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From the monthly archives: June, 2009

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

Bush Tax Cuts Continue to Hurt Social Security

While deficit projections made the headlines in recent coverage of the Congressional Budget Office's Long-Term Budget Outlook,  we were especially interested in Chapter 3 on Social Security.  Since years and dates are always what people ask about first when talking about Social Security, here are CBO's dates:  analysts say Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until the year 2047 or 2045 (depending on which fiscal scenario is used).  That's up to a full decade longer than projected in the 2009 Social Security Trustees ReportCBO also continues to make the case for health care reform as a top fiscal priority:   
"Constraining the costs of those health care programs will be a key to developing a sustainable fiscal policy. Social Security has a smaller effect on the budget outlook: CBO projects that Social Security spending will increase from less than 5 percent of GDP today to about 6 percent in 2035 and then roughly stabilize at that rate through 2080."
But what is even more interesting in this CBO analysis is its description of two fiscal scenarios, one (Extended Baseline Scenario) which allows the Bush tax cuts to expire with no alternative minimum tax (AMT) adjustments-meaning no change in current law-and another scenario (Alternative Fiscal Scenario) which includes these policy changes.  CBO's analysis shows just how much damage the Bush tax cuts would do to the Social Security Trust Fund and our long-term debt. Extending these tax cuts (under the Alternative Fiscal Scenario) would worsen Social Security's long-term solvency by .21%, meaning even larger cuts in benefits would be needed for long-term solvency. In other words, younger workers would get their tax cuts now and would likely suffer larger Social Security benefit cuts in the future. You can be sure that's not a trade-off Congressional tax-cutters are too eager to advertise.   Bruce Webb at Angry Bear describes the tax cuts' impact on long-term debt this way: 
"So if we let the Bush tax cuts sunset we buy ourselves about 20 years to figure out what to do long-term. If we extend them we are looking at a situation by 2037 where debt held by the public is a full 200% of GDP as opposed to 75% under current law (i.e. tax cuts sunset). So those people who are attacking Obama spending effects on the deficit over the next 10 to 20 years using CBO numbers need to confront the fact that there is a lot more long term impact from the foolish policy of tax cuts on top marginal rates."  
The wisdom of extending tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans while worsening Social Security's long-term financing and our debt situation should be a political no-brainer.  Of course, you note our emphasis on should be...

Let's See the Fine Print on PhRMA's Doughnut Hole Promise

Following the old admonition that, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"...we'll start with the obvious truth.  We're glad the drug industry appears willing to take steps to reduce the outrageous coverage gap created when Medicare Part D was passed in 2003.   The so-called "doughnut hole" has trapped millions of seniors each year in a coverage limbo, where they pay full premiums but receive no prescription drug coverage. It's a provision created by those who wanted to give drug makers and private insurers access to the senior market through the privatization of Medicare...without bearing the cost of full coverage.   PhRMA's promise to spend about $30 billion over ten years to offer discounted coverage (for brand-name drugs only) to seniors in the doughnut hole is certainly a good start.  However, this proposal does not eliminate the doughnut hole as we have advocated.  There are also few details about where the remaining $50 billion in savings promised by PhRMA will come from.  But some analysts predict, wherever they come from, it's an investment that should pay off for drug makers:
"'Apparently industry feels these concessions are manageable and will allow them to maintain credibility with Congress and the White House while preserving, and potentially expanding, the number of prescriptions written,' said a market report by Washington Analysis distributed Monday. Wall Street analysts described the $80 billion giveback as a "good deal" for pharmaceutical companies, which they said would be more than offset by gains from selling more drugs to more insured. Many analysts estimate expanded insurance coverage could increase yearly drug sales in the U.S. by $9 billion to $12 billion, or 3% to 4% of annual sales."          Wall Street Journal, June 23
We believe there are a number of questions that must be answered as Congress considers this PhRMA offer as part of the larger healthcare reform debate: 
  • Will there be statutory language providing HHS enough leverage to enforce the discounts with pharmaceutical manufacturers? 
  • Will audits be sufficient to ensure that prices are not manipulated? (The drug industry has a history of gaming of the Average Wholesale Price which is used for reimbursement under Medicaid and Medicare.) What other safeguards will be provided in addition to audits?  
  • Will seniors benefit from the bulk of these promised savings? 
  • What cost savings will the federal government see and how will that impact Medicare?
Seniors need real relief from the Part D doughnut hole.  We hope this is the first step toward getting there.

