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Why Silence Isn’t Golden for Millions in Medicare

Nearly 30 million Americans suffer from hearing loss yet a small percentage have hearing aids.  Why? Many simply can’t afford the high cost...and Medicare does not cover hearing aids and related audiology services. 

Currently, Medicare Part B only covers hearing rehabilitation services for cases caused by an illness or accident. Progressive, age-related hearing loss is not covered, leaving many seniors to pay for their own hearing exams and hearing aids. Hearing aids are incredibly expensive, ranging from $600 to over $5,000 each. These high price tags discourage many seniors from seeking a very basic solution that could dramatically improve their lives.

Research shows even mild hearing loss can double the risk of dementia.  Untreated hearing loss also contributes to balance problems and falls, isolation, depression and a greater incidence of stress-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  Earlier this month, a Report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that hearing loss is a public health priority requiring national attention.

That’s why the National Committee is proud to join the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and hearing expert Frank R. Lin, M.D., in a briefing today on the need to expand Medicare to include hearing aids and treatment:

“Intervention would reduce the risks which come with hearing loss. This is hugely important in the case of dementia which, with the aging of the baby boomers, is a massive public health issue now.  Hearing loss may be one of the few modifiable risk factors that could reduce the risk of dementia; however, hearing health care is still broadly inaccessible and expensive.”...Dr. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health

“As always, there will be the critics who say “we can’t afford this” Well, yes we can. When the Affordable Care Act passed, 716 billion dollars in savings from Medicare were plowed right back into the program to provide expanded services such as preventive care and screenings at no cost to beneficiaries. And there are strategies such as restoring the pharmaceutical drug company rebates for medicines prescribed to dual-eligibles, people on both Medicare and Medicaid, which, according to CBO, could generate 121 billion dollars over ten years. If the Congressional will is there, we know it can be done.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO


Legislation introduced by Reps. Debbie Dingell (H.R. 1653), Jim McDermott (H.R. 5396) and Alan Grayson (H.R.3308) would close this gap in Medicare coverage. This legislation is vital to the health security of millions of Americans.

“Since its implementation in 1965, Medicare has enhanced health care for millions of Americans. But there are still major gaps in coverage. Given the growing numbers of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss, it’s time for that to change,” said Judith Stein, J.D., Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

"We don’t know exactly how much we spend on cases where we’re dealing with depression because they’re isolated...and hearing loss contributes to both. It’s absolutely critical that for an acceptable quality of life that people need to be able to hear the world around them.  In order for seniors to keep a good quality of live, just keeping them alive isn’t enough, we must have good hearing and dental care. This is not beyond our capacity to provide this for seniors.”...Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) 

“We’ve got millions of Americans over 45 effected by hearing loss. If untreated it has devastating impacts on our nation.  Medicare coverage should include audiology care, period. The promise of Medicare to keep Americans healthy is at stake.  Medicare should cover all the vital health needs of seniors. Why are we arbitrarily leaving some out?  There’s no reason for Medicare to remove the head from the body.”...Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)


Please call your Member of Congress or Sign our Congressional Petition today and tell them:

  We need hearing care coverage in Medicare.

(800) 998-0180

The Truth about the 2016 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Report

Social Security is still fully funded for nearly two decades, a miniscule COLA increase in 2017 likely, and health care reform continues to preserve Medicare’s solvency.

“What’s likely to be missing in headlines about today’s Social Security Trustees Report is that the program remains well-funded with total income, again, projected to exceed expenses. However, in order to head off a benefit cut in 2034 Washington should embrace the growing movement to lift the payroll tax cap and expand benefits for the millions of seniors struggling to get by on an average $1,300 retirement benefit.

