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From the monthly archives: March, 2009

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

Welcome Changes to Medicare

CMS has given private insurers offering Medicare Advantage and Part D plans guidelines on what will be required to offer coverage to seniors next year. The requirements issued by CMS today are part of the annual Call Letter which is issued to organizations that intend to offer Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug plans in 2010.  These organizations use this guidance to prepare bids which will be submitted on June 1 and helps to ensure that beneficiaries have the information they need to choose the best plan for them during the annual enrollment period which begins Nov. 15, 2009.  More than 10 million beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans and more than 17 million are enrolled in Part D prescription drug plans.  Medicare officials said the changes include winnowing the number of versions of a plan that insurers can offer, protecting patients with chronic diseases from excessive co-payments, and banning a practice by some plans that can add even more to the costs of brand name drugs. Specifically CMS will:
  • Take new steps in its review of Medicare Advantage plan cost-sharing to ensure that sicker beneficiaries will be protected from discriminatory out-of-pocket charges for the health care services they need.For example, CMS will be reviewing plan benefits to ensure that cost-sharing for such services as renal dialysis, Part B drugs or home health or skilled nursing services is not higher than the cost sharing amounts under Original Medicare.
  • Ban a practice that some prescription drug plans use to increase patients' costs for brand name drugs. Along with a higher copayment for the brand medication, these plans also tack on the difference between the cost of the brand drug and a generic version. CMS will also require Part D plans to provide additional and easy to understand information about coverage in the doughnut hole, including how the plan will cover both brand and generic drugs in the gap. That information will be available on the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder Web site later this fall.
  • Closely scrutinize the private plans' bids for 2010 to eliminate MA plans which don't differ significantly from their basic plans. By eliminating these plans, CMS hopes beneficiaries should then be easily able to see differences in the types of plans offered, including clear differences in the benefits offered through each different plan or differences in other plan features, such as the same formulary or similar out-of-pocket costs. Officials said the reduction in the number of Medicare plans is meant to cut down confusion, not reduce choice.
Each of these reforms are desperately needed and we applaud CMS for working to make Medicare Advantage more responsive to seniors needs.  Clearly, there's new management in town and that's a good thing for Medicare, seniors and taxpayers.

Recovery Payments Go to Seniors in May

News from the Social Security Administration today: Vice President Joe Biden and Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced today that the federal government will send out $250 economic recovery payments to people who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits beginning in early May 2009 and continuing throughout the month.  No action is required to get the payment, which will be sent separately from the person's regular monthly payment.  "The Social Security Administration and Commissioner Astrue have been working closely with other federal agencies to get these payments out the door in record time and into the hands of folks who need it most," said Vice President Biden.  "These are checks that will make a big difference in the lives of older Americans and people with disabilities - many of whom have been hit especially hard by the economic crisis that has swept across the country."  "We have been working diligently to issue the $250 one-time recovery payments as soon as possible," Commissioner Astrue said.  "The legislation requires extensive coordination with other federal agencies and I'm pleased we are on track to issue these recovery payments earlier than the statute requires.  Soon more than $13 billion will be in the hands of more than 50 million Americans."  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides for a one-time payment of $250 to adult Social Security beneficiaries, and to SSI recipients, except those receiving Medicaid in care facilities.  To receive the payment the individual must be eligible for Social Security or SSI during the months of November 2008, December 2008 or January 2009.   The legislation also provides for a one-time payment to Veterans Affairs (VA) and Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) beneficiaries.  The VA and RRB will be responsible for paying individuals under their respective programs.  However, if someone receives Social Security and SSI, VA or RRB benefits, he or she will receive only one $250 payment.  People getting Social Security or SSI should not contact the agency unless a payment is not received by June 4, 2009.  For more detailed information about the $250 one-time economic recovery payments, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/payment To learn more about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, go to www.recovery.gov.  

Social Security & Retirement Questions for Obama Online Town Hall

Hundreds of questions on Social Security, Medicare and Retirement security have been submitted for today's Presidential online Town Hall meeting which starts at 11:30am.  In all, 91,666 people submitted 103,096 questions on issues ranging from education to jobs to energy policy.  Americans were allowed to vote for their favorite questions with 3,569,419 votes cast. Here are some of our favorite retirement security questions: 
"I'm 19 years old and just beginning to see my earnings deducted for Social Security. Though retirement is a long while away, how can you guarantee that this program remains solvent?" Nick Troiano, Washington, DC   "Since the "baby boomers" are coming of age and starting to collect benefits, how do you propose stabilizing Social Security?" Peggy, Middletown, PA   "Medicare does not pay for long-term care, and an ongoing problem for the states is making Medicaid payments for nursing home care for people who don't want to be there but for whatever reason can't avoid it. How can we end this ongoing tragedy?"  Grant M, Providence, RI  
President Obama will answer some of the most popular questions live today online at 11:30.

