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From the monthly archives: March 2010

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'March 2010'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

Healthcare Reform is Good Medicine for Medicare

With the House passage of health care reform legislation, we’ll soon be able to leave the political war of words behind and America’s seniors will see for themselves that the fear-mongering over healthcare was just that—an attempt to scare Americans away from reforms which could finally put providing care ahead of making profits.  Reuters provides a concise summary of what health care reform means for Medicare saying this about benefits:
 WILL THE LEGISLATION CUT MEDICARE BENEFITS? There are no cuts to the traditional Medicare benefit. The lion's share of spending cuts are in Medicare Advantage -- a program that uses private firms such as Humana and UnitedHealth Group to deliver Medicare benefits. Many of these providers offer extra coverage and some of those extras could be dropped as Medicare Advantage subsidies are bought more in line with the cost of traditional Medicare benefits. Medicare Advantage payment rates will be frozen in 2011 and then gradually reduced giving companies time to adjust to the changes. 
The Washington Post offered this analysis
Medicare, the federal health program for people over 65, will undergo significant changes intended to deliver care more efficiently and at a lower price, with the aim of using the nation's largest insurance plan to force doctors, hospitals and other private-sector players to follow suit.   Medicare Advantage, a form of Medicare provided by private insurance companies to about 11 million seniors, will lose nearly $120 billion over the next decade, probably forcing providers to drop popular add-on benefits such as gym memberships.   The legislation also includes smaller changes that will take effect this year. In six months, new insurance policies will have to permit adult children to stay on their parents' policies until they turn 26. And small businesses with fewer than 25 employees and average annual wages of up to $50,000 will receive tax credits to offset the cost of buying insurance for their workers.   Meanwhile, insurance companies will be subject to new rules: In six months, all new plans will have to cover the full cost of preventive care, including annual physicals and children's immunizations. Insurers won't be able to require prior approval for patients who need to see gynecologists or go to the emergency room.   For seniors, the bill will immediately expand the Medicare drug benefit and, effective July 1, provide a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs for the low-income elderly.  
Our National Committee analysis also found health care reform will: 
  • Strengthen Medicare by slowing the rate of growth in spending for both beneficiaries and the federal government. 
-         The bills more than double the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund – adding 9 additional years (from current 2017 to 2026) 
  • Close the coverage gap (“donut hole”) in the Part D prescription drug program.
-         Provides a $250 rebate in 2010 for seniors who fall into the hole regardless of their incomes -         Provides a 50% discount for brand name drugs beginning in 2011 for seniors in the donut hole (no income limits) -         Phases in additional discounts for both brand name and generic drugs until senior co-payments are reduced to 25% by 2020 (no income limits) -         A typical senior who hits the donut hole will save $250 this year (2010), over $700 in 2011, and over $3,000 by 2020 -         Counts both the seniors’ out-of-pocket spending and the drug company discount as “True Out-of-Pocket Costs”, which will help seniors reach the catastrophic threshold more quickly 
  • Improve prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors
  • Improve the Part D program for all seniors.
  • Improve preventive health care services for seniors.
  • Improve overall health care services for seniors.
  • Make necessary changes to Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Expand protections for vulnerable seniors
  • Crack down on Medicare waste, fraud & abuse
  • Improve health coverage for near-retirees
  • Expand benefits for Long-Term Care 
President Obama will sign the legislation on Tuesday.  Meanwhile, the Senate must now act on the Reconciliation “sidecar” of changes proposed in the House.  Marketwatch describes it this way: 
Senate Democrats are planning to approve the reconciliation bill by week's end, when Congress is scheduled to go out on recess. But Republicans vow to load the bill up with amendments in an attempt to send it back to the House and kill it. 

Now's the Time

National Committee members and supporters have sent 12 thousand petitions to Capitol Hill urging Congress to pass health care reform, now.  As the clock ticks and a health care vote is expected in the House within days, seniors are mobilizing to ensure their elected representatives understand that doing nothing is not a solution for our nation’s health care crisis.  More than 100 thousand email alerts have been sent to National Committee members today, urging them to contact their Representatives in Washington and push for passage of health care reform legislation.   America's seniors have been in the crosshairs of a campaign to scare them away from reforms desperately needed to preserve and strengthen Medicare; however, National Committee members understand that doing nothing is a political strategy that actually threatens Medicare. Without health care reform, Medicare will continue to suffer from skyrocketing costs associated with general health care costs, until neither seniors nor the government will be able to afford the program. This inevitably will lead to unprecedented cuts in Medicare - cuts that unlike current health care reform proposals - will directly target Medicare beneficiaries. “It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of this health care reform vote for America’s seniors—it’s historic.  Closing the Part D doughnut hole, cutting waste and eliminating billions of dollars of wasteful subsidies to private insurers in Medicare are just a few of the vital reforms benefiting seniors included in health care legislation. The status quo is not an option for seniors in Medicare.  System wide health care reform such as what it included in this health care reform plan is absolutely vital for the program’s future. “...Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO

