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From the monthly archives: June 2007

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'June 2007'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

Remember Pensions?...Far Too Few Do

by Maria Freese, NCPSSM Government Relations
& Policy Director

Senator Tom Harkin has introduced Pension legislation, the Restoring Pension Promises to All Workers Act, which we hope will ultimately become law.

Social Security was never designed to be the only source of a person’s income in retirement – it was always intended to be one income stream out of 3 in retirement – the other two being income from traditional pensions and income from individual savings. This so-called 3-legged retirement stool is coming under increasing pressure.

Unfortunately, we all know that coverage in traditional pension plans is dropping as only about 20% of today’s workers in the private sector are covered by defined benefit plans. And although coverage in 401k plans is growing, the average balance in the 401k plans of workers in the last decade prior to retirement is only about $60,000. If it weren’t for the run-up in housing values – many workers would be facing retirement with few assets available to finance it.

Senator Harkin’s legislation addresses a number of inequities in our pension system. The provisions he includes won’t help everyone but for the people they do affect, his bill could represent the only thing standing between them and living a life of poverty in retirement.

For workers caught in the globalization wars who are pawns in the game of mergers and acquisitions, the Harkin bill could keep them from losing half their pensions as workers caught up in a recent Halliburton re-shuffling did. For widows and divorced spouses of federal workers, the Harkin bill would help take the gamble out of survivor and retirement annuities, closing several longstanding loopholes that wipe out the pension benefits of some spouses of federal employees.

While it seems as though these glitches in the pension system should be easy to fix because they are so egregious, in fact they are not. Getting them passed will take the commitment of someone like Senator Harkin who believes now is the time to finally right these wrongs.

The National Committee commends Senator Harkin for taking on this challenge. And we look forward to working with him to get the Restoring Pension Promises to All Workers Act signed into law.

Did You See?

There's been some some good coverage of Chairman Stark's introduction yesterday of important Medicare Advantage legislation. We're regular readers of the "Medicare Monitor " blog and Larry Lipman describes this legislation, designed to prevent these private Medicare Advantage plans from charging more than traditional Medicare. You can also see coverage from Stark's home district in the Inside Bay Area blog called "Political Blotter".

Also, here's another Medicare privatization primer if you're interested in more details about Medicare Advantage plans and the privatization of Medicare.

It's Broke...So Stark Says Let's Fix It

House Ways and Means Health subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) has introduced an important piece of legislation to prevent Medicare Advantage (MA) plans from charging seniors and people with disabilities more than traditional Medicare.

The Medicare Advantage Truth in Advertising Act would prohibit MA plans from charging higher cost-sharing. Stark says:

“Medicare Advantage plans don’t live up to their name. Though seniors and people with disabilities wouldn’t know it from the never-ending stream of insurance propaganda, Medicare Advantage plans charge more than traditionalMedicare for a large number of services – everything from home health care to hospital stays and chemotherapy drugs to durable medical equipment. The Medicare Advantage Truth in Advertising Act protects beneficiaries by ensuring they won’t face higher out of pocket costs in private plans than they do in Medicare.”

The Chairman's News Release also says:

"The bill would continue to permit flat co-payments – which private plans charge for certain benefits or services in lieu of deductibles or co-insurance in traditional Medicare – but those charges could never exceed Medicare’s charges.”

The National Committee supports this legislation because; as our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly says, beneficiaries aren't getting what they pay for with this privatized plan:

"Despite receiving substantial overpayments, private MA plans can provide inferior health coverage compared to traditional Medicare. While MA plans are required to cover everything that Medicare covers, they do not have to cover every benefit in the same way. For example, private plans may create financial
barriers to care by imposing higher cost-sharing requirements for benefits that protest the sickest and most vulnerable beneficiaries. Preventing private plans from imposing greater cost-sharing requirements than traditional Medicare would better protect beneficiaries from higher and unexpected out-of-pocket costs."

