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From the monthly archives: October 2009

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'October 2009'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

Part D Negotiation Will Save Billions

The House’s proposed health care reform bill (a merged version of three earlier House bills) has been unveiled today.  Newsweek’s The Gaggle blog has an early review of the main provisions: 
  • The change that will perhaps have the most impact on Americans is the expansion of Medicaid. Under Pelosi's bill, anyone earning up to 150 percent of the poverty line will be eligible for Medicaid. This is an increase on previous iterations─and the Senate bill─which only covered people up to 133 percent of the poverty line.
  • The bill includes a public option but not the so-called robust plan. Hospitals and providers will be able to negotiate their rates with the government insurer.
  • A surtax will be leveled on wealthy Americans─those earning over $500,000 for individuals or $1 million for families─to help offset costs. This differs from the Senate bill which relies on a tax on "Cadillac," or expensive, insurance plans. Medical-devices companies will also be subject to a new tax.
  • The bill removes the health-insurance industry's exemption from antitrust laws, which will no doubt upset insurers.
  • Like her Senate colleagues, Pelosi won't be offering a "doc's fix," that is, she won't offer a long-term solution to a problematic Medicare formula that causes reimbursement rates for physicians treating Medicare patients to decrease.
  • Medicare expenditures will be cut by approximately 1.3 percent, with the pharmaceutical industry bearing the brunt.
One issue important to seniors is the provision that allows Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices in Part D (which is included in the House bill but not the Senate Finance plan).  We’ve released a new report today, Price Negotiation for the Medicare Drug Program: It is Time to Lower Costs for Seniors,  detailing the $24 billion in savings possible if Medicare was allowed to negotiate drug costs.  That savings would be more than enough to close the Part D coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole” and address other deficiencies in the Part D plan.  Our report also shows that seniors in Medicare are currently paying up to twice as much for drugs as veterans who receive their coverage from the VA, which does allow negotiation for the lowest costs. We’ve compared the lowest prices obtained by private Part D plans for the top ten prescribed drugs with prices obtained by the VA for the same drugs.  The VA savings were substantially greater for all ten drugs; Amlodipine Besylate, Furosemide, Lipitor, Lisinopril, Hydrocodone, Atenolol, Levothyroxine NA, Hydrochlorothiazide,  Metroprolol Tartrate, Metformin HCL.  For example: 
  • Part D plans spend 99.7% more than the VA for the generic form of the hypertension drug Norvasc (amlodipine besylate).
  • Part D plans spend 64% more than the VA for the generic form of the most commonly filled Part D prescription, Lasix (furosemide).
  • Part D plans spend 28.5% more for the heart disease drug, Lipitor, than the VA.
 “This report shows that allowing price negotiation in Part D is a win-win proposition for Medicare and seniors because it shifts the focus back to providing the best prices to government and its beneficiaries rather than boosting industry profits.  It’s clear we can find health care reform savings in Medicare without cutting benefits; however, drug makers and insurers have a vested interest in protecting the status quo.  Reforming Part D must be a part of any final health care bill and allowing price negotiation is a critical part of that reform.”...Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO 

Retirement & Recession...Can’t Have One Because of the Other?

RETIREMENT JARTwo new reports out this week put the recession’s effects on seniors into perspective.  The National Retirement Risk Index  shows that a majority of American households are at high risk of not having enough money in retirement. The 51% finding is the highest at-risk percentage since the index’ creation in 2006.   The report concludes: 
“Ensuring retirement security for an aging popula­tion is one of the most compelling challenges facing the nation. Yet the National Retirement Risk Index shows that in 2009 half of today’s households will not have enough retirement income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living, even if they work to age 65, which is above the current average retire­ment age. Even if the stock market should bounce back, the housing bubble is unlikely to reappear. And as defined benefit plans fade in an environment where total pension coverage remains stagnant, Social Security’s Full Retirement Age moves to 67, and life expectancy increases, the outlook will get worse over time. The NRRI clearly indicates that this nation needs more retirement saving.”
And yet, working longer isn’t as easy as it sounds for the over 60 employee.  The New York Times sums up the unemployment figures for seniors: 
“...there are more Americans 65 and older in the job market today than at any time in history, 6.6 million, compared with 4.1 million in 2001.  Less well known, though, is that nearly half a million workers 65 and older want to work but cannot find a job — more than five times the level early this decade and this group’s highest unemployment level since the Great Depression.  The situation is made more dire because of numerous recent trends: many people over 65 have lost their jobs as seniority protections have weakened, and like most other Americans, a higher percentage of them took on debt than in previous generations. “
The National Committee is proud to be a part of a coalition of groups working to create a universal, secure, and adequate retirement system to supplement Social Security.  Retirement USA  is leading a national dialogue about developing a new system for ensuring that all American workers have reliable income when they retire.

