National Committee President Max Richtman joined advocates and elected representatives on Capitol Hill today to demand that Congress adequately fund the Social Security Administration (SSA). Richtman, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bob Casey (D-PA) railed against Republican plans to cut nearly $500 million from the Social Security Administration’s operating budget in the upcoming government funding bill.
The agency has been woefully underfunded since 2011 and Social Security claimants have been paying the price in the form of reduced service and long wait times. Social Security’s core operating budget shrank by 11 percent from 2010 to 2017 in inflation-adjusted terms. This occurred even as 10,000 baby boomers a day reach retirement age. Congress has the ability to solve this problem, but has not signaled a willingness to do so.
The House-approved FY 2018 appropriations legislation would continue underfunding the agency, freezing SSA’s operating funds for another year. The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed an even more painful reduction of $460 million, nearly 4 percent of the operating budget.
At today’s event on Capitol Hill, Max Richtman highlighted the costs of SSA budget cuts to applicants and claimants:
“The result of this neglect is obvious. When workloads increase, and funding is cut, service suffers – big time. The money to adequately fund the administration of Social Security is there. But the collective conscience of Congressional leaders is absent. Time and again, they have knowingly cut the number of lifelines available to workers, retirees, the disabled and their families.” – Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 1/18/18
In fact, some 10,000 disabled Americans died last year waiting for a Social Security disability hearing. That shameful figure alone should be a compelling enough argument for restoring SSA’s funding to adequate levels. Budget cuts have forced SSA to close more than 60 field offices across the country, reducing in-person access to services. The average wait time on SSA’s toll-free number is 18 minutes. The average national wait time for a disability hearing exceeded 600 days in 2017. Ironically, these service cuts come at a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers become eligible for Social Security every day.
“The enemies of Social Security in Congress are making a very bad situation even worse (by proposing cuts to SSA’s operating budget.) They want to make it impossible to effectively administer the program, and ultimately want to destroy Social Security.” – Senator Bernie Sanders, 1/18/18
“America made a promise to Social Security beneficiaries. America must honor its promise and that means no cuts to the Social Security Administration. We must make sure that seniors, the disabled, and survivors of beneficiaries receive the benefits they are entitled to.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 1/18/18
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) decried the majority party’s “maniacal obsession” with cutting costs “in the most pernicious way,” making it harder for the Social Security Administration to carry out its mission.
SSA is funded through workers’ Social Security payroll contributions and not from general revenue. The agency is one of the most efficient in the entire federal government, spending less than 1% of its revenue on administrative costs. Congress is wrong to leave the agency so grossly underfunded, but some lawmakers may have a hidden agenda in letting SSA languish.
“Starving the Social Security Administration’s administrative funding is not only pennywise and pound foolish, it also amounts to a backdoor way to dismantle Social Security by eroding the public’s confidence in the program.” – Max Richtman, 1/18/18
It is not outrageous to suggest that the budget-induced aggravation and delay confronting claimants would, indeed, undercut public support for Social Security, smoothing the way for actual benefit cuts later.
The retired, disabled and survivor constituents of members of Congress deserve better. That’s why the National Committee urges Congress to reject the Senate Appropriations Committee’s $460 million cut and instead increase Social Security’s operating budget so it can do its job for the American people: a job they deserve, and as it happens, a job for which they have pre-paid.
Many of us have loved ones who’ve heard those dreaded words “Medicare won’t approve any more physical therapy (or occupational therapy or speech therapy) for you this year” – or have been told the same thing ourselves. Whether recovering from a stroke, heart attack, serious fall or myriad other conditions, few things are more frustrating for convalescing seniors than being informed they have hit a coverage limit in the midst of medically necessary therapy.
Congress imposed caps on outpatient therapies for Medicare Part B beneficiaries in 1997 as part of the Balanced Budget Act. Since then, the National Committee and other Medicare advocates have been shouting from the rooftops that therapy caps are bad policy.
Realizing the hardship these caps would cause patients, subsequent Congresses enacted – and continually renewed – an exceptions process for exceeding the caps. Under this process, beneficiaries could get coverage for therapy beyond the caps until they hit a higher threshold (currently $3700 per year), after which Medicare would manually review every claim before deciding whether to pay.
However, the current Congress failed to extend the exceptions process, meaning that as of January 1st, all Medicare beneficiaries are subject to a hard, annual cap of $1,980 on physical therapy – and the same for occupational therapy.
