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From the monthly archives: May 2008

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

No Mystery in Medicare Marketing Abuses

The May 21st New York Times’ editorial on Medicare Advantage Marketing Abuses is our selection for this month’s “Networthy Award” for outstanding coverage of elder issues on the net.

Entitled “Medicare’s Much-Too-HardSell” this piece narrows in on the unavoidable truth behind the inexcusable fraud and predatory marketing practices too often used to sell private Medicare Advantage plans. The Times writes:

“The Bush administration has proposed welcome new regulations to curb the deceptive, hard-sell tactics often used to foist private Medicare policies on unwary consumers. Unfortunately, it has been unwilling to eliminate the root cause of the problem: the high subsidies that prop up these plans and make them so attractive to high-pressure marketers.”


“The worst abuses have been committed by predatory marketers selling the comprehensive policies known as Medicare Advantage plans. The government pays these plans 13 percent more, on average, than the same services would cost in the traditional Medicare program. The subsidies are even more egregious — averaging 17 percent above cost — for the so-called private fee-for-service plans within Medicare Advantage. All told, the unjustified subsidies will cost the government more than $50billion from 2009 to 2012. Small wonder that plans use high-pressure tactics to market these lucrative policies.”

Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly, commended the Times on its dead-on assessment in this letter to the editor:

“Rather than spending even more federal dollars policing private insurers in Medicare, why not remove the underlying incentive encouraging them to push these higher profit plans in the first place? How many dollars will we spend on investigations and enforcement for private insurers who want to maximize the financial incentives provided to them by Congress?”

Whatever it takes to Protect Medicare Advantage Overpayments

Once again the Bush administration is threatening to veto legislation which would prevent June’s scheduled pay cuts to doctors in Medicare because Congress wants to pay for it by trimming some of the billions of dollars in industry subsidies going to private insurers. Let’s’s pay cuts or industry subsidies?

For many it’s seems obvious that supporting providers should take priority over government giveaways to an industry already seeing record profits thanks to the privatization of Medicare; however, for the Bush administration the priority continues to be to protect this industry slush fund above all else.

Congress Now quotes our Government Relations and Policy Director, Maria Freese:

“Democrats need to get 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster,but without the support of Republicans like Grassley and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who both oppose MA cuts, it will be difficult for them to be able to meet this threshold, Maria Freese, director of government relations and policy for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said.”They're going to be lucky" to get 60 votes, she said.”

So, once again Congress appears ready to protect these outrageous industry overpayments ($150 billion over ten years) even though they shave almost two years from Medicare’s solvency, and force all beneficiaries (not just those enrolled in MA plans) to pay $36 per year in higher premiums. Even MedPac continues to recommend their repeal.

Oh yes, don’t forget why Congress is even debating this issue now. Doctors serving Medicare patients will also face payment cuts in less than a month in order to protect this giveaway to insurers.

Another Reason Why We Need Social Security

One of the most frequently used arguments used to promote private accounts is the promise that “you can do better” by investing your Social Security money yourself.

Problem is...for too many people, that’s just not true. A new analysis of nearly 1 million retirement portfolios show the majority of savers are making costly errors in their 401(k)s. The Associated Press reports:

"...69 percent have inappropriate risk or diversification of holdings and 36 percent have worrisome concentrations of company stock. In addition, one-third of savers aren't putting enough aside to qualify for the full company matching contribution. The problems are especially pronounced among young and low-paid workers... When looking at risk and diversification of investments, 38 percent of the portfolios had very inefficient or very inappropriate investments. That could range from a young participant with a portfolio that's too conservative to an older worker with one that's too aggressive. An additional 31 percent had somewhat inefficient or risk-inappropriate holdings. The remaining 32 percent had good balance in their portfolios.”
The study was done by Financial Engines, an investment advice firm. It’s President, Jeff Maggioncalda says:

"Unfortunately, our study found that those who need their 401(k) the most look to be benefiting the least."

That’s why the role that Social Security plays as a secure source of retirement income is so critically important, especially as pensions disappear and investments in Wall Street continue to ride our current economic roller coaster. Retirees need to save and invest for their futures; however, they also need the stable income Social Security provides.

Social Security Can’t Continue to Do More with Less

by Barbara B. Kennelly, NCPSSM President/CEO

I was on the Hill today testifying before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. At issue is legislation that requires the Social Security Administration to administer a national employment verification system. The National Committee has not taken a position on the underlying goals of any of the immigration bills before Congress. However, this employee verification issue demands our response.

I cannot say strongly enough what a serious disservice would be done to America’s seniors and others if Social Security was required to carry the burden of this enormous, costly and unrelated immigration workload. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost to SSA of one of the leading immigration proposals would be more than $1 billion in just the first year of amount equal to nearly 10 percent of the agency’s administrative budget. Experts have concluded that the E-Verify process, with its millions of notifications about mismatches of employee information...would result in a deluge of phone calls and visits to Social Security field offices around the country, swamping other crucial SSA activities.

The Social Security Administration is already facing significant challenges, primarily because of years of insufficient funding which isn’t keeping up with the increasing workloads. Chief among these challenges is a disability claims crisis. Disability cases are piling up and needy people are waiting years to receive their benefits. At the same time, SSA is facing the retirement of 80 million Baby Boomers who will also be expecting swift and accurate processing of their retirement claims.

Historically, the Social Security Administration has the government’s best reputation of solid service to its beneficiaries. However, the strains of recent years have taken their toll. I say enough is enough.

Here are some important links on this issue: CBO and GAO Reports on verification legislation, our National Committee Viewpoint on SSA funding, and my full Congressional testimony.

Shedding Crocodile Tears for Medicare

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt continues the entitlement crisis call, this time in an address to conservative think-tankers who’d rather see Social Security and Medicare just go away entirely. While using language like “drifting toward disaster” and “serious danger” to describe the program he’s overseen for almost 8 years, he conveniently ignores the role the Bush Administration has played in worsening Medicare’s financial condition.

It’s very hard to take these clarion calls very seriously when it was this administration that implemented and continues to fight to protect $150 billion in industry subsidies to insurance companies providing private Medicare coverage. These subsidies alone steal almost two years of solvency from the Medicare program. If Secretary Leavitt and the Bush administration are really worried about Medicare’s about putting that $150 billion back into Medicare rather than private insurers’ pockets?

Secretary Leavitt also expressed concerns there could be a generational divide on funding entitlement programs:
“The kind of division I worry about is when we begin to see one generation pitted against another or when you begin to see economic classes pitted against each other. Those are the kinds of divisions that have classically divided and undermined nations.”
No kidding. Maybe this administration should’ve considered that before making a generational divide and conquer strategy a key component in the President’s failed Social Security road tour three years ago. Lamenting your own strategy, so long after the fact is disingenuous at best.

There’s also an interesting discussion of Medicare and the Secretary’s remarks, from a beneficiaries point of view, at Time Goes By. It’s definitely worth a read.



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