Pitting Young Vs Old—It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

For too long, some in Washington have been waging generational warfare as a way to persuade young people we can’t afford America’s social safety net.  Those who have been fighting to gut programs like Social Security and Medicare have turned their attention to America’s 20 and 30-year-olds in a bid to convince this generation that these programs just won’t be there for them.      Generational Theft? Understanding the National Debt, Social Security and What It Means for Your Future is the title of a panel discussion our Executive Vice President, Max Richtman, is participating in today at the two day Demos Conference  in Washington.  The conference’s goal is to bring together politically engaged young people to elevate the national discussion about the economic challenges facing future generations. Demos is a non-partisan group who’s mission is to “encourage debate about the most pressing economic concerns facing their generation and the policy reforms that can address them.” 
“This national movement of young adults seeks to reverse a three-decade decline in economic security and galvanize support for a new social contract for this and future generations," said Nancy K. Cauthen, Director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos.
demos conference 1009So, even though politicians are fond of saying that we are mortgaging away young people's future due to the growing national debt and the rising cost of Social Security and Medicare. Is it really true?  Absolutely not  is the message we delivered to attendees today.  Here are a few key points young people need to know about Social Security and Medicare:   
  •  Social Security IS in your future
Many young people have a hard time imagining that they will ever grow old or that they will ever need Social Security. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they will need it as much or more than the current generation of retirees. That is because other sources of retirement savings are becoming less reliable. Traditional pension plans have become the exception rather than the rule. When the economy went into steep decline in 2009, pensions and other retirement savings such as 401(k)s lost as much as half of their worth. Housing values plummeted. But Social Security remained the rock in a chaotic financial world. Monthly checks went out as usual and for the full guaranteed amount. Future generations will count on Social Security just as their parents and grandparents do now.
  •  Social Security IS sustainable
Social Security is projected to have sufficient reserves to fund full benefits through the year 2037. Contrary to what most people believe, Social Security will not be out of money or “bankrupt”.  After 2037, there will still be enough revenue flowing into the Trust Fund from payroll taxes and other receipts for Social Security to continue paying more than 75% of benefits.  Of course, we know that Congress will take action to preserve Social Security’s benefits for many generations to come. 
  • America Does Not Face an Entitlement Crisis; It Faces a Health Care Financing Problem
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the rate at which health care costs grow relative to national income rather than the aging of the population is the most important determinant of future federal Medicare and Medicaid spending . In fact, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), if every entitlement in the federal budget were repealed outright eliminating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other critical programs but nothing were done to slow the growth in health care costs overall, we would still find ourselves spending almost 70 percent of the nation's wealth on health care by 2082. On the other hand, if the rate of growth in overall health care is restrained so it is no longer growing faster than the rest of the economy, Medicare's long-range financial deficit could be cut by well over one-half.  You can watch some of the Demos events online here.

It’s Official...Zero Social Security COLA Next Year

[caption id="attachment_755" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Courtesy: Flickr-elpadawan"]Courtesy: Flickr-elpadawan[/caption] As expected, the Social Security Administration announced a zero cost of living adjustment for Social Security beneficiaries in 2010. This is from the SSA’s news release 
“With consumer prices down over the past year, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits for more than 57 million Americans will not automatically increase in 2010. This will be the first year without an automatic Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) since they went into effect in 1975. “Social Security is doing its job helping Americans maintain their standard of living,” Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security said. “Last year when consumer prices spiked, largely as a result of higher gas prices, beneficiaries received a 5.8 percent COLA, the largest increase since 1982. This year, in light of the human need, we need to support President Obama’s call for us to make another $250 recovery payment for 57 million Americans.”
 There are already several COLA relief bills pending in Congress and now with White House support  for a $250 payment, it seems clear that some relief is likely for seniors hit by sharp reductions in home values, shrinking investments and skyrocketing health care costs.  Meanwhile, we’re still waiting on another important announcement for seniors-- news from HHS about next year’s Medicare premiums.  The 2009 Trustees Report  projected a 9% increase in premiums next year; however, that increase would not be implemented for the vast majority of seniors thanks to “hold harmless” provisions in the law.  These protections prevent cuts in Social Security checks because of increasing Medicare premiums. But not everyone is protected.  In fact, higher income beneficiaries and newly enrolled seniors would actually see abnormally large premium increases.   We have urged Congress to protect all beneficiaries and last month, the House passed legislation by a 406-18 vote that would, on a fully paid-for basis, extend hold harmless protections to all beneficiaries.  Unfortunately, one Senator is holding up action in the Senate.  McKnight’s News reports:
 "The measure collapsed because of an objection raised by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on Wednesday. He argued that enough seniors--roughly 73%--would be spared the cuts due to a "hold harmless" provision, and that the $2.8 billion cost of preventing the premium hike would take money away from other constituents."
We’ll continue to work with members of the Senate to ensure seniors aren’t penalized by this gap in protection. If you’re interested in more detailed information on how the COLA is calculated the SSA website  provides a number of resources.

$250 Payment Softens the Zero COLA Blow

“Kudos to President Obama for listening to the concerns of National Committee members and millions of seniors across the country who are worried about the prospect of no Social Security cost of living adjustment next year. The White House clearly understands how devastating the rising costs of health care and the loss of retirement savings have been to seniors during this recession.  The likelihood of losing an average annual COLA increase of about $200-$300 in 2010 may sound like ‘no big deal’ to some but for millions of seniors who’ve already see a third of their Social Security eaten up by health care costs, this proposed COLA relief could truly make the difference for millions of beneficiaries next year.”... Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

The Social Security Administration’s anticipated announcement tomorrow that, for the first time ever, beneficiaries will receive no cost of living adjustment is frightening news for millions of Americans. Despite a relatively low rate of general inflation, seniors’ costs are going up.  Health care costs especially are rising rapidly, and the elderly on fixed incomes spend a significantly larger share of their income on health care. For National Committee member Betty Dizik, COLA relief is critical.  Betty is an 82-year-old former social worker living in Florida. She works 2 part-time jobs to supplement her monthly Social Security income but because she’s had many serious health incidents, including 2 heart attacks in 2009, her medical expenses have driven her deep into debt. Betty needs a COLA just to keep up. She told us:  
“I sometimes have to go without one or two of the 17 medications I take each day, simply because I cannot afford the cost. Receiving a Social Security COLA in 2010 would mean that I could pay for the medicine or pay off one of several doctor bills that are overdue.”
Just this month, the National Committee delivered more than 120,000 signed petitions from its members and supporters urging passage of COLA relief legislation. 
“We applaud President Obama’s support of a $250 payment and are committed to working with the White House and Congress to secure passage of COLA relief for America’s Social Security beneficiaries.”… Barbara B. Kennelly.
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