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From the monthly archives: February 2008

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'February 2008'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

Pulling the Trigger on Medicare

Congress provided even more evidence of just how flawed the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act is this week when the leadership was legally required to introduce legislation, which experts agree, is doomed to fail.

As we’ve reported here before, there’s no economic or budgetary reason for the arbitrary 45% trigger provision, which will require massive budget cuts in Medicare. This trigger really is nothing more than a political device designed to convince Americans we “can’t afford” Medicare while also distracting attention away from the real crises; our national debt and skyrocketing healthcare costs. Kaiser has provided a good roundup of news coverage on this trigger legislation.

On Monday, House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, as required by law, introduced the trigger legislation, in spite of its certain death in Congress. He told Congress Daily, lawmakers can’t ignore the growth in Medicare and Medicaid costs but:
"Unfortunately, the Medicare trigger is ill-suited to such a process”, he said. "I am very skeptical that we can deal with the issue of entitlements in a bipartisan manner in the current environment, especially since the current administration has made it clear that it is not willing to discuss all options."

Let’s review those options not up for discussion. The administration still refuses to consider allowing Medicare to to negotiate for lower drug prices as the VA currently does. Why? It will cut into drug makers’ profits. But that provision could save Medicare an estimated $600 billion dollars over 7 years. The administration also refuses to consider eliminating the $149 billion dollar subsidies provided to private insurers offering Medicare Advantage plans. Why? It would cut into insurers’ profits. But that provision could save almost $150 billion dollars and add two years of solvency for Medicare.

See the common theme here? Triggers and cuts that hurt seniors and the programs that protect them in order to preserve profits and new privatized markets that help industry prosper.

Is it any wonder then that seniors are anxious to pull their own trigger come November?

Promises, Promises...Sub priming Social Security

For years now, we’ve been encouraged to worship at the altar of “ownership”. Whether it’s sub-prime mortgages we can’t afford or risky Social Security private accounts riding the Wall Street roller coaster, Americans have been promised great things from an “ownership” society. As Providence Journal’s Froma Harrop wrote in a column this week:
How interesting that the buildup to the mortgage meltdown employed many of the same sales tactics as the Social Security privatization scheme. Resentment, fear, flattery and hype — plus scant details on fees and other costs — all went into the pitch.

And Harrop correctly draws yet another comparison.
If the folks now approaching retirement saw their private Social Security accounts suddenly lose 10 percent of their value — as have many conservative stock portfolios — we'd be hearing demands for a Social Security bailout on top of a mortgage bailout...As a taxpayer, I'm relieved that Americans who don't read their sales contracts and assume that prices can't fall didn't have an opportunity to hand their Social Security money over to Wall Street. This should be the deal: The workers may invest, spend or gamble their money as they please — but not before something gets taken out of their paychecks for a boring but reliable Social Security benefit that they can't mess with.

And that’s really the point, isn’t it? Social Security is reliable and guaranteed. It’s not supposed to make us rich; it’s designed to prevent us or our families from slipping into poverty during old age, disability or premature death.

Boring? Maybe. But it’s certainly better than the privatization myth peddled to American taxpayers by an administration determined to dismantle Social Security.

Stimulus Rebates for Seniors

The lottery always says “You’ve Got to Play to Win”. Well, in Washington the stimulus version of that is “You’ve Got to File to Collect”.

For millions of seniors who wouldn’t normally file a tax return, this year will have to be different if they want to receive the $300 to $600 in economic stimulus now available to them. The IRS has begun its outreach campaign and will work with the Social Security Administration to get the word to seniors. Here is an audio link to yesterday’s IRS briefing on economic stimulus payments.

The IRS recommends low-income seniors living primarily on Social Security use IRS Form 1040 or 1040A. For those with at least $3,000 in qualifying income, meaning not just wages but also Social Security and veterans’ benefits (but not SSI), they’ll need to report those benefits on Line 20a on the 1040 or Line 14a on Form 1040A.

Now, seniors who have already filed a return reporting less than $3,000 in qualifying income may want to file an amended return to reflect their Social Security benefits, in order to be eligible for the rebate. Amended returns should be filed on Form 1040X.

Need help? The IRS’s Volunteer Assistance Programs are located in neighborhood centers and even shopping malls. You can call 1-800-906-9887 to find locations near you. The IRS also has a program called Tax Counseling for the Elderly at 1-800-829-1040.

President Signs Stimulus Bill

So now what? The Internal Revenue Service will deliver rebate checks to those who qualify, starting in May. For the vast majority of Americans, they just need to file their usual 2007 tax return. But it could be a little trickier for some Social Security recipients and disabled veterans who wouldn’t normally file a tax return. They’ll need to file this year, even if they don’t owe any tax, to ensure they hit IRS’s radar. According to the IRS:
The IRS and Treasury will be working closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration along with beneficiary organizations to ensure that all eligible individuals know what to do to receive a stimulus payment.

The stimulus legislation also provided $31 million in addition funding to the Social Security Administration to provide staff and training to help seniors navigate the stimulus process.

The CCH group is a tax analysis firm which has provided a detailed description of the stimulus rebate and how the checks will be calculated. The Treasury Department also has a Fact Sheet describing the distribution formulas.

Unfortunately, scammers have already found a way to try and take advantage of seniors through a phone and email scam using the rebate at bait. The IRS never sends unsolicited emails and isn’t offering check “advances” so the IRS warns seniors to beware.

Stimulus and Seniors...Congress Gets It Right!

by Barbara B. Kennelly, NCPSSM President/CEO

Many a cynic said it couldn’t be done. But last night the House and Senate compromised on an economic stimulus package that improved with time. Thanks to the foresight and hard-fought efforts of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Senator John Kerry and others who took up the cause, more than 20 million seniors who otherwise would have been excluded will now receive stimulus checks.

When the talk of an economic stimulus plan first began, it was clear that once again seniors would be ignored in any Washington efforts to jump-start the economy. The same had happened in 2001 and 2003, so this administration’s blind spot to seniors really wasn’t a surprise.

But this year was clearly different. American seniors are sick and tired of policies that have left them with dwindling COLA’s, skyrocketing healthcare costs and massive budget cuts in programs they desperately need. They’re feeling the pinch of this economy as much as anyone so the suggestion that a retired person living on $3,000 of Social Security doesn’t need or deserve an economic boost as much as someone earning $70,000 was the proverbial last straw.

Congress heard from America’s retirees on this one because the fundamental unfairness of ignoring more than 20 million seniors in a stimulus plan, which was supposed to be “timely, targeted, and temporary”, could not be ignored. National Committee members visited, emailed and called their Congressional representatives. In all, there were more than 3,000 contacts to Capitol Hill made by NCPSSM members and supporters in a just a couple of weeks.

Grassroots efforts still work. Individual voices raised together can get Washington’s attention. Something we should all remember during this election can be sure your members of Congress do.
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