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New Election Website Designed for Seniors Launches Today

As Primary Season Gets Underway, SeniorVote2016

Provides Timely, Comprehensive and Important Resources for Voters

Whose Futures Depend on Social Security & Medicare

The 2016 election for the White House and Congress will be expensive, combative and extremely important for the future of generations of older Americans. Literally millions of American families are impacted by decisions made in Washington on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid yet these issues remain on the back-burner for many political candidates. To help arm voters with the facts, the National Committee has launched SeniorVote2016.org as a one-stop, easy to use source of information on the 2016 campaign. 

SeniorVote2016’s Candidate Watch provides easy-to-use interactive graphics showing the candidates’ campaign positions and plans for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with links to additional interviews and statements about these vital programs.  The Reading Room offers details of current legislative proposals which would impact American’s retirement and health security including questions voters can ask candidates about where they stand on issues such as: turning Medicare into a voucher program, cutting Medicare to fund other programs, raising the Social Security retirement age, cutting benefits through adoption of the Chained CPI and creation of a cost of living adjustment for seniors (CPI-E).  Visitors to SeniorVote2016 can also Take Action directly from the website by pledging to vote and engaging on social media with other Social Security and Medicare activists. 

In addition to the roll out of SeniorVote2016, the National Committee has launched a daily email news digest, providing readers with the latest media coverage on the campaigns and the issues. “Your Morning Read” will have a summary of the important need-to-know stories voters will value as they determine which candidates are most committed to preserving and strengthening America’s most successful programs. 


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The GOP Poverty Solution...Do Less and the Poor Will Do Better?!?

In 2014, 46.7 million people (14.8%) were living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. The poverty rate for people aged 65 and older was lower, at 10%, thanks to the success of earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare.  In spite of these programs’ undeniable success in providing improved income and health security for older Americas, GOP leaders in Congress and most running for President, continue to target Social Security and Medicare for cuts. They also have supported cuts to other vital safety net programs serving America’s poor.  

While this weekend’s GOP Poverty forum may have signaled a shift to softer rhetoric on poverty (an issue that has seldom been addressed by Republican candidates, so far) there’s no sign that their policy prescriptions have changed at all. 

Robert Greenstein is the founder and President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and provides this Huffington Post analysis of the GOP’s primary poverty proposal:

Our analysis suggests Paul Ryan's "Opportunity Grant" proposal carries substantial risk of increasing poverty, rather than reducing it, for the following reasons:
  • Although Speaker Ryan has described the proposal as maintaining the same overall funding for anti-poverty programs, that would be a practical impossibility. 
  • Funds would likely be shifted away from direct assistance to needy families.
  • The proposal would jeopardize basic nutrition assistance for poor children, which research has shown reduces child malnutrition and improves children's long-term prospects.
  • Not only would food assistance funding likely decline, but total funding to assist low-income families would likely decline as well.
  • History shows that when federal policymakers merge programs into a broad block grant, federal funding typically declines over time, often dramatically.”
Economist Jared Bernstein says: 
“This is merely a gussied up version of “if your only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” The idea, and Ryan’s budgets very much underscore this point, is that we can help the poor more by doing less for them.
The evidence points strongly in the opposite direction. As CBPP’s Arloc Sherman noted yesterday (and Ben Spielberg and I have explained in detail), a large and growing body of high-quality research...shows that the impact of income support and safety net programs like SNAP and Medicaid do not just occur upon receipt and immediately fade away. They have important, positive long-term benefits for children.  Next, the idea that liberal policies have failed is belied by…you know…data.”

Paul Ryan’s long-held and often-expressed Ayn Randian view of every man for himself and claims that federal safety-net programs (including earned benefits in Social Security, Medicare) only provide a “hammock” for the “dependency culture” of “makers and takers” remain as the core value that fuels the GOP approach to poverty.  Although, Speaker Ryan now acknowledges his “maker-taker” rhetoric was a mistake, that clearly hasn’t moderated his policy approach.  

“Under his “Opportunity Grant” proposal, Ryan has proposed converting a number of programs to state block grants, a decision that nonpartisan analysis suggests would reduce families’ ability to access key programs such as nutrition and housing assistance. In crafting this idea, Ryan and other conservatives often point to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program as a model—even though it does very little to mitigate poverty and hardship and is unresponsive to recessions.
Furthermore, in their most recent congressional budgets, Republicans obtained two-thirds of their cuts from programs helping low- and moderate-income families, while channeling additional resources towards tax cuts for the wealthy.” The Nation

The GOP/Ryan budgets have all been characterized by tax cuts for the wealthy, program cuts for the poor and turning Medicare into “Coupon Care.”

“Once again, the House GOP’s budget would privatize Medicare with a voucher plan, leaving seniors and the disabled – some of our most vulnerable Americans – hostage to the whims of private insurance companies.  Over time, this will end traditional Medicare and make it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor.  Vouchers will not keep up with the increasing cost of health insurance… that is why seniors will pay more.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
The GOP/Ryan Budget: 
  • Ends the Medicaid joint federal/state financing partnership and replacing it with fixed dollar amount block grants, giving states less money than they would receive under current law. 

