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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. 

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Ryan Says Trump Will Promote House Agenda -- You Know What That Means for Medicare!

No one was really surprised when House Speaker Paul Ryan lined up behind the rest of the GOP party leadership to endorse Donald Trump.  It’s also not too surprising that Ryan is confident Trump will support the Ryan/House agenda, regardless of his pesky campaign promises to leave seniors’ programs alone:

“We’ve discussed how the House can be a driver of policy ideas. We’ve talked about how important these reforms are to saving our country. Through these conversations, I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives. That’s why I’ll be voting for him this fall.”...Rep. Paul Ryan

Modern Healthcare says:

“Last month, I raised the question of whether Trump would follow the politically risky healthcare policy path Ryan has blazed on Medicare, Medicaid and other big issues.

The House speaker apparently has concluded that he would.

Ryan
 has spearheaded a series of partisan House budget outlines that would significantly restructure Medicare and Medicaid and sharply reduce federal spending on those two programs. The Wisconsin Republican wants to convert Medicare into a defined-contribution, voucher-style program and change Medicaid into a capped state block grant program. Some experts say the plan would impose significantly higher costs on seniors.”

Let’s not forget that it’s already been reported by sources in on the Ryan/Trump Capitol Hill meeting that cutting Social Security and Medicare was something Trump could “morally support”.  He just doesn’t think he can win if he says it.

“From a moral standpoint, I believe in it,” Trump told Ryan. “But you also have to get elected. And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.’ ”

Which also fits with the message his campaign staff delivered to fiscal hawks at last month’s annual Pete Peterson “how to cut middle-class benefits” soiree:

“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.

So, while Trump’s actual plans for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid remain ever-elusive Paul Ryan’s plans for these programs – which he apparently believes President Trump will deliver on – are very clear

“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.  Incredibly, the GOP budget also tries to have it both ways by counting the savings in Medicare since the passage of health care reform and then repealing the law that delivered those same savings. Seniors need to pay careful attention to this next fact: if the GOP isn’t stopped from repealing healthcare reform, Medicare beneficiaries would immediately lose billions in prescription drug savings, wellness visits and preventative services with no out-of-pocket costs, and years of solvency will be lost to the Medicare program.” ...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO.

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The Truth about Social Security’s Math Really Does Matter – Even in Washington

We don’t usually share this is the kind of “inside baseball” Washington story here but today’s a little different...

For months, conservative think-tankers who undermine the value of Social Security, deny the existence of a national retirement crisis and the need to boost benefits have been banging their drum for benefit cuts especially hard.  Why?  Because a scarcely reported CBO report on Social Security replacement rates (now you see why we don’t usually share these kind of stories) claimed Americans received more in benefits than previously believed or reported by Social Security actuaries.

For those who make a living advocating for benefits cuts, like the American Enterprise Institute’s Andrew Biggs, the CBO report was a golden goose.  His columns in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Forbes and more tweets than we can count proclaimed the retirement crisis is phony and not only are Americans receiving enough Social Security benefits, some receive more than they need.

Now, anyone who actually works with beneficiaries knows his claim doesn’t reflect the real-world.  Today apparently, the CBO agrees.  They’ve issued a statement that their December numbers were wrong...significantly so.  

“After questions were raised by outside analysts, we identified some errors in one part of our report, CBO’s 2015 Long-Term Projections for Social Security: Additional Information, which was released on December 16, 2015.

The errors occurred in CBO’s calculations of replacement rates—the ratio of Social Security recipients’ benefits to their past earnings. The estimates reported in December inadvertently included years with earnings below those intended amounts.

The corrected version shows substantially lower mean initial replacement rates for retired and disabled workers. For example, the corrected rate for retired workers born in the 1940s is 43 percent; the value CBO reported in December was 60 percent.”

Los Angeles Times columnist, Michael Hiltzik, has been covering this story including some conversations with 

AEI’s Biggs: 

“Via Twitter, he has now retracted the Forbes piece. He says retractions of the others are coming. [Update: Biggs says by emailthat he has sent a retraction to the Wall Street Journal. His Washington Post piece, however, didn't cite the original CBO figures directly.]

 Biggs told me by email that the CBO's recalculation "doesn't radically alter the way I view the adequacy of Social Security benefits or retirement saving." That's because he had argued for a different formula that he says still shows replacement rates close to the CBO's original figures.”

In other words, the facts won’t alter conservatives’ quest to cut benefits and if the formula being used doesn’t get the results they want, the CBO should just change the formula to fit the anti-Social Security crowd’s political frame. 

Welcome to Washington. 