The Trustees also project there will be a tiny .2% cost of living adjustment next year yet Medicare premiums will increase in 2017. Seniors continue to see their modest Social Security benefits eaten away by growing healthcare costs which illustrates, once again, that the current Social Security COLA formula isn’t accurately measuring seniors’ expenses. Congress needs to adopt a fully developed CPI for the elderly (CPI-E) and begin work on the many Social Security expansion bills now languishing in the House and Senate.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Here are some of the key points in the 2016 Trustees Report:

  • Trustees project Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until the year 2034, the same as projected last year.  After that, Social Security will still have sufficient revenue to pay about 79% of benefits if no changes are made to the program.
  • Social Security remains well-funded. In 2016, as the economy continues to improve, Social Security’s total income is projected to exceed its expenses. In fact, the Trustees estimate that total annual income will exceed program obligations until 2020. 
  • Trustees project a .2% Cost of Living Adjustment increase.
  • The Trustees report there is now $2.81 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $23 billion more than last year and that it will continue to grow by payroll contributions and interest on the Trust Fund's assets.   

On Medicare, the 2016 Trustees report shows slowing the growth of health care costs has improved Medicare’s Trust Fund

  • Medicare Part B premiums are projected to increase by only a very small amount for about 70 percent of beneficiaries in 2017 from $104.90 to $107.60. The standard monthly premium is projected to increase from $121.80 to $149.00 while the annual deductible is projected to increase from $166 to $204 for all beneficiaries.
  • Medicare solvency remains greatly improved thanks to passage of healthcare reform, with the program paying full benefits until 2028, 11 years later than was projected prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act. However, this is two years earlier than projected in 2015.
You can also read: 

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's comments

The Social Security Trustees Report 

The Medicare Trustees Report 

The Economics Policy Institute also has a terrific description of the political spin which always accompanies the release of these reports.  

GOP Appropriators Want to Eliminate Funding for Medicare SHIP Programs

 

Each day 10 thousand Americans become eligible for Medicare.  The aging of the baby boom generation certainly isn’t a surprise to anyone and yet, instead of boosting programs to serve this increased need, Republican Congressional leaders continue to slash and now eliminate programs designed to help millions of aging Americans and their families. 

The latest target is one of the nation’s most effective consumer resources for seniors, the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

“The SHIP network provides critical information upon which people with Medicare rely to make informed decisions about their coverage options and enrollment decisions,” says Judith A. Stein, Executive Director, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc. “The SHIPs are critical to providing assistance with these increasingly complicated choices. People with Medicare and their families from all over the country depend on SHIPs as the key source of unbiased guidance.” 

Incredibly, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a Fiscal Year 2017 budget appropriations bill that completely eliminates the $52.1 million in funding for SHIP. 

“Senate appropriators have turned their backs on a growing number of people who will need SHIP services to navigate the complexities of Medicare coverage by proposing to eliminate program funding. This kind of penny-wise, pound-foolish lawmaking will threaten the economic security of millions of Medicare beneficiaries and their families.”…Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

“Understanding the complexities and decisions required for Medicare is an overwhelming, isolating experience for seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers who don’t know where to get help. For millions of Americans, their only option for that help is their SHIP. If SHIPs disappear, there is no replacement for the critical services they provide. The loss of SHIPs threatens the economic security and the health of all current Medicare beneficiaries and the thousands who become eligible every day.”…James Firman, President and CEO of the NCOA 

"Eliminating SHIPs would leave millions of older Americans, people with disabilities, and families who need help comparing coverage options, appealing denials, applying for financial assistance, and navigating an evolving and increasingly complex program stranded—with nowhere to turn. With 10,000 Baby Boomers aging into Medicare each day, it is imperative that the U.S. House of Representatives reject this unprecedented, nonsensical cut."…Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center

In case you have any doubt about the need for SHIP services consider this:  today’s Medicare beneficiary must choose among more than 20 prescription drug plans, an average of 19 Medicare Advantage plans, as well as various Medigap supplemental insurance policies—all with different premiums, cost sharing, provider networks, and coverage rules. SHIPs also help beneficiaries resolve fraud and abuse issues, billing problems, appeals, and enrollment in low-income health assistance programs. In 2015, SHIPs provided one-on-one assistance to more than seven million individuals and in the past decade, the number of beneficiaries receiving personalized counseling from SHIPs has tripled.

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear horror stories of seniors and their families who face severe economic hardship and even bankruptcy because of a bad choice made in their healthcare options.  That’s exactly why SHIP is so vitally important.    