In a letter to Congress, the Legislative Council of Aging Organizations (of which the National Committee is a member) says the therapy caps are random – and harmful.
“These arbitrary caps are aimed at federal cost-savings rather than providing clinically appropriate service and disproportionately impact the most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries who require ongoing therapy services.” – LCAO letter to Congress
Christina Metzler, Chief Public Affairs Officer at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), says Congress has left the Medicare community in the lurch by failing to at least renew the exceptions process:
“Consumers and practitioners are in a very difficult spot right now. While few people will hit the cap right away, if you have a severe injury or are just getting out of the hospital, your outpatient visits are going to start piling up.” – Christina Metzler, AOTA, 1/5/18
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued zero guidance for providers or patients on how to handle the situation, opening the door for potential confusion and denial of proper care.
Ironically, there already is a bipartisan solution to this problem. Last fall, Republicans and Democrats on key Senate and House committees agreed on a policy to make the exceptions process permanent – and less onerous for patients and providers.
As Metzler describes it, the bipartisan policy would result in:
*Elimination of therapy caps
*A nimbler process for obtaining coverage beyond cost thresholds
*Greater clarity for beneficiaries and providers
“The benefit of this approach is that there are no caps. Instead, we’d have a new and different methodology for documenting and reviewing therapy claims. Patients would be assured of a permanent policy, and we wouldn’t be in a situation of confusion where beneficiaries and providers are in the dark.” – Christina Metzler, AOTA, 1/5/18
The National Committee, AOTA, and other advocacy groups are calling on Congress to attach the bipartisan measure to pending legislation without delay. Some Hill-watchers believe that reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding is the most likely vehicle. (Congress would have to act on CHIP by January 19th before some states run out of money for children’s health insurance.)
“Anything less than a permanent fix that finally allows patients to receive medically necessary therapies without interruption or financial worry would be a disservice to everyone who relies on Medicare.” – National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman, 1/8/18
“Congressional Republicans have just pulled off the biggest heist in American history – transferring trillions of dollars of wealth to the rich and profitable corporations at the expense of working and middle class Americans. By ramming this ill-considered legislation through Congress in a reckless manner, GOP members of Congress put partisanship over people and donors over constituents. Last-minute revisions designed to woo holdout Senators – including a change benefitting real estate moguls like President Trump – tilted the bill even further toward wealthy elites.
It is wrong to ask the poor, the working class, and elderly to pay for tax breaks for the rich and powerful, which is exactly what the Trump/GOP tax bill will do. The tax cuts will explode the federal debt by at least $1.5 trillion, laying the groundwork for an all-out effort to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have already promised as much in recent public statements. Blowing up the debt for tax cuts, then claiming that there’s no choice but to cut benefits for seniors is the height of hypocrisy. As proof of Republicans’ intent, the 2018 GOP budget resolution slashes nearly $500 billion from Medicare and more than $1 trillion from Medicaid.
The bill’s repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate will result in 13 million Americans losing coverage, and an average $1,500 hike in health insurance premiums for older adults aged 50-64. Adopting the miserly “Chained CPI” inflation index for calculating tax brackets and deductions could easily creep into the formula for determining Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), which would cost retirees thousands of dollars in the long run. Unfortunately, the pleas of advocates and everyday Americans demanding that Congress abandon this cynical legislation has fallen on deaf ears. But it’s a hollow victory for the GOP. While the perpetrators of the tax scam may be popping the champagne today, next November they surely will see that voters have declared the party’s over.”
(Updated 12/15/17 2:45pm)
The tax bill that has emerged from closed-door negotiations between House and Senate Republicans remains deeply harmful to the working class, the elderly, and the sick. The only good news is that the bill retains the medical expense deduction which so many older Americans rely upon. The rest is bad news. The latest version of the bill:
*Triggers an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare.
*Blows a $1.5 trillion hole in the federal debt, inviting future cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
*Zeroes-out the tax penalty for the Obamacare coverage mandate, which will cause an estimated 13 million Americans to lose insurance – and result in higher premiums for older adults (an average of $1,500 in 2019).
*Uses the paltry “Chained CPI” inflation index to calculate adjustments to tax brackets and deductions, which will not only result in tax increases, but could ultimately result in lower Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs).