Conflating Debt, Deficits, and Social Security

There have been a number of very good pieces written this week which provided some desperately needed perspective on our debt, deficits and the campaign to blame them on Social Security.   EJ Dionne wrote this in his piece, “Smart Debt, Dumb Debt –there is a difference”:  
 “On health care, the status quo means that more Americans will find themselves without insurance because an ever-growing number of employers simply won't be able to afford the expense. This is unsustainable. Enacting health reform now will allow us to plan how government can take on these costs gradually. As for retirement security, most Americans know their private pensions will be nothing like those enjoyed by their parents or grandparents.  So reforming Medicare and Social Security can never be a simple matter of cutting spending. We have to look at the entire health-care picture and rethink our whole retirement system.   Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has gotten credit for doing a version of this in his "Roadmap for America's Future." He proposes to balance the budget by, among other things, turning Medicare into a voucher program and partially privatizing Social Security.   Ryan gets points for being a genuinely nice person (no small thing in our mean moment) and for saying outright what many other Republicans only mumble. But the path he suggests is exactly wrong. Weakening social insurance is the opposite of what the country needs, and it doesn't even get us to fiscal nirvana.” 
Robert Kuttner, in the Boston Globe, says fiscal hawks are eyeing the wrong prey and will use the President’s fiscal commission to make the kill: 
"Obama’s large deficits are mostly the result of the legacy of the Bush tax cuts and the depleted revenues resulting from recession, not the stimulus program. Before Obama took office, the projected deficit for 2009 was already in excess of 8 percent of GDP.  Since Republicans have made clear that they will oppose tax increases, the general assumption is that the 18-member commission, with six presidential appointees and the remaining 12 to be appointed by Congress, will recommend mainly cuts in Social Security and Medicare. This is quite a message to the American people: Abuses in private financial markets whacked the value of your home, your retirement savings, and your job. Now, in order to pay for the costs of bailing out the banks, we will also have to cut back the two public benefits you can count on that were not tainted by private-sector excesses: your Social Security and your Medicare.  The commission’s members are mostly part of the club that supports deep cuts in social insurance.” 
Which leaves seniors, and the AARP bulletin asking, “You’ve worked hard all your life for benefits.  You’ve met the criteria. So what’s the problem?”  
“Does Social Security need some fixing? Yes, it does, but it’s nothing like the train wreck described by the system’s opponents. Proposed fixes generally fall into two categories: raising revenue or reducing benefits. The Center on Retirement Research at Boston College has published The Social Security Fix-It Book, which is an excellent guide to some of the proposed solutions with the pros and cons carefully explained. But fixing Social Security will take political will, reminiscent of the dedication of the National Commission on Social Security Reform in the early 1980s. Hysteria doesn’t help. Gwendolyn King, commissioner of the Social Security Administration under President George H.W. Bush, says that people have worked hard all their lives to earn the benefits of Social Security promised them. 'They are entitled and deserve to be.'  So the next time you hear criticism of entitlements, or claims that Social Security is going to wreck our economy, or charges that people who think they are entitled to Social Security might as well shoot their grandchildren, take those slurs with a grain of salt. Opponents of Social Security are entitled to free speech. But you are entitled to the facts.” 

Still No COLA for Seniors

US Capitol photoLast night the Senate rejected passage of a $250 one-time payment  to seniors on Social Security who’ve been living without a cost of living adjustment this year.  To say this vote was disappointing doesn’t sum up our reaction. Especially when you consider how many of the Senators who voted against $250 for seniors...had no problem voting for bank bailouts and Wall Street rescues.  Here’s our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly’s reaction:  “The Senate has unfortunately ignored the reality that 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. $250 may not sound like much, but for millions of American seniors this one-time payment was desperately needed assistance.  Assistance which should be as big a priority as Wall Street bailouts and tax breaks for millionaires. For the millions of seniors who rely upon Social Security as their only source of income, and millions more who rely upon it for at least half of their income, a cost of living adjustment in their Social Security benefits is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.  Here’s just a sampling of comments from some of our members this month...   “I really need a COLA increase each year as that is my main source of income.  If I lost that I wouldn’t have any way to make it.  Please find some way to get around this 100% false idea of zero (0%) inflation.  Everything I have to buy, the price keeps going up.  I asked in the local bank where the zero inflation was.  They said it must be another country and not here!”                                                                                                                  George P from North Carolina

 “I have had cancer 3 times and the $1,500 [SS check] only covers my monthly rent and my insurance.  At age 83 I cannot work any longer.  My savings is fast being used up."                                             Helen R from Tennessee

No cost of living adjustment (COLA) this year not only froze Social Security checks at last year’s level, but also reduced many checks as Part D prescription drug premiums and other health care costs rose.  47 members of the Senate understand this and voted in support of a COLA fix; however, it wasn’t enough for passage.  Clearly, our work is far from over...and we’ll continue to urge Congress to pass a COLA fix for seniors this year.  If you’d like a more political analysis of last night’s vote try this Firedog Lake post which lists the Senators' votes.

Scrub Out the Seniors

So much for beginning a civil and open dialogue on our debt, deficit, Social Security, Medicare and taxes.  Presidential Fiscal Commission co-chair, former Senator Alan Simpson, told CNBC just days after his appointment that seniors over 60, and the organizations who represent them (including ours) should be “scrubbed out” of the equation.    
“You remember the last time we corrected Social Security, and people calling me.  Let me tell you, everything that Bush and Clinton or Obama have suggested with regard to Social Security doesn’t affect anyone over 60, and who are the people howling and bitching the most? The people over 60.  This makes no sense.  You’ve got scrub out (of) the equation the AARP, the Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, the Gray Panthers, the Pink Panther, the whatever.” 
But he didn't stop there.
“Those people are lying when everything that was proposed last year, year before, year before didn’t affect any over 55. Now, anything I’ve heard so far doesn’t affect anyone over 60. Where does the howling come from? These people don’t care a whit about their grandchildren...not a whit.” 
Unfortunately, the Senator missed a critical fact from the 2005 debate to privatize Social Security.  America’s seniors understood very well what President Bush’s privatization scheme would and wouldn’t do. They opposed it because they want their adult children and grandchildren to have the same retirement protections afforded to current beneficiaries.  That’s a fact, not a lie. You can watch the full interview here:            
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