  • Repeals Medicaid expansion. Since 2014, states have had the option to receive federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage. Over half of the states have expanded their Medicaid programs, and others will likely do so in the future.  Repealing this option would result in at least 14 million people losing their Medicaid coverage and state Medicaid programs would lose a total of $900 billion over 10 years. 

  • Cuts Medicare by $431 billion over ten years.  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 Medicare cost-sharing in addition to out-of-pocket costs.

Talking about poverty in America is a welcome first step from the Republican candidates; however, talk is cheap if action is just more of the same benefit cuts to pay for tax cuts.  

 

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Why 2016 Will Be a Defining Moment for the Future of America’s Retirement Safety Net

By Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO 

Originally on Huffington Post

Saving for retirement continues to be a significant challenge for millions of workers still searching for economic stability in this post-recession era. What’s worse is it will likely become much more difficult if Congress adopts the privatization, benefit cutting and cost-shifting plans the GOP Presidential candidates’ propose for Social Security and Medicare. Before we look at what some of these plans would mean for generations of retirees and their families, it’s important to understand what the current retirement crisis actually looks like for the average American.

Retirement USA reports the gap between what Americans need to retire and what they actually have is $7.7 trillion. In fact, about half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings and a third of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement. Unfortunately, the median retirement account balance is a puny $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. Contrary to the political rhetoric that all Americans are living longer, the truth is high income men have gained 8 years of life expectancy while low income men have seen virtually no change. White men also live about 12% longer at age 65 than black men. At the same time, a survey of older people in 11 countries finds that U.S. adults are sicker than their counterparts abroad, and are more likely to have problems paying their medical bills and getting needed healthcare. Unfortunately, America’s retirement crisis has earned almost as many “deniers” as the climate change issue.  We can’t continue turning a blind eye to the millions of American families struggling with how to ensure grandparents, parents and ultimately their children can age with dignity without impoverishing themselves.

Rather than acknowledge our national retirement crisis and propose policy prescriptions to improve the ability of average Americans’ to save for retirement and boost benefits for Social Security and Medicare, policy proposals of most of the Republican Presidential candidates do just the opposite – cut benefits and shift more costs to middle-class families. The gap between what Americans need to remain economically secure as they age and what these candidates propose is huge. This is why 2016 will be critical to the economic security of generations of American workers who can’t, nor should they have to, work until the day they die.

Just as we’ve seen from climate change deniers, many Republican politicians won’t even acknowledge the retirement crisis exists because improving the nation’s most successful federal retirement programs is anathema to their misguided belief that Wall Street should be handling your savings and for-profit insurance companies managing your health. When you look at proposals for Social Security and Medicare offered this campaign season, there is virtually no disagreement among Republican Presidential candidates. On one end of a very narrow political spectrum, Governor Christie aggressively attacked Social Security early in the race to prove his conservative bona-fides as a “truth-teller” and to show that he’s willing to tell average Americans that he plans to cut their earned benefits. On the opposite end of the GOP field strategically is Mike Huckabee. He’s taken a more populist tone in defense of Social Security and Medicare while also maligning both programs as federal “confiscation” and “pick-pocketing.” His actual proposals come from the same GOP political playbook: repeal Obamacare which would terminate the billions in Medicare benefits and years of solvency that comes with it, privatize programs, and replace Social Security’s funding with a regressive tax changing the program from an earned benefit into a welfare program.

The rest of the GOP candidates have staked out their own version of “saving” Social Security by slashing benefits and “improving” Medicare by shifting even more costs to seniors. As you can see in the interactive chart below -- based on the candidates’ public comments, written proposals and legislative record -- they have plenty to say about their plans to privatize, cut benefits and shift costs in Social Security and Medicare. The only slight exception is Carly Fiorina, who says she won’t detail her Social Security and Medicare plans until after she’s elected President. In other words, vote first and ask questions later.

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On the Democratic side, all three candidates have plans for Social Security and Medicare which illustrate stark differences between the parties when it comes to addressing America’s retirement crisis.  Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley would boost Social Security benefits in differing ways and none support privatization. As one the Senate’s most vocal defenders of Social Security and Medicare, Sanders has introduced legislation to boost basic Social Security benefits and lift the payroll tax cap so that the wealthy pay the same percentage of their wages as the middle class. O’Malley supports the same proposals. O’Malley and Clinton support creating caregiver credits in Social Security for those who take time away from work to raise a family or care for a family member. While Clinton has opposed lifting the payroll tax cap in the past, she now suggests she’s open to the idea. Clinton supports increasing Social Security benefits for the poorest recipients.