We’re proud to join a coalition of aging organizations including; The Center for Medicare Advocacy, Medicare Rights Center, and National Council on Aging (NCOA) to fight for a reversal of this outrageous Senate move to eliminate seniors’ access to desperately needed SHIP services.

We urge you to call your Senators and Representative and tell them:  Americans Need SHIP.

 

1-800-998-0180

Clinton vs Trump – What That Means for Social Security & Medicare

As Hillary Clinton declared victory after winning four of the six primaries last night, the Democratic ticket for President solidified.  While Donald Trump has been in that position for a while now, his campaign has now entered rough political waters...again. 

And so it will likely go until November...

Unfortunately, what’s lost as the media and political punditry focus on the horserace, who’s stuck their foot in it today and the inevitable mud-slinging that Trump has already promised to begin on Monday, are the important policy differences between candidates.  There are plenty of them, especially on economic issues impacting average Americans.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign ensured that issues of income inequality, economic security and fairness, social justice and boosting Social Security remained top of the political agenda.  He vowed to continue that effort:

“Our campaign from day one has understood some very basic points and that is first, we will not allow right-wing Republicans to control our government. And that is especially true with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate. The American people, in my view, will never support a candidate whose major theme is bigotry, who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims and women, and African-Americans. 

But we understand that our mission is more than just defeating Trump; it is transforming our country. The vast — the vast majority of the American people know that it is not acceptable that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. We are going to change that. And when millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, we will not allow 57 percent of all new income to go to the top 1 percent...

We will not allow Donald Trump to become President of the United States."

When it comes to Social Security and Medicare, the differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are stark. Clinton supports expanding benefits, while Trump promises he won’t cut Social Security. That position has given the GOP party establishment heartburn but Trump has repeatedly acknowledged the GOP can’t win by promising benefit cuts and so he’s not:

"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," Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed."  Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times

You know the Republicans also have to get elected, you do know that. And if you watch Bernie, and if you watch Hillary, they don't only want to not cut, they want to increase Social Security.” Donald Trump, Morning Joe, February 2016

And yet his policy staff says the Trump administration is open to “entitlement changes.”

“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

You can read more about the Trump campaign positions here, here and here.

Hillary Clinton has a long history of fighting the privatization of Social Security and Medicare, something Donald Trump supported in his first Presidential campaign. These days, that position alone is not enough but Clinton has also articulated a real plan to boost benefits, provide caregiving credits, lift the payroll tax cap and improve spousal benefits. She also opposes Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act which means seniors in Medicare would lose billions in drug savings, well-care visits, lower premiums and improved care. 

There will be many more months to draw clear comparisons between these candidates’ positions on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the Presidential campaign moves to the conventions and their platform debates

The National Committee’s SeniorVote 2016 will keep you updated and candidates’ accountable on their plans for programs which touch the lives of virtually every American family.You can sign up for email alerts to be sure the latest news comes straight to your mailbox. 

Speaker Ryan Releases Poverty Plan – Thankfully, No One Listened

In an effort to regain control of the GOP political debate, House Speaker Paul Ryan, unveiled the first of six policy papers, this one on reducing poverty, to prove the Republican Party has ideas beyond building walls and attacking judges.  Let’s just say, the event didn’t go quite as planned.  

Donald Trump’s latest racist attack ended up dominating the day, much to Ryan’s consternation and leaving many conservatives lamenting Ryan’s support for Trump in the first place:

“The Caligulan malice with which Donald Trump administered Paul Ryan’s degradation is an object lesson in the price of abject capitulation to power. This episode should be studied as a clinical case of a particular Washington myopia — the ability of career politicians to convince themselves that they and their agendas are of supreme importance.”...George Will

The Ryan agenda on poverty is already well known -- Trump’s is basically non-existent.  However, this political roadshow entitled, “A better way forward: Our vision for a confident America” was designed to put the Speaker in control of the party’s policy debate.  It is heavy on campaign-style rhetoric and purposefully thin on details, since Republicans in the House apparently couldn’t agree on them: 

“...the document focuses on painting a broad picture of a GOP-led social welfare system and the types of policies that could be created in the event a Republican is elected president. Many of the specific policy prescriptions aimed at addressing the problems identified in the paper were left out because members couldn’t agree on details such as how to prevent waste and fraud, according to aides.”...Washington Post

Of course, promising to eliminate poverty and providing the policy prescription needed to make that happen are two very different things.  While this document provides scant details, even the broad strokes echo the harmful approaches proposed in past House GOP budgets which shred the safety net and cut benefits.