Social Security and Medicare...Meet Facebook

Chances are someone has said to you lately..."Do you have a Facebook page yet?"  And if that hasn't happened to you yet, trust us it's just a matter of time.  The social network has grown to more than 225 million active users with the fastest growing age demographic now 35-65 year-olds, especially women over 55.  That's why the National Committee is continuing its social media outreach with the creation of a Facebook Page and Group. Please join the conversation and help us work to preserve and strengthen Social Security and Medicare for all ages by becoming a fan of our Facebook Page  and a Member of our Facebook Group.

Social Security and Medicare Videos Win National Honors

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, one of the nation's largest membership organizations for seniors, has been selected as the winner of four coveted Videographer Awards, sponsored by the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals.  The video, "Then and Now", chronicles the history of Social Security and Medicare and the National Committee's 25-year legacy protecting these vital programs.  Produced in celebration of our 25th anniversary, the video received two Awards of Excellence in the Special Events/Non-Profit and Corporate Image categories.    Two other National Committee videos produced as part of our educational outreach to younger and older audiences, also received high marks from the AMCA.  "Don't be Tricked...Privatization is No Treat" and "Tune Out the Noise" received Videographer Awards of Distinction.  Organizers report about 1,800 entries were submitted to this year's Videographer Awards and 14% were award winners.    A growing number of Americans are turning to the internet for their news and information making the National Committee's YouTube channel an increasingly popular source of information for all generations.  As one of the nation's leading advocates for strengthening Social Security and Medicare for the future, the National Committee will continue to use video, internet campaigns, and social media to build support for the preservation of America's most successful federal programs.  "Our National Committee videos and social media campaign help us to share the facts about Social Security and Medicare to an intergenerational audience.  I'm especially excited about the National Committee's new Facebook Page and Group.   We'll be looking for friends, fans, and members to join our movement to strengthen America's commitment to Social Security and Medicare for all generations." Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO Find the National Committee in all of the following places:  
 

     

Protecting Your Social Security benefit from Your Bank

[caption id="attachment_533" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Courtesy: Flickr-ncindc"]Courtesy: Flickr-ncindc[/caption] Banks, these days, are about as popular as politicians are. So, news about the growing number of Social Security beneficiaries losing their benefits to bank fees and garnishments certainly won't win the industry any more friends or allies. The Wall Street Journal provides a detailed description of a banking loophole, which has allowed many banks to seize Social Security funds from seniors' accounts, even though federal law says creditors can't take these protected funds to pay a debt.  
"In April, for instance, U.S. Bancorp seized the Social Security survivor benefits of two children in Kalispell, Mont., when a creditor garnished the account for the children's unpaid medical bills (the family has no health insurance). The benefits are the family's primary source of income, following the death of the children's father in 2007. Unaware that the account was frozen, the children's mother, Nicole Murphy, 32, used a debit card to pay for gas and groceries for Easter. Each purchase triggered an insufficient-fund fee of $37.50. When the children's account fell below zero, the bank debited a negative balance fee of $8 a day.  A lawyer with Montana Legal Services Association helped Mrs. Murphy unfreeze her account. But the bank again froze the account. On May 7, the U.S. Treasury deposited into the account a $250 Economic Stimulus payment, which the government sent to low-income households. But the payment was unavailable to the family because the account was frozen, and because the bank's fees had created a negative balance."
Again, federal law says creditors can't take Social Security, disability, veterans' and children's survivor benefits, so how does this happen?  It happens because the law doesn't say how banks should protect direct deposit checks coming from SSA and other federal sources.  According to the Social Security Administration's Inspector General two-thirds of America's 12 largest banks are violating federal law by garnishing over $30 million from accounts containing government benefits. Unfortunately, all of this is also leading some seniors to opt out of using Social Security's highly promoted (and cost saving) direct deposit program.   Yesterday, the California Supreme Court ruled that the Bank of America does not have to pay a $1.6 billion verdict in a customer suit claiming the bank illegally took overdraft fees out of Social Security direct deposits.  Bank of America argues this practice isn't debt collection but simply balancing the books.  Senators Herb Kohl and Claire McCaskill have written Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urging the administration to draft a rule protecting seniors from illegal bank garnishment.   In a similar letter to Secretary Geithner, four House Committee chairs also urge the administration to intervene immediately: 
"...the economic downturn has also caused my distress among the most vulnerable Americans, such as retirees and people with disabilities.  Thus, the problem of aggressive and illegal debt collection practices targeting Social Security, SSI beneficiaries and veterans deserve immediate attention."

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