While it’s clear that the future of Social Security and Medicare would be radically different if GOP Presidential candidates have their way, the story doesn’t end at the White House. In Congress, Democrats have had their share of political successes and miscues in negotiations with GOP Congressional leaders. This year alone, there have been multiple attempts by Congress to use Social Security and/or Medicare as an ATM to pay for completely unrelated priorities.  Medicare sequester cuts have been extended into 2025. Then Medicare was cut again to help pay for the Trade bill. There was also a failed attempt this summer to fund the highway bill with Social Security cuts and let’s not forget that many Democrats have expressed support for the ill-fated Bowles-Simpson “Grand Bargain” deficit plan which would have been devastating for programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Sounding the alarm about these damaging proposals isn’t just about protecting the current generation of seniors. Cutting America’s most successful retirement income and health security programs at the same time younger workers are coping with stagnant wage growth, higher inflation, college loan debt, and an inability to save enough for retirement threatens their future financial security too. The 2016 elections will be a defining moment for whether America’s retirement safety net stays or goes. It’s critical that American voters of all ages demand that candidates for President and Congress – Republicans and Democrats – are held accountable for policies which will impact generations of American families. 

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UPDATE: Congress Funds 9-11 First Responders Without Targeting Medicare

The Omnibus Budget bill came out late last night and it appears Congress did the right thing.  It will provide about $3.5 billion for the vitally important World Trade Center Health Program, guaranteeing that more than 72,000 known responders and survivors will have access to health care for 75 years.  Another $4.6 billion will go to extend the 9/11 Victims Compensation Program for five more years. Huffington Post reports:

The major battles were focused on the question of how the bill would be paid for, with a number of the sponsors' offers being rejected. Ultimately the bill used funding that had been earmarked for other measures that were running into opposition. One of the funding streams used for the 9/11 compensation fund will also provide over $1 billion to compensate U.S. victims of the Iran hostage crisis, the 1983 attacks on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. That was a key goal of House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). 

Congress still has to pass the spending bill, but Republican leaders expect that to happen by Thursday.

As always, the devil is in the details and advocates are pouring through the legislation now to ensure there are no other “surprises” hidden there.  However, news that Congress will reauthorize the 9-11 Fund without using Medicare and Medicaid as an ATM (once again) is good news for our brave 9-11 first-responders and also millions of Americans and their families who depend on Medicare and Medicaid for their healthcare. 

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GOP Pitting 9-11 First Responders vs. Seniors & Disabled

Congressional Republicans are once again holding vital federal programs hostage in order to exact cuts they can’t get otherwise to programs like Social Security and Medicare.  This time it’s, unbelievably, America’s 9-11 first-responders who are being told the fund which provides health care benefits and compensation won’t be reauthorized without cuts coming from Medicare and Medicaid budgets to pay for it.

This year alone, there have been multiple attempts by Congress to use Social Security and/or Medicare as an ATM to pay for completely unrelated – yet very important – national priorities. Already this year, Medicare sequester cuts have been extended into 2024. Then Medicare was cut again to help pay for the Trade bill. There was also a failed attempt this summer to fund the highway bill with Social Security cuts.  Now, the absolutely vital need to provide for 9-11 first responders is being held-up because the GOP hopes to use that leverage to get nearly $3 billion dollars in cuts from Medicare and Medicaid. 

New York Senators Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) stood with 9/11 responders at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday.  CBS reported:

"They carried bodies, ran into towers and dug in the rubble for remains," Gillibrand said. "We're reminded that more police officers have died since 9/11 than on 9/11 and we're reminded how shameful it is that Congress has not passed a permanent reauthorization of the health and compensation programs."

Schumer said Democrats are optimistic Congress will reauthorize the programs, but said negotiating over it is not an option.

"To hear some of my colleagues use Zadroga as a trading piece, like some bargaining piece...the lives of our first responders are not a bargaining chip and can never be. You don't trade it...no way," Schumer said.

As if holding 9-11 first-responders hostage in order to cut programs serving millions of seniors, people with disabilities and the poor isn’t cynical enough, here’s the real kicker -- GOP negotiators are simultaneously pushing for $800 billion in tax breaks without ANY pay-fors.  Apparently, so-called “fiscal responsibility” only matters when it involves funding programs for average Americans.  As Sen. Robert Menendez, (D-NJ) noted tax cuts for huge corporations are exempt:

“While budget hawks have expressed concern about paying for it, Menendez pointed out that a group of senators is simultaneously negotiating a bill that would extend around $800 billion in tax breaks (for instance, it would extend write-offs for business investments and repeal a specific tax in the Affordable Care Act) -- and that would go unpaid for.

"I don't understand how the rules don't apply to large corporations that will reap billions of dollars, but somehow those rules are asserted when we are trying to take care of the men and women who responded on that fateful day," Menendez said. "We should accept our profound, collective responsibility -- not charity -- but responsibility to act on this legislation." ...CBS News

The bulk of the Medicare cuts proposed ($1.9 billion) would come from continuing the GOP trend of means-testing, ultimately converting Medicare into a welfare program in which only lower income beneficiaries receive full benefits.  Years of means-testing in Medicare, begun during the Bush administration, continues to erode the benefit for millions of seniors who contribute to the program yet who Republicans say should pay more and more.  Seniors who pay into Medicare and Social Security have earned their benefits.  Severing that tie and turning these programs into welfare is part of the larger political goal to undermine the programs over time and a disaster for generations of seniors who will depend on them. 

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