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Seniors Tell Congress Medicare Isn’t Your ATM

 

 

Seniors advocates with the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee joined Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in a press event today to express their opposition to legislation that would cut $700 million from Medicare to pay for a slice of the Trade Deal now being debated in Congress. 

“Medicare is not the piggy bank for other programs. We’ve already seen what sequester has meant for the program.  We’ve written to Congress because there’s just not enough awareness on this issue.  Across the board cuts affects the integrity of the Medicare program.” Rich Fiesta, Alliance for Retired Americans Executive Director

“The use of Medicare cuts, 700 million dollars of Medicare cuts, to finance a program totally unrelated to Medicare sets a terrible precedent.  It’s not death by a thousand cuts but that’s where we seem to be headed.  I think it’s interesting that many of the same members of Congress who condemned Obamacare and decried savings in the Medicare program as cuts--savings which were, by the way, plowed right back into the program to provide preventive screenings, close the Part D donut hole and extend the program’s solvency--are now some of the same legislators who want to really cut money from Medicare to pay for an unrelated program.”  Max Richtman, National Committee President/CEO

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Task Force on Seniors are leading the charge against this proposal:

10,000 people a day turn 65.  We should be investing and expanding Medicare not stealing from it.  People have paid into this program and expect it to be there...not to use that to fund anytime we need money to pay for another program...Medicare is not the ATM for everything Congress wants to pay for.  Cutting this social insurance program isn’t the direction we should be going in. Medicare should not be the pay-for for trade deal. The best way to help workers is to stop trade deals that take their jobs...not cut Medicare to fund fixes.” Rep. Jan Shakowsky (D-IL)

“There’s going to be untold riches earned if TPP is enacted into law.  There’s no doubt about that. Great profits will be derived for large international corporations...it seems only logical that the multinationals should fund the costs of the Trade Adjustment Assistance. I can not abide this.  We’ll fight it with everything we have.”  Keith Ellison (D-MN)

Reps. Ellison and Schakowsky say many of their colleagues don’t even realize this Medicare cut was slipped into the Trade Assistance provision.  They’re raising the alarm but hope seniors and their families will also call and email their Members of Congress now since the debate is underway. 

You can do that easily from our Leg Action Center. 

SEND YOUR EMAIL TODAY!

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GOP Budget Plan: Even More Cuts for Seniors in Medicare

In keeping with every GOP budget passed over many years, benefit cuts for average Americans and tax cuts for the wealthy rule the day.  The Senate this week will pass the Budget Conference Report (it only needs a majority, which the GOP now has) including massive benefit cuts for seniors in Medicare.  

National Committee policy staff has laid out what this Budget bill means for seniors in our letter to the Senate:  

The conference agreement would be devastating to today's seniors and future retirees, people with disabilities and children due to the proposed changes it makes to Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.  While it proposes huge cuts to our social insurance safety net, the conference report would give massive tax cuts to the very wealthy. The conference agreement assumes the privatization of Medicare and achieves savings by shifting costs to Medicare beneficiaries.  Beginning in 2024, when people become eligible for Medicare they would not enroll in the current traditional Medicare program which provides guaranteed benefits.  Rather they would receive a voucher, also referred to as a premium support payment, to be used to purchase private health insurance or traditional Medicare through a Medicare Exchange.  The amount of the voucher would be determined each year when private health insurance plans and traditional Medicare participate in a competitive bidding process.  Seniors choosing a plan costing more than the average amount determined through competitive bidding would be required to pay the difference between the voucher and the plan's premium.  In some geographic areas, traditional Medicare could be more expensive.  This would make it harder for seniors, particularly lower-income beneficiaries, to choose their own doctors if their only affordable options are private plans that have limited provider networks.  Wealthier Medicare beneficiaries would be required to pay a greater share of their premiums than lower-income seniors.

The plan to end traditional Medicare requires private plans participating in the Medicare Exchange to offer insurance to all Medicare beneficiaries.  However, it is likely that plans could tailor their benefits to attract the youngest and healthiest seniors and still be at least actuarially equivalent to the benefit package provided by fee-for-service Medicare.  This would leave traditional Medicare with older and sicker beneficiaries.  Their higher health costs would lead to higher premiums that people would be unable or unwilling to pay, resulting in a death spiral for traditional Medicare.  This would adversely impact people age 55 and older, including people currently enrolled in traditional Medicare, despite the conference agreement’s assertion that nothing will change for them.

The conference report threatens to shift costs to Medicare beneficiaries.  S. Con. Res. 11 contains $431 billion over ten years in unnamed Medicare cuts.  Over half of Medicare beneficiaries had incomes below $23,500 per year in 2013, and they are already paying 23 percent of their average Social Security check for Parts B and D cost-sharing in addition to paying for health services not covered by Medicare.  When coupled with requirements to shift costs to beneficiaries in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-10), the unspecified Medicare benefit cuts included in the conference agreement would be burdensome to millions of seniors and people with disabilities.