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High RX Drug Prices Certainly Not News to Seniors

While Turing Pharmaceuticals Martin Shkreli’s decision to raise the cost of a drug 5,000% certainly got a lot of attention earlier this year, the fact that the high cost of prescription drugs in America continues to soar beyond the reach of many isn’t news to anyone who’s made a trip to the pharmacy lately.  In fact, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found a large majority of the public (72%) view the cost of prescription drugs as unreasonable.

The federal Health and Human Services Department has signaled they’re looking for a way to curb rising prescription drug prices.  They need to do so because rising drug costs have now overtaken a long stretch of stable premiums.  In other words, while Medicare has successfully controlled premiums those successes are lost when seniors in Part D continue to face growing prescription costs. 

“Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said his agency spent $140 billion on prescription drugs and that spending on medicines increased 13 percent in 2014 while overall health spending grew 5 percent.” ....HHS Airs Concerns About Rising Drug Prices, Congressional Quarterly

“Spending on medicines increased 13 percent in 2014, compared to 5 percent for health care overall, Slavitt said. It was the highest rate of drug spending growth since 2001.”...Obama administration sets stage for a debate on drug costs, Associated Press

One simple solution is to allow Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs which could save the program and its beneficiaries billions of dollars.

“The law that established Medicare Part D explicitly prohibits the prescription drug program from negotiating lower drug costs for beneficiaries. The major pharmaceutical companies adamantly defend this rule, contending that the higher prices are necessary to support the industry’s investment in research and development. However, a comparison of the prices paid by Part D with those paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other agencies shows that Part D could save billions of dollars through the use of additional negotiation techniques. Our analysis finds that the VA attains drug prices that, on average, are 48 percent lower than Part D plan prices for the top 10 drugs covered by the program.” ...”Price Negotiation for the Medicare Drug Program: It is Time to Lower Costs for Seniors,” NCPSSM Issue Brief

It’s time to hold America’s drug makers accountable. 

“Heather Block, a breast cancer patient from Lewes, Delaware, told the forum that her costs have been so high she could face bankruptcy if she beats the odds against her advanced disease. ‘Innovation is meaningless if nobody can afford it,’ she said”... Associated Press

 

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Will Congress Put Budget $’s to Work for Average Americans?

Passing a budget in Washington these days is uglier than making sausage. The next step (now underway), when Congressional appropriators actually decide where to spend those budgeted dollars, may be even worse.

As a reminder, the 2016 budget deal passed last month was far from perfect; however, it did:

·         Prevent a 19% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits that would have occurred in late 2016

·         Mitigate a 52% Medicare Part B premium increase for 30% of Medicare beneficiaries

·         Alleviate an increase in the Part B deductible for all beneficiaries, lowering it from a projected $223 to $167

The budget deal also provided for a roughly $33 billion increase in domestic programs. Many, like Older Americans Act programs, have been devastated by the sequester so loosening that budget noose should have been good news.

However, Congressional conservatives have very different ideas than Democrats of where those extra budget dollars should go. In a classic “guns vs. butter” battle, GOP appropriators propose less for domestic programs, like the Older Americans Act, and $8 billion more for the nondefense war account beyond the increase already requested by the President.  According to Congressional Quarterly:

“Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro, ranking member of the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, on Tuesday slammed the new, post-budget-deal allocation for the spending bill she helps oversee, which typically accounts for roughly one-third of all nondefense discretionary spending.

DeLauro said the revised discretionary allocation for Labor-HHS-Education is $5.2 billion above the fiscal 2015 enacted level (PL 113-235) of $156.76 billion, or roughly $161.69 billion. She said the bill should receive an increase of closer to $10 billion above the enacted level. The budget accord provided a roughly $33 billion increase to domestic programs above the sequester level, when a roughly $8 billion increase to the nondefense war account beyond the president’s request is included.

“I’m opposed to the allocation. The recent allocation is well below the percentage that Labor-H should have, given that Labor-H is 32 percent of the nondefense discretionary dollars,” DeLauro said.”

The Older Americans Act is the backbone of the nation’s home and community supports system, helping older adults age with independence and dignity by providing them with much-needed in-home support, meals, transportation, caregiver assistance and ombudsman programs to help protect residents in nursing homes.

The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, chaired by NCPSSM, is mobilizing Americans to call their members of Congress and ask them to do more, not less, for the growing number of older Americans by protecting aging services and increasing funding for the Older Americans Act and Elder Justice programs. Our seniors are counting on them.

USE OUR LEGISLATIVE HOTLINE

AND MAKE YOUR CALL TO CONGRESS

(800) 998-0180

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

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