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Senate GOP's "Mean" Healthcare Bill Must be Defeated

Getting a look at the Senate Republican healthcare bill after weeks of secrecy is like peeking under a rock.  There’s a lot under there that you don’t really want to see – and would like to believe doesn’t really exist.  Unfortunately, the Senate version of the American Health Care Act is very real – and dangerously close to becoming law.

Prognosticators who said the House-passed bill would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate, or who predicted that the Senate would be a moderating influence on the legislation, were dead wrong.  Instead, Senate Republicans have clearly chosen to put political expediency above the health of our most vulnerable citizens.

In some ways, the Senate bill is slightly less onerous than the House version; in other ways it’s worse – especially for the old, the sick, and the poor.  In a press statement today, National Committee President Max Richtman calls the bill “unconscionably cruel.”

This is a lose-lose for seniors and the American people.  The biggest loss is that the AHCA ends the Medicaid program as we know it.  Astoundingly, the Senate bill makes even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the House did.  This is devastating news for today’s and tomorrow’s seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s, cancer, the after-effects of stroke and other serious conditions who depend on Medicaid to pay for long-term care.  Millions will lose Medicaid coverage over the next ten years.” - Max Richtman, President and CEO of NCPSSM

 

The Washington Post clearly explains why the Senate bill hurts Medicaid beneficiaries even more than the House version:

Medicaid would be funded by giving states a per capita amount or block grant, beginning in 2021. The amount would grow more slowly than in the House bill, meaning bigger spending cuts overall. - Washington Post, 6/22/17  

This is why the Senate healthcare bill is so hazardous for older Americans in several other ways:

*It still permits insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more than young adults. 

*The tax credits that replace Obamacare subsidies are still too meager to make up for net increases in older Americans’ premiums. 

*Though it forbids insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, the waivers of essential benefits mean older patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease could see their premiums skyrocket. 

 *Like the House bill, the Senate legislation weakens Medicare by reducing the solvency of the Part A Trust Fund.

Only the young, healthy and wealthy will truly benefit from this bill, whose true purpose is not to facilitate health coverage, but to give a multi-billion dollar tax break to the rich and the pharmaceutical companies. Our family members and friends who cannot afford exorbitant premiums and out-of-pocket costs will suffer.  Some will doubtless go without healthcare altogether.  Their health will deteriorate, and when they arrive at the doorstep of Medicare, they may be in worse condition – which can increase the financial burden on Medicare, too. 

Make no mistake, if the bill passes the Senate and the House, President Trump will sign it into law. The National Committee has identified 11 GOP Senators who could be persuaded to stop the AHCA with sufficient public pressure.  As few as three Republican dissenters could kill this bill. Americans of conscience must demand that their Senators put people before party and defeat this heartless legislation before it’s too late.

 

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For the latest on Trumpcare and its devastating implications for seniors, watch “Behind the Headlines” on Facebook Live from Capitol Hill.

 

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Mitch McConnell's "Secret" Healthcare Plan... and the SeniorHeroes who could stop him

When the House passed its American Health Care Act (AHCA) last month, conventional wisdom said it was doomed in the Senate.  Moderate Republican Senators would never go along with the more harmful provisions of the House bill – or so the narrative went.  It appears those predictions were off base.  If the latest reporting from Capitol Hill is accurate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has put the Republican healthcare plan on a fast-track for passage in late June or early July.  A 13-member working group has been meeting in secret to craft the Senate version of the AHCA – without committee hearings.  Zero open debate.  Zero public input.  Or as the Washington Post described the process:  “sabotage, speed and secrecy.”  In order to keep pushback to a minimum, McConnell may not release the details of the bill until about 48 hours before the Senate votes on it.  That is insufficient time for Senators – and the public at large – to evaluate legislation that could dramatically affect the lives of tens of millions of Americans.

 Another false prediction from a few weeks ago said that the Senate would scrap the House bill and start from scratch. But this week Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) revealed that the Senate bill retains about 80% of what the House passed.  Since the House bill was so unequivocally bad for older Americans, hearing that the Senate version is at least 80% as bad is cold comfort. The Senate leadership will try to appease GOP moderates with the same kind of token gestures that saved the AHCA from defeat in the House.  It is vitally important that those moderates not cave like their House colleagues did.  Too much is at stake for our nation’s seniors and Americans as a whole.

