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Posts Tagged 'healthcare reform and seniors'

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Will Seniors Reject Republicans in 2018?

Older voters have been gravitating to the Republican party for the better part of the past two decades. Forty-eight percent of seniors identify or lean Republican compared to 45% for Democrats --- and Donald Trump won 53% of the senior vote last Fall.  But are we about to witness a “grey” re-alignment?  According to an article in today’s The Hill newspaper, Democrats say maybe so.  Democratic strategists are hoping that Republicans are starting to repel seniors by striving to repeal Obamacare, gut Medicaid, privatize Medicare and cut Social Security.  It doesn’t help that President Trump’s proposed budget slashes federal block grants that help pay for Meals on Wheels and other programs that stabilize and support seniors.

In a Facebook Live broadcast with National Committee President Max Richtman today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) agreed that seniors may swing back to the Democratic party in the next election cycle.  “Republicans like to imply that seniors are greedy geezers,” Schakowsky said, “But their Obamacare replacement would have allowed seniors to be charged up to 500% more than younger Americans for private health insurance.”

There are myriad reasons for older voters’ preference for the GOP in recent years.  The majority of white voters identify as Republicans --- and some 85% of today’s seniors are white.  Many of today’s older voters came of age during the prosperous post-war America of the 1950s – and may feel alienated by cultural changes associated with the Democrats.  In fact, candidate Trump skillfully played on seniors’ nostalgia for a bygone (and in many ways, imaginary) America.

Another factor may be that seniors have felt supremely confident – some would say overly confident – about the sanctity of the two federal programs that benefit them the most, Social Security and Medicare.  The Democrats may have done such a good job protecting these programs that seniors simply take them for granted.   In fact, the last time that the majority of seniors voted Democratic was in the 2006 congressional elections, after President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security.  Democrats and seniors’ advocates like the National Committee stopped him.  On the other hand, President Trump won the senior vote not only by thrumming the strings of nostalgia, but by promising not to touch Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (promises he is already breaking). 

To win back seniors in 2018 and beyond, Democrats must remind them that Republicans are an existential threat to our cherished retirement and health security programs.  In other words, thanks to the GOP, the time for overconfidence in the inevitability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is over.  President Trump is already shattering his sacred promises to older voters.  He fought for the GOP’s American Health Care Act which would have cut nearly $1 trillion from Medicaid (on which poorer seniors depend for long-term care) and reduced the solvency of Medicare by three years.  House Speaker Paul Ryan still dreams of turning Medicare into a voucher program.  Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX) is pushing a bill to cut cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security and raise the retirement age to 69. And despite his campaign vows, the president has surrounded himself with budget hawks who are sharpening their knives for seniors’ earned benefits programs.  (Earlier this month, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney questioned whether disability benefits should even be a part of Social Security.)

Democrats must also bust the oft-repeated myths that Republicans use to justify benefit cuts --- that Social Security and Medicare are going “bankrupt” and need to be “modernized” (translation: privatized and cut).  If Congress does nothing, Medicare still will be able to pay 87% of benefits beyond its 2028 “insolvency” date and Social Security 79% of benefits beyond 2034.  To win the senior vote, Democrats must push the kind of modest and manageable solutions proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman John Larson (D-CT), and others to keep these programs solvent for the long haul – with no benefit cuts.

Recent polling suggests that the party who sides with seniors on these crucial issues will reap political gains.  The National Committee’s own poll of likely voters showed overwhelming support for traditional Social Security and Medicare.  Even more encouraging, strong majorities opposed benefit cuts and higher eligibility ages --- and favored boosting benefits by scrapping the payroll tax cap so that the wealthy pay their fair share. As long as Democrats back up their rhetoric with action and vigorously oppose harmful changes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, they have a decent shot at winning back those coveted seniors at the ballot box.

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"Bitter Pill" - A Time Magazine Article Every Senior in Medicare Should Read

Time Magazine’s cover story this week is an incredible read and one we highly recommend.  Steven Brill’s “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us” provides