiaries (70%) are protected from steep premium hikes due to “hold harmless” provisions in the law which protects Social Security benefits from being reduced if the COLA is not large enough to cover the increase in the Part B premium.
The 30% of beneficiaries not eligible for the hold harmless provision include; new enrollees during the year, enrollees who do not receive a Social Security benefit check, enrollees with high incomes who are subject to the income-related premium adjustment, and dual Medicare-Medicaid beneficiaries, whose full premiums are paid by state Medicaid programs. They could face much higher premium costs.
Congressional action mitigated the Part B premium hike last year for these beneficiaries. The National Committee will, once again, work with key Members of Congress and the Administration to ensure these seniors aren’t hit with a significant premium increase next year.
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