 The National Committee has identified 11 moderate GOP Senators who may be persuaded to vote against the Republican health care plan – if they are willing to put their constituents’ well-being above party and political expediency.  They are:

 Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (R-AK)

Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) 

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)

 In fact, we call on these Senators to become what we call “SeniorHeroes” – real-life superheroes standing up for older Americans while the rest of their party pursues a dubious scheme.  From what we know of the Senate bill, there isn’t much in the evolving Senate bill for moderates to applaud.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed those doubts publicly on Thursday.  Here are some of the key areas where the Senate version will likely fail older Americans:

 MEDICAID EXPANSION.  Senate Republicans are considering “compromises” that would phase out funding more slowly – but do not appear to be considering any approach that would maintain Medicaid expansion over the long run.  (Many of the more moderate Senators represent states which chose to expand Medicaid – and have a lot to lose.)

 PER CAPITA CAPS.  The Senate reportedly will retain the House-passed bill’s Medicaid per capita caps, which would strain state budgets and possibly force rollbacks in benefits or outright termination of coverage for millions of seniors who depend on Medicaid to pay for long-term care.  Although it’s unclear whether the Senate will keep the House bill’s $834 billion in Medicaid cuts, Medicaid still likely will be slashed by hundreds of billions of dollars. 

PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS AND ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS.  The Senate may reject provisions in the House bill that would have allowed insurers to charge higher premiums for individuals with pre-existing conditions, but will likely allow states to waive essential benefits coverage.  This would dearly cost older Americans seeking essential benefits, such as hospitalization, ambulance services, and rehabilitation services. 

TAX CREDITS.  The House bill would drive up seniors’ out-of-pocket costs by replacing Obamacare’s income-based subsidies with tax credits based solely on age.  Older Americans could pay up to 800 percent more in net premiums under this plan.  The Senate has toyed with making these tax credits more “robust,” but the more it increases these credits, the deeper it must cut Medicaid to match the savings in the House bill. 

We do not know whether the Senate will allow insurers to charge older enrollees five times more than younger ones, as the House legislation does.  Also uncertain is whether the Senate will repeal the Medicare payroll tax on high income wage earners (as the House did), which would reduce the solvency of Medicare by three years.

It’s a safe bet that, like the House version, the Senate GOP healthcare plan will cost older Americans more, make essential health benefits harder to obtain, and cause millions who desperately need healthcare to lose coverage.  GOP moderates will be under intense political pressure to toe the line and support the party’s plan, even though the Republican bill has scant public support in even the reddest of states.  In asking GOP moderates to don their capes and become SeniorHeroes, we hope they remember who they were elected to serve.  It certainly wasn’t Mitch McConnell. 

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For more about the GOP's secret Senate healthcare plan, watch this week's "Behind the Headlines" on Facebook Live from Capitol Hill. 

 

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Still Confused about Health Reform?

Many Medicare beneficiaries are and it's no wonder given all the misinformation swirling around health reform legislation.   Today Congressional leadership and the administration have teamed up to help seniors understand how health reform will impact Medicare. 

“Older Americans are dependent on Medicare for their health coverage.  So seniors are especially susceptible to misinformation that Medicare is threatened by reforms. They are anxious and looking for information and they absolutely need a reliable place where they can get their questions answered accurately.  It’s critical that seniors get the facts about provisions that will benefit them as soon as next month.”  Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO
For 84-year-old Ben Williamowsky, the health care reform debate was often confusing and frustrating.  As a retired dentist, he understands our current health system well, yet was discouraged by the amount of misinformation being targeted to seniors, during the debate and even now.  Williamowsky described his frustration at a Capitol Hill news conference hosted by House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi today: 
“I’m old enough that I remember what it was like in the early days after Medicare was created – when similar scare tactics were used – threatening seniors with all sorts of bad things if Medicare was enacted.  None of them happened.  Doctors didn’t go out of business or stop seeing seniors.  In fact, life was much better for millions of seniors who desperately needed health coverage and today Medicare is a tremendous success story.  But not everyone remembers history the way I do.  That’s why we absolutely need someplace we can trust to answer our questions and dispel the false rumors about this new law. “ Dr. Ben Williamowsky, Medicare Recipient   
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described a new brochure being mailed to Medicare beneficiaries to help them sort fact from fiction, avoid scammers who want to profit from seniors’ confusion and give beneficiaries the information they need to take advantage of historic reforms in the donut hole, preventative services and more.   The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is committed to providing America’s seniors with updated and detailed analyses of how healthcare reform legislation will affect their medical coverage in Medicare.  In our newly released web video, “Health Reform and Seniors”, we describe many of the provisions in health reform which will touch the lives of seniors, some as soon as next year.  The video is available on the National Committee’s YouTube Channel and will also be made available to seniors groups, town hall meetings, and grassroots events.  This video supplements the National Committee’s popular newsletter, Secure Retirement, which provides detailed coverage of health care reform in its spring issue.  In fact, we’ve run a second printing of this publication due to very high demand from seniors nationwide.

