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2014 Social Security & Medicare Trustees Report

Hold the Rhetoric, Pass the Truth on the 2014 Trustees Report

This year’s projections come as no surprise to anyone who understands how Social Security and Medicare work. In fact, historically, the solvency date for the Social Security Trust Fund has fluctuated from a depletion date as distant as 2048 in the 1988 report to as soon as 2029 predicted in 1994 and 1997. On Medicare, each year since passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Trustees have reported the program’s improving solvency, this year adding an additional four years until 2030.  We should build on that success and continue reducing the high cost of health care system-wide, not just in Medicare.

This year’s Trustees reports prove, once again, how successful and stable Social Security and Medicare continue to be for the American people and the federal government.”... Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

Here are some of the key points in the 2014 Trustees Report:

·         Trustees project Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until the year 2033.  After that, Social Security will still have sufficient revenue to pay 77% of benefits if no changes are made to the program.

·         Social Security remains well-funded. In 2014, 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 2019. 

·         Trustees project a Cost of Living Adjustment increase of about 1.5% in 2015.

·         The Trustees report there is now nearly $2.76 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $32 billion more than last year and that it will continue to grow by payroll contributions and interest on the Trust Fund's assets.

With so little bad news to report in this 2014 Trustees report, critics have now shifted their attention to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which faces a more immediate challenge and requires Congress’ action for a reallocation.

·         Trustees project the Disability Trust fund will be depleted in 2016, the same year projected in last year’s report. This projected shortfall is not a surprise and Congress should reallocate income across the Social Security Trust Funds, as it has done 11 times before, to cover the anticipated shortfall.  Disability expenditures have increased primarily due to demographic trends.  When Congress took action in 1994 to address a shortfall in SSDI, it knew that it would have to take action again in 2015 or 2016. Unfortunately, some in Congress have politicized this anticipated shortfall and threatened to delay action in order to force cuts throughout the entire Social Security program.

On Medicare, the 2014 Trustees report shows slowing the growth of health care costs has improved Medicare’s Trust Fund.

·         Medicare solvency remains greatly improved thanks to passage of healthcare reform, with the program paying full benefits until 2030, four years later than the 2013 report. Health care spending has also grown much more slowly.

·         Medicare Part B premiums are not projected to increase in 2015. 

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Cutting Social Security & Medicare = Economic Patriotism?

If you had any doubt about just how stark the differences are between the Republican and Democratic approach to fixing our economy, these dueling letters between Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and GOP Senator Orrin Hatch should clear that up for you quickly.  At issue is the idea of “economic patriotism.”

First, some background...

There’s currently a loophole in our tax code that allows American companies to dodge paying taxes by renouncing their corporate citizenship, leaving operations here but claiming an overseas address. This legal tax dodge costs our nation billions of dollars each year.  

“The practice has become known as “inversion.” But what it really amounts to is desertion. And it could cost Americans tens of billions of dollars. There are 47 firms in the last decade that have exploited this loophole, according to new data compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. But it’s a hot topic again because at least a dozen U.S. firms are currently considering taking advantage of it.”...Center for American Progress

The President’s 2015 budget would make it harder for firms to reap the benefits of being an American company while simultaneously dodging their tax obligations by requiring a minimum 50% foreign ownership to avoid U.S. taxes (it’s currently only 20%). This week, Lew sent a letter to Congress urging quick action (okay, try not to laugh...) to pass inversion legislation.

“Congress should enact legislation immediately...to shut down this abuse of our tax system. What we need as a nation is a new sense of economic patriotism, where we all rise and fall together.  We know that the American economy grows best when the middle class participates fully and when the economy grows from the middle out.  We should not be providing support for corporations that seek to shift their profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

Sounds reasonable, right?  Not according to the ranking GOP member of the Senate Finance Committee who penned a testy letter in reply.  Not only does Senator Hatch reject the legislative fix offered by Senate Democrats to recoup the billions lost to corporate scofflaws he also redefines the idea of “economic patriotism” by shifting the target from known corporate tax dodgers to American families who depend on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program:

“I must disagree with the administration's position that we should, in the short term, enact punitive, retroactive policies designed to force companies to remain domiciled in the United States.”

“My hope is that your definition of "economic patriotism" is not so narrow as to only include a particular business practice ... I hope that you share my view that "economic patriotism" includes a desire to fix the problems that are truly ailing our country and threatening the livelihoods of future generations. Non-partisan watchdogs and rating agencies have been issuing warnings about our ballooning national debt and runaway entitlements for years now. These issues represent the greatest threat to our fiscal and economic security...”

Welcome to Washington, where you’re an “economic patriot” if you turn a blind eye to corporate tax dodgers who owe this nation billions of dollars and instead take it from middle-class benefits paid for by average Americans , the truest patriots of all, who worked a lifetime building the economy that fuels those corporate profits to begin with. 