Don't Buy the Lie about Social Security

A new survey by Sun Life Financial claims that nearly half of all workers questioned would like to stop paying into Social Security, even if that means they don't get any benefits when they retire.  They report more workers in their 30's share this view (59 percent) than those facing retirement soon, 60 and older (33% percent).

On the one hand, you might be surprised to see such results at the same time millions of Americans who did save for retirement, are watching their nest eggs disappear  during this current market meltdown. Without Social Security, even retirees who "did the right thing", only to see their savings evaporate, would now face poverty.  So why would they give up one of the few guaranteed and secure retirement income sources American workers currently have?  Philip Moeller at US News and World Report  speculates this negativity about Social Security, although misplaced, could be blamed on the general negativity we all feel about our economic futures right now.  He could be right.  However, we offer an additional explanation.  Americans who've grown up hearing Social Security won't be there for them, may be starting to believe it.  The well-worn argument against Social Security goes something like this:    
The promise of secure benefits is a "hoax", the taxes paid into the trust fund are "wasted" by the government rather than prudently invested and "the so-called reserve fund...is no reserve at all". 
Sounds like President George Bush, right?  In this case, the comments come from GOP Presidential candidate Alf Landon and his party's 1936 platform, a year before the first Social Security check was even delivered. Now let's fast forward a few decades when Senator and 1964 Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater said: 
"The first thing wrong with Social Security is the fact that it is compulsory. Secondly, it is not actuarially sound: It promises more benefits to more people than the incomes collected will provide."    According to historian MichaelBeschloss, Goldwater also said, "perhaps Social Security should be abolished." 
After generations of trying unsuccessfully to convince the American people to turn against one of the nation's most successful government programs, Social Security opponents took a new tack.  In 1983, they called their new plan "guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it".   Their primary goal described in the Cato Journal was to convince the American people Social Security wouldn't be there for them in retirement.  This strategy was designed using privatization to dismantle Social Security all together. 
"The aim is to weaken political support for the present system when the next financial crisis appears."  and "The retired population might then come to realize that they have not purchased an earned annuity but instead are receiving a tremendous welfare subsidy.  Younger workers, on the other hand, would see just how much of a loss they are taking by participating in the program.  This mechanism for demonstrating the individual gains and losses that occur under Social Security is a key step in weakening public support for the present system."
Of course, this is exactly the path President George Bush followed in his failed attempts to privatize Social Security.  The American people rejected his private accounts plan and given the current fiscal meltdown...they're glad they did.  But as you can see, regardless of the decade or the specific approach, the underlying message is and continues to be the same.  "Social Security won't be there for you"..."Social Security is flawed" and the newest incarnation..."we can't afford Social Security".  This, in spite of the overwhelming facts to the contrary.   Today, David Walker and the Peterson Foundation are picking up the anti-Social Security clarion call.  Wealthy financier and former Nixon Commerce Secretary, Pete Peterson has invested $1 billion dollars of his personal fortune to continue the campaign against programs serving America's seniors.  This time the same-tried and true "Social Security won't be there for you" message is wrapped in a cloak of fiscal responsibility.  Peterson is no stranger to the battle against America's retirement safety net.  He's called the current cost of living increases in Social Security, which provide adjustments of roughly 3% a year, "one of the greatest fiscal tragedies of American history" because he considers them excessive.  At the same time, Peterson steadfastly defends a controversial private equity tax break that benefits America's wealthiest investors. So much for fiscal responsibility.   So when someone tells you "Social Security won't be there for me" remember the countless Washington think-tankers, Social Security foes and their allies in Congress who have spent their careers and millions (eventually billions) of dollars selling us that exact message. Ultimately, American workers and their families must sort the facts from the fiction and in the end we must not Buy the Lie we're being sold on Social Security.

**Late addition:  Bruce Webb at Angry Bear has just posted a wonderful piece on the history of Cato's campaign against Social Security.   It's a must-read!

Retirement USA Initiative Launched

Our current economic meltdown has made it painfully clear...the American retirement system is in crisis.  Less than half of full-time workers have a retirement plan, which means our system is far from Universal.  Millions of retired Americans are also finding their income is far from Secure or even Adequate.  Universal...Secure...Adequate.  These are the basic principles announced today as a new retirement initiative was unveiled in Washington. Retirement USA  is a coalition including; the Economic Policy Institute, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Pension Rights Center and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  Today the group issued a set of principles it hopes will form the foundation of a new retirement system that together with Social Security, will provide more security for future retirees. 
"We all support strengthening Social Security as the foundation of our retirement system.  However, we also recognize that Social Security was never intended to be the sole source of Americans' retirement income. Our nation needs a universal, secure, and adequate system to supplement it."  Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO-The National Committee
Today's event was just the beginning.  Retirement USA will host a fall conference to bring together key players in the retirement debate.  The group has not endorsed any one retirement system reform instead it hopes the basic principles of a Universal, Secure and Adequate retirement income will begin the conversation.
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