At the same time, the bill continues to shower the wealthy and profitable corporations with trillions of dollars in tax breaks while providing scant relief for working Americans. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) summed it up this way:
“The American people are witnessing a master class in how one political party, relying on secrecy distortion and brute force, can muscle an unpopular, deficit exploding corporate giveaway to passage… This is the ultimate betrayal of the middle class.” – Senator Ron Wyden
And yet, Republican leadership forges ahead with its reckless tax scheme – by hook or by crook – ignoring fairness, fiscal responsibility, and the will of the American people. A Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday finds minimal public support for the GOP tax plan:
Only 16 percent of American voters say the tax plan will reduce their taxes, while 44 percent say it will increase their taxes and 30 percent say the tax plan will have little impact. The wealthy will benefit most from the tax plan, 65 percent of voters say. – Quinnipiac University poll, 12/13/17
A few GOP Senators are poised to either show Pavlov-style allegiance to their party or strong leadership on behalf of the American people when the bill returns to the Senate floor. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) remains opposed to the bill. (He was the sole Republican to vote against the Senate-passed version). In the space of barely 24 hours, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) flipped to a ‘No’ and then back to a ‘Yes.’
That leaves Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). She still has not definitively come out against the bill, even though it violates the principles she valiantly fought for during the Obamacare repeal debate – not to mention that leadership has broken all the promises it made to secure her vote. We can only hope that she will find her bearings again and declare herself opposed, as the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald urged in an editorial this week:
Senator Collins should not reward the tea-party right or President Trump’s Wall Street insiders by voting for a bill that does so much for so few who don’t need it. – Portland Press-Herald, 12/12/17Even if Senator Collins joined Senator Corker in opposition, a third Republican would have to come out against the bill. As next week’s votes in the House and Senate draw near, that is looking like an increasingly remote possibility.
As Republicans remain indifferent – or in denial – about the impact of the Trump/GOP tax scam on older Americans, seniors’ defenders are sounding the alarm. National Committee president Max Richtman joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic representatives in front of the U.S. Capitol today to warn of the dangers the tax plan poses to seniors’ retirement and health security. Richtman called the tax bill a “con game that should be called the ‘Washington two-step.’”
“Step one is cutting taxes for top-earning households and profitable corporations. Step two: use the higher deficits the tax bill will create to cut critical programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM president and CEO, 12/6/17
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) let the cat out of the bag when he acknowledged that Republicans will come after seniors’ earned benefit programs as soon as the tax cut passes. In fact, the tax bill will trigger an immediate $25 billion cut to Medicare unless Congress quickly waives the PAYGO provision of federal budget law. (Both Medicare and Medicaid – which helps seniors afford long-term care – are targeted for deep cuts in the GOP budget plan.) The tax scam also hurts older Americans by zeroing out the Obamacare coverage mandate penalty (which could result in higher premiums for 50-64 year-olds). It also imposes the paltry “Chained CPI” as an inflation index for taxes, which could later bleed over into Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and shrink badly needed increases in retirees’ checks.
Speaking on this chilly December afternoon in the nation’s capital, Leader Pelosi said, “It’s a cold day for seniors because of this GOP tax scam. It is an assault on the older Americans who built this country. Seniors are among the biggest losers in this legislation.”
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called the tax bill “the first step in the Republican plan to undermine the financial and health security of older Americans.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) observed that the threat to seniors from the GOP tax legislation “keeps getting worse and worse” and said the bill would have “cruel and dire” consequences. She slammed the House bill’s repeal of the medical expense deduction, which millions of seniors use to mitigate high out-of-pocket medical and long-term care costs.
For his part, Richtman castigated Congressional Republicans who laid bare their motives for transferring wealth to the rich and multinational corporations, while cutting programs for society’s most vulnerable. He criticized Senator Charles Grassley’s (R-IA) assertion that working class and poor Americans “spend every darn penny they have… on booze or women or movies.”
“In Senator Grassley’s world, the few uber-rich individuals who inherited millions of dollars are morally upright, but the same can’t be said for his constituents who don’t have enough to save for retirement.” – Max Richtman, NCPSSM president and CEO, 12/6/17
Republican members of a House-Senate conference committee are currently meeting behind closed doors to work out the differences between each chamber’s version of the tax bill. Leadership hopes to pass a final bill and send it to President Trump for signature before Christmas – perhaps the worst holiday gift Congress could possibly give to the American people. Seniors and their advocates are right to be concerned about this legislation, which is deeply unpopular with the public (only 29% of Americans support it in the most recent polling). After years of dreaming about slashing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, Republicans are now in a position to carry out their craven plans.