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Debt, Deficits, Social Security and More...

healthcare chartIf you generally skip by budget or economic headlines in favor of something more easily comprehendible, we suggest today you make an exception. Here are excerpts from three articles which together provide must-read perspectives on our debt/deficits,  Social Security and Medicare.   Saul Friedman, Grey Matters columnist, takes former Senator and Debt Commission co-chairman, Alan Simpson, to task for perpetuating the myth that Social Security has anything to do with current budget deficits.

“Social Security’s long term fiscal problem has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Social Security's role in the deficit. For, as I have emphasized in my column for years, Social Security costs the budget not one cent-aside from the one percent it spends on its thousands of employees and field offices. Indeed, Social Security helps finance the deficit by loaning the treasury money, for which it earns interest (about $700 million a year.) If what's owed to Social Security must be cut as part of deficit reduction, will that help Social Security? Nevertheless, Simpson's statements help perpetuate the myth among right-wingers that Social Security contributes to the deficit.”
 CEPR economist, Mark Weisbrot, offers this analysis of what’s truly driving our deficit and debt:
 “For the long term, as the CBO has emphasized, the vast majority of the deficit and debt problem is just rapidly-rising health care costs. Of course, we could be like other developed countries and have universal health care, and pay about half of what we are now paying per person. That is the average for the other high-income countries. This would take care of our long-term federal debt problems. Another significant contributor to our long-term debt is the military. On an annual basis, we spent 5.0 percent of GDP on just the Defense Department budget last year. Before 9/11, the CBO had projected just 2.4 percent for 2009. The difference is more than twice the long-term shortfall in our Social Security system, and it is based on an understatement of military spending. Maybe we need to focus on protecting our airports from already existing terrorists rather than recruiting more by occupying foreign countries. Maybe we don't need hundreds of military bases all over the world. But thanks to the power of what President Eisenhower famously named the "military industrial complex," President Obama has exempted the military from any spending freeze. Thanks to the two most powerful lobbies in Congress -- insurance and pharmaceutical -- getting health care costs under control is still a distant dream. And then there's the people who make the nation's major economic decisions and actually brought us this mess - Goldman Sachs and their Wall Street friends: they want to put Social Security on the chopping block to pay for their crimes (and bonuses). Anybody see a pattern here? It's not the debt that threatens our future.” 
So, ultimately this brings us back around to health care reform.  The New York Times details the “Cost of Doing Nothing in Health Care”:
 “Hands off my health care,” goes one strain of populist sentiment. But what if?   Suppose Congress and President Obama fail to overhaul the system now, or just tinker around the edges, or start over, as the Republicans propose — despite the Democrats’ latest and possibly last big push that began last week at a marathon televised forum in Washington. Then “my health care” stays the same, right? Far from it, health policy analysts and economists of nearly every ideological persuasion agree. The unrelenting rise in medical costs is likely to wreak havoc within the system and beyond it, and pretty much everyone will be affected, directly or indirectly. “People think if we do nothing, we will have what we have now,” said Karen Davis, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health care research group in New York. “In fact, what we will have is a substantial deterioration in what we have.” Nearly every mainstream analysis calls for medical costs to continue to climb over the next decade, outpacing the growth in the overall economy and certainly increasing faster than the average paycheck. Those higher costs will translate into higher premiums, which will mean fewer individuals and businesses will be able to afford insurance coverage. More of everyone’s dollar will go to health care, and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid will struggle to find the money to operate.
So when someone tells you health care reform is bad for Medicare remember that without it, Medicare will face devastating reforms as budget cutters look for savings in federal spending even though system wide costs will continue to skyrocket unchecked.  And when someone tells you Social Security is to blame for our deficits, remind them its American workers who fund Social Security NOT the federal government.  In fact, the $2.5 trillion dollar surplus improved our federal debt picture throughout the past decade of borrow and spend policies.

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What's Next on Health Care Reform?

The Senate is expected to wrap up it's health care debate tomorrow morning and then it's off to conference committee. Some lawmakers, particularly those who feel too much has been given away in the Senate health care bill, hope there might be changes in the conference version of the health care bill. That certainly doesn't appear likely. Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly, was among many interviewed in this good summary by McClatchy Newspapers. The Associated Press also has a detailed description of the differences between the House and Senate bills as they go into conference. Lastly, just for fun we recommend Politifact's Lie of the Year post.  Drum roll please.... It's Sarah Palin's continuing lie about death panels.  And given the year we've had...that's one heck of an accomplishment.

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