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Negotiating for Lower Drug Costs in Medicare Part D

USA Today has a must-read editorial supporting our position that Medicare should be allowed to negotiate with drug-makers for lower prescription drugs, just as the Veterans Affairs department currently does.

“Part D already costs about $80 billion a year and is on track to double by 2022 as benefits improve and Baby Boomers retire. For two reasons, a significant chunk of that money is wasted on overpayments to drug companies: When Part D began, millions of patients were shifted over from Medicaid, the state-federal program for low-income people that gets far lower drug prices than Medicare. Suddenly, the cost of providing drugs to the same people shot up. Congress barred Medicare from negotiating the way Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs do with drug makers to get lower prices. Instead, lawmakers insisted the job be done by private insurance companies.”

The fact that Medicare is forbidden in the law that created Medicare Part D to negotiate lower prices is no accident.  The drug lobby worked hard to ensure Medicare wouldn’t be allowed to cut into the profits which would flow to big Pharma thanks to millions of new customers delivered to them by Part D.  Even some Republican House members (this was a GOP sponsored bill), including Rep. Walter Jones from North Carolina and Rep. Dan Burton from Indiana, were aghast at the whole process:

"The pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote the bill," says Jones. "The bill was over 1,000 pages. And it got to the members of the House that morning, and we voted for it at about 3 a.m. in the morning," remembers Jones.

Why did the vote finally take place at 3 a.m.?

"Well, I think a lot of the shenanigans that were going on that night, they didn't want on national television in primetime," according to Burton.

Unfortunately not much has changed since 2003.  Roll Call has this wrap-up of what drug companies spent during the last quarter alone on lobbying Congress:

Five pharmaceutical companies have reported million-dollar increases in their spending on lobbying the federal government during the first quarter of 2014. Pfizer Inc., Novartis, Johnson & Johnson Services, Bayer Corporation, and Merck & Company have each boosted their lobbying of the executive and legislative branches.

Here are the top pharmaceutical spenders in the first quarter of 2014:

Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers (PhRMA) $4,680,000 – up from $4,050,000 in 2013 Q4.

Pfizer Inc. $3,190,000 – up from $2,090,000.

Novartis $2,580,000 – up from $920,000.

Amgen USA Inc. $2,560,000 – up from $2,330,000.

Eli Lilly & Co. $2,086,000 – down from $2,430,000.

Johnson & Johnson Services $2,110,000 – up from $860,000.

Bayer – $2,040,000, up from $1,000,000.

Merck & Co. $2,000,000 – up from $820,000

These are the same companies which claim any attempts to rein in their overpayments in Medicare will kill their research and development of new drugs:

“The drug companies say they must impose higher prices in the U.S. to pay for research that enables them to innovate and develop new drugs that save our lives. But that’s not true. Half of the scientifically innovative drugs approved in the U.S. from 1998 to 2007 resulted from research at universities and biotech firms, not big drug companies, research shows. And despite their rhetoric, drug companies spend 19 times more on marketing than on research and development.”  Healthcare for America Now

Meanwhile, in their opposing USA Today editorial big Pharma also argues that people like Part D so it shouldn’t be changed and, by the way, prescription drugs help people stay healthy.

“Surveys show 90% or more of Part D enrollees are satisfied with their coverage and say it works well. The use of medicines under Part D also helps to reduce spending on other health care services in Medicare, a fact that was recently acknowledged by CBO.”

Of course, access to prescription drugs helps people stay healthy but what does that have to do with whether or not Medicare should be forced to overpay for those drugs? Naturally, seniors like Part D.  Why wouldn’t they when before its passage they had absolutely no drug coverage?  That doesn’t mean Americans support paying more than they, or the government, should in order to pad drug makers’ pockets.  

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Seniors and Poverty

The Kaiser Family Foundation has produced a wonderful new video, Old and Poor: America’s Forgotten.  It was debuted at this week’s Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing examining the war on poverty and seniors.  We consider this a must-watch, must-share video.


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Celebrating Our Social Security & Medicare Successes

We've seen a constant threat to Social Security and Medicare benefits coming from Washington over the past many years.   While the war to preserve and strengthen these vital programs certainly isn't over (for example the President's budget, the debt ceiling fight, are still ahead in 2014), it's important to celebrate the battles we have already won. And they are many.  Thanks to our vigilant NCPSSM activists for their hard work in reminding Washington why the vast majority of Americans of all ages and political parties do not support cutting benefits. 

30 Years of Fighting and Winning to Protect Your Benefits

2013

A year of fiscal crises repeatedly threatened benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The National Committee successfully prevented a Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) cut and an increase in the Medicare eligibility age from being written into the fiscal cliff bill. We also defeated efforts to continue the two-year-old Social Security payroll tax holiday that was undermining the Social Security system. 

The National Committee launched a nationwide pilot to inform America’s same sex couples of their new rights to Social Security benefits after the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act decision in 2012.

Joining with other advocates, we delivered more than 2 million petitions to the White House protesting President Obama’s plan to cut Social Security benefits through the Chained CPI.