“Consistent with that philosophy, the plan includes a bevy of policies designed to make it much harder for people in need to access federal programs: tougher work requirements for food stamps, housing aid, or cash welfare; eliminating benefits conservatives believe are making improper payments...eliminating funding for early childhood education lifeline Head Start; sealing off tax credits from some low-income families; and further allowing states to cut certain programs as they see fit.”...Think Progress

Proposals impacting seniors and families include:

  • Replacing benefits for children who receive SSI with “services” 
  • Blocking regulations that require financial advisors to provide counsel based solely on what’s best for their client rather than what’s most profitable for the advisor. 
  • Blocking the federal government from keeping the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation solvent. 
  • Reforming retirement security by loosening regulations and sending more of our savings to Wall Street.  There is literally zero mention of Social Security retiree benefits in the nearly 1,100 words written on retirement security. 

Social Security keeps millions of Americans out of poverty and contributes billions of dollars to our economy each year. You can’t have a serious conversation about addressing poverty in America while ignoring one of the nation’s most successful anti-poverty programs...that is, unless you refuse to acknowledge Social Security’s success in the first place. 

Because today’s roll-out event was largely ignored in favor of Donald Trump’s latest racist comments and this first campaign paper provides so few details, we want to provide some other sources with analysis of the GOP poverty plan Speaker Ryan has addressed in the past.  Hat tip to Media Matters for this compilation:

Paul Ryan: Federal Government "Does More Harm Than Good" When It Assists The Poor. During a discussion at CPAC 2016, Ryan and Bold Media founder Carrie Sheffield pushed a series of right-wing media-inspired myths. The two derided government assistance programs as "trapping people in poverty, by basically paying people not to work," and dismissed food and housing assistance programs started more than 50 years ago by President Johnson, commonly referred to as the "War on Poverty." Ryan also misleadingly claimed that "we basically have a stalemate on our hands" with regard to reducing poverty in the United States, despite 50 years of work and "trillions [of dollars] spent." [CSPAN3, 3/3/16]

CAP's Rebecca Vallas: While Paul Ryan's Talking Points "May Be Pitch-Perfect," His Policies Are A "Blueprint For Exacerbating Poverty, Inequality, And Wage Stagnation." The Center for American Progress' (CAP) Rebecca Vallas wrote that while "Republicans' sudden concern for struggling families is no doubt newsworthy ... unfortunately their policies remain nothing short of a blueprint for exacerbating poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation," in a January 7 Huffington Post blog. Vallas noted that "Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage at least 10 times," "has consistently opposed legislation that would help families access paid family and medical leave," and has proposed cutting "critical programs that help keep struggling families afloat -- such as nutrition assistance, housing assistance, and Medicaid -- all to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations." [The Huffington Post, 1/7/16]

NPR: Ryan Seeks To Weaken Food Assistance Programs That Have Kept Millions Out Of Poverty. In response to Speaker Ryan's push to weaken the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), NPR reported on December 29, 2015, that while Ryan claimed SNAP and other programs are "trapping people in poverty," the Council of Economic Advisers found that SNAP alone kept almost 5 million people out of poverty in 2014, the most recent available data, including 2 million children. [NPR, 12/29/15]

MSNBC's Steve Benen: Ryan's Policies Are "Brutal" For The Poor. MSNBC's Steve Benen explained on May 6, 2015, that while Paul Ryan claims to be "focused on poverty," his proposed remedies would be "brutal towards those actually in poverty." Benen added, "Ryan was, and is, perhaps best known for his far-right budget plan that cuts taxes for the wealthy by hundreds of billions of dollars, while slashing investments in programs that benefit working families." [MSNBC.com, 5/6/15]




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