In addition, the conference agreement calls for repealing provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would make health insurance inaccessible for seniors age 64 and younger.  Without the guarantees in the ACA, such as requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions and to limit age rating, younger seniors may not be able to purchase or afford private health insurance.

Repealing the ACA would also take away improvements already in place for Medicare beneficiaries – closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap, known as the "donut hole"; providing preventive screenings and services without out-of-pocket costs; and providing annual wellness exams.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently reported that since the passage of the ACA, over 9.4 million Medicare beneficiaries in the Medicare Part D donut hole have saved $15 billion on their prescription drugs, an average of $1,595 per person.  An estimated 39 million people with Medicare took advantage of at least one preventive service with no cost sharing in 2014.

The agreement includes reductions to Medicaid funding that would affect low-income seniors.  Medicaid provides funding for health care to help the most vulnerable Americans, including low-income seniors, people with disabilities, children and some families.  The conference report would end the current joint federal/state financing partnership and replace it with fixed dollar amount block grants, giving states less money than they would receive under current law.  In exchange, states would have additional flexibility to design and manage their Medicaid programs.  The proposed block grants would cut federal Medicaid spending by $500 billion over the next 10 years.  Giving states greater flexibility in managing and designing their programs in no way compensates for the significant reductions that beneficiaries, including nursing home residents and their families, could face by turning Medicaid into block grants.

The conference report also would repeal the Medicaid expansion in the ACA. Beginning in 2014, states have had the option to receive federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage to uninsured adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,242 for an individual in 2015).  Over half of the states have expanded their Medicaid programs, and some others will likely participate in the future.  The conference agreement would hurt states and low-income individuals by repealing Medicaid expansion, taking away $900 billion from the program over 10 years.  Altogether, S. Con. Res. 11 cuts the Medicaid program by more than $1.4 trillion over 10 years, compared to current law.

Moreover, the conference agreement puts 11 million severely disabled Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries at risk of a 20 percent benefit cut next year by reaffirming a House rule requiring legislation to address the financing of the SSDI program be accompanied by revenue increases or much more likely benefit cuts.  That’s why the National Committee urges the Senate to reject the House’s SSDI recommendations in the conference report and instead make a modest reallocation of Social Security payroll taxes from the retirement trust fund to the Disability Insurance Trust Fund as has been done 11 times in the past on a bipartisan basis.

The National Committee urges you to oppose the Conference Report on the FY 2016 Budget Resolution, which would be harmful to seniors, people with disabilities and children."

 

 

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Social Security Numbers to be Removed from Medicare Cards

It was one of the National Committee’s Legislative priorities this year and we’re happy to report that Social Security numbers will now be removed from Medicare cards.  As the incidence of identity theft has risen it’s become clear that imprinting more than 50 million benefit cards with Americans’ Social Security numbers on the front put millions at risk.  That’s why we supported legislation which would require the numbers be removed.

But it doesn’t come without a cost.  The New York Times describes the funding:

Congress provided $320 million over four years to pay for the change. The money will come from Medicare trust funds that are financed with payroll and other taxes and with beneficiary premiums.

In his budget for 2016, Mr. Obama requested $50 million as a down payment “to support the removal of Social Security numbers from Medicare cards” — a step that federal auditors and investigators had been recommending for more than a decade.

More than 4,500 people a day sign up for Medicare. In the coming decade, 18 million more people are expected to qualify, bringing Medicare enrollment to 74 million people by 2025.

Medicare now has up to four years to start issuing new numbers on cards for new beneficiaries and four more years to reissue cards for those already in Medicare. Social Security numbers will be replaced with “a randomly generated Medicare beneficiary identifier.”  The details are still being worked out.

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Decades of Bad Social Security & Medicare Proposals Rolled into One – Courtesy of Governor Chris Christie

Hyperbole -- fact twisting and sheer omission -- false truths presented by “courageous truth-tellers.”  None of this is really new to American politics.  However, today New Jersey Governor Chris Christie deployed all of these time-worn propaganda techniques to unveil his plan to cut $1 trillion in benefits (that’s $1,000,000,000,000) from generations of Americans who will depend on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. 

He says it’s all about “fairness.”  However, he proposes not a single dime of new revenue and has no problem with average Americans paying payroll taxes on all of their income while the wealthy do not. 

Apparently, slashing pensions in New Jersey to preserve his no tax pledge simply isn’t enough.  Now he hopes to do the same nationwide.  In spite of his promise to offer the GOP Presidential primary race something new, today’s comments were merely a recitation and doubling-down on the same GOP claims that our nation can’t afford to honor its commitment to America’s workers and future retirees. 

NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, sums it up this way:

“The Governor’s plan to means-test Social Security, cutting off some Americans and transitioning the program from an earned benefit to welfare has long been the goal of those who oppose social insurance programs. It seems the Governor acknowledges that his flagging Presidential campaign needed a jolt because today’s speech was far more about burnishing Governor Christie’s conservative credentials than offering new proposals that could help America’s workers and retirees. He certainly isn’t showing bold leadership by claiming we must cut middle-class benefits, while protecting tax expenditures benefiting huge corporations and the wealthy.  That’s been the GOP position for a very long time. Today Governor Christie joins a long line of conservative politicians who hope to convince voters they are “courageous truth-tellers” when in truth their goal is to dismantle the very programs which have kept millions from poverty.

The majority of Americans – of all ages, no matter their political party -- opposes cutting already modest benefits and is willing to pay more to boost the program. They understand Social Security and Medicare are not welfare programs nor should they be.  Getting any GOP Presidential candidate to acknowledge that fact takes true political courage. But unfortunately that’s not the ‘red meat’ the GOP’s conservative base expects to hear nor the truth candidates like Governor Christie are willing to tell.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

While he claims “no one” will talk about cutting benefits like he will, the fact is, the past decade has seen numerous attacks on the programs from Presidents, Presidential commissions, Congressional “Gangs of 6” and too many legislative proposals to even list here.  Senate Governor Christie is merely the latest in a growing list of GOP Presidential candidates who all promote the same “strengthen = slash” approach.  They tout their protection of poorer seniors while proposing benefit cuts, cost sharing and means testing that will impact millions of poor and middle-class beneficiaries.  Each candidate also follows the conservative-crafted playbook which promises current retirees (who consistently vote) will be protected from cuts, instead targeting their children and grandchildren (who aren’t thinking about retirement yet) for even smaller benefits.

 Many GOP Candidates – Same Social Security & Medicare Approach
  • Senator Ted Cruz supports privatizing Social Security, turning Medicare into “Coupon Care”, raising the retirement age and Medicare eligibility age, and cutting Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs).  Each of these proposals would cut benefits well below the current $1,200 average monthly benefit
  •  Senator Rand Paul has called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and supports allowing people to opt out of the program.  He also supports raising the retirement age and Medicare eligibility age, Social Security privatization, and raising seniors’ Medicare premiums and copayments.
  • Senator Marco Rubio supports privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age and cutting Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs).  He considers current benefits “generous” and supports the GOP/Ryan budget which turns Medicare into “Coupon Care”.

None of these candidates have expressed support for lifting the payroll tax cap so that wealthy Americans pay the same rate as everyone else or proposals addressing income adequacy for millions of beneficiaries of all ages.

Now, that would be a true act of political courage.

 

 

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Congress Trades Bad Deal for Doctors for Bad Deal for Seniors in Medicare

The House has passed the so-called "doc fix" legislation replacing the flawed reimbursement formula Congress itself created years ago to cut pay to doctors in Medicare.  The formula has never worked and Congress has had to vote to replace it year after year.  We've supported the permanent replacement of this flawed formula and still do.  Unfortunately, the legislation that passed the House today merely trades one bad deal for another.  And this time it's seniors who take the hit. 

 “Contrary to claims by supporters, on both sides of the aisle, this ‘doc fix’ does not impact only ‘wealthy seniors’. Millions of beneficiaries who depend on a Medigap plan to help pay their health care bills – no matter their income -- will be hit with higher costs. Given that 46% of all Medigap policy holders had incomes of $30,000 or less, it’s clear this deal impacts far more than the wealthy, as the bill’s proponents have claimed.  What’s more, Medicare beneficiaries will be forced to contribute nearly $60 billion in premiums over the next decade to replace the SGR.

No doubt, we’ll hear today that this ‘compromise’ Medicare doc-fix plan must be a success because there are concessions from all sides.  Unfortunately, that political trope is just as flawed as the SGR itself because it ignores the financial reality facing Medicare beneficiaries just as the SGR ignored the reality facing doctors. Trading a bad deal for doctors for a bad deal for seniors is not a legislative victory and it is a surprising move from some in Congress who have previously vowed to protect Medicare from cuts and seniors from cost-shifting.

 It’s no surprise that anti-“entitlement” lobbyists on Capitol Hill and their allies in Congress are celebrating this deal for the benefit cuts they know will ‘grow like an avalanche over time’.  That avalanche will be headed straight for American retirees, current and future, as Congress continues to push Medicare down the slippery slope of means testing, raising costs for more and more seniors, including the middle-class.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

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