Here's another link to a Committe Chart detailing sample higher out of pocket costs in Medicare Advantage.

Will the Facts Finally Trump Fiction?

by Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO

How wonderful it is to finally hear the truth about what’s really happening with the privatization of Medicare expressed so clearly and persuasively in the halls of Congress. Specifically I’m talking about the House Budget Committee hearing on Medicare Advantage plans held this morning. As I testified to Chairman John Spratt and the rest of the Budget committee members today, our 4 million members and supporters are committed to the preservation of Social Security and Medicare.

At a time when Americans are being told we “can’t afford” Medicare and Social Security it’s ridiculous to continue paying private insurers billions of dollars in subsidies equaling approximately $1,000 more a year for each beneficiary than traditional Medicare currently pays. These insurance industry subsidies will cost taxpayers $149 billion dollars over the next decade and cut two years from Medicare’s solvency. These subsidies must go.

Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag and Mark Miller, the Executive Director of Medicare’s Payment Advisory Commission, offered compelling and indisputable evidence that the insurance industry has reaped the benefits of these massive subsidies yet there’s little evidence of the promised efficiencies and savings for beneficiaries. In fact, Medicare beneficiaries are paying $24 a year in higher Part B premiums just to fund excess payments to private plans.

Since the passage of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003, Medicare has been undergoing a transformation into a privatized program. This legislation is a weapon aimed at the heart of traditional Medicare. It was designed to accomplish the goal expressed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich – to lure seniors voluntarily out of Medicare so that it would eventually wither on the vine. The overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans the committee explored today are just one of the tools in the MMA to achieve this end.

I cannot overstate the damage these Medicare Advantage overpayments will cause to the traditional Medicare program if they are not eliminated. Ultimately, overpaying MA plans will shatter the risk pool that makes Medicare work. Medicare Advantage plans tend to attract healthier seniors because of their benefits. As more of these seniors are lured out of traditional Medicare, they leave behind the frailest and most vulnerable to pay higher and higher premiums. Also, as MA enrollments grow, so do taxpayer subsidies. Over time, this cycle will cause Medicare to become unaffordable – for both taxpayers and beneficiaries.

At a time when our nation is struggling with how to create affordable health care coverage for all Americans, it is simply incomprehensible to me why we would destroy the one affordable, universal health care system that already exists in Medicare.

Medicare Privatization Finally Hits the Radar

When the Bush administration first tried to sell the privatization of Social Security, the American people ultimately saw through the political marketing blitz and put a stop to private account plans designed to turn Social Security over to Wall Street. Unfortunately, by the time the President's Social Security privatization road show stalled out two years ago, the privatization of Medicare had already begun quietly and beneath the radar thanks to passage of the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act. Now seniors and taxpayers are paying the price for that privatization legislation.

With billions in subsidies going to the insurance industry, a substantial portion of which comes from premium hikes, and two years lost from Medicare’s solvency; many in Congress, the press, and the public finally understand what the privatization of Medicare really means. The Los Angeles Times has a good overview:

“Healthcare providers contended that the private sector was more efficient, so they could provide more for less. But as it turns out, the private Medicare Advantage plans provide more for more, costing the Medicare system 12% to 15% more than traditional government-run Medicare costs, said Maria Freese, director of government relations at the Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a Washington advocacy group. Eliminating Medicare Advantage plans, in which about 20% of Medicare recipients have enrolled, would give the system about two additional years of solvency.”

The Senior-Spectrum also highlighted the issue and quoted NCPSSM President/CEO Barbara Kennelly:

“The Administration’s goal is clear … to stack the deck in favor of a Medicare program run by private insurance companies allowing the destruction of the traditional program seniors have depended on for decades,” said Kennelly. “Congress must level the playing field, and it can start by eliminating these corporate giveaways.”

Congressional hearings in the House and Senate continue and we expect there will be legislation on Medicare Advantage overpayments later this year.
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