2012

NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, met with President Obama and other national leaders at the White House to talk about fiscal challenges facing the nation. He urged the President to preserve Social Security and Medicare benefits in ongoing budget debates.

We stopped a proposal to increase Medicare premiums from becoming part of legislation to extend the Social Security payroll tax holiday.   

2011

The Congressional “Super Committee” hoped to solve the federal debt crisis by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but thanks to our lobbying efforts, a national ad campaign and the work of our grassroots activists, the Super Committee adjourned without reaching consensus on any plan to cut benefits.                                             

The National Committee helped win the battle to save traditional Medicare from the House Budget Committee Chairman’s dangerous proposal to privatize the program.  Privatization benefits insurance companies at your expense, making it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor while cutting prescription drug, preventive care and nursing home benefits.

For the third time in over a decade, we successfully protected Social Security and Medicare funds from being cut by a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment. Your signed petitions and letters along with our grassroots opposition helped turn the tide against this harmful amendment. 

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare launched the largest grassroots mobilization and media campaign in its long history of defending  programs vital to millions of Americans.  Millions of Americans engaged Congress and we successfully fought back against benefits cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

2010

NCPSSM fought to ensure Medicare was improved and strengthened as part of the Affordable Care Act by lowering beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs and closing the Part D prescription drug “donut hole” and making preventive services available to people with Medicare for free.

2009

Seniors received stimulus checks as part of the federal stimulus plan thanks to our successful lobbying efforts.  The initial proposal for the Recovery and Reinvestment Act targeted all workers, but excluded non-employed seniors. Seniors were included in the final bill.  This time seniors were not required to complete any IRS filings and automatically received checks.

2008

We led the battle to stop the harmful “Medicare Trigger” that would have imposed an arbitrary 45 percent cap on the government’s funding of Medicare.  And we achieved victory, although temporary, convincing Congress to postpone this harmful provision of the Medicare Modernization Act.

The National Committee helped persuade Congress to pass the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA), which reduced taxpayer handouts to private Medicare plans, improved benefits for mental health and averted a 10.6 percent cut in fees to physicians who treat Medicare patients, helping to preserve beneficiary access to doctors and other practitioners.

2007

NCPSSM lobbied Congress to strengthen Medicare.  The House ultimately passed legislation strengthening Medicare for future generations and correcting many of the flaws in the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.

We fought against harmful budget cuts at the Social Security Administration (SSA) and ultimately convinced Congress to increase funding levels and thereby prevent massive furloughs at the SSA.  Those increased funds averted office closures all over the nation in 2007.  After continued intense lobbying, Congress approved funding for Fiscal Year 2008 at $451 million over the previous year’s level, helping speed up disability reviews.

2005 & 2006

The National Committee successfully mobilized to stop the most serious attempt ever to partially privatize Social Security, flooding Capitol Hill with petitions and letters to Congress and the White House reaffirming seniors’ rejection of private Social Security accounts.  Town hall meetings, Capitol Hill briefings, television appearances and our member-supported media campaign also helped erode and reverse lawmakers’ support for privatization legislation.  (Today, we continue to hold the line on privatization for the 23rd consecutive year!)

2005

NCPSSM launched an aggressive campaign to protect Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) from soaring Medicare out-of-pocket costs.  Under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, annual increases in Medicare deductibles have joined premiums in being indexed to rising health care inflation, and out-of-pocket costs will eventually consume nearly half of the average Social Security benefit check.  Our campaign was successful in bringing Congress’ attention to this critical and growing issue, but we need to fight even harder to push Congress to take corrective action.

2004

Overwhelming grassroots support from National Committee activists helped save Social Security funds from being cut under a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment.  With appeals from 1.4 million National Committee members and supporters, the Constitutional Amendment was pulled from consideration before a scheduled vote in the House Judiciary Committee!

2003

Millions of NCPSSM volunteers fought to prevent the full privatization of Medicare by helping defeat a dangerous House bill creating a Medicare voucher system. The misguided Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 was passed in its place and we continue the fight to fix that flawed legislation.  To date, millions of our members have signed letters and petitions to Congress urging immediate, “corrective” Medicare bills to make prescription drugs affordable and available to all seniors. 

2000

For seniors who have reached ‘normal retirement age,’ the National Committee was instrumental in earning the unlimited right to work without losing some of their Social Security benefits.  In large part because of our efforts, the Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act was passed and signed into law on April 7, 2000.

NCPSSM proudly coordinated a coalition of senior organizations’ efforts to reauthorize the Older Americans Act (OAA), ensuring continued funding for a variety of state and local programs, including meals programs, in-home support services, pension counseling programs and jobs programs for seniors.  We were successful in getting this program reauthorized again in 2006.


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Pamela Causey
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Causeyp@ncpssm.org(202) 216-8378
(202) 236-2123 cell

Kim Wright
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Wrightk@ncpssm.org
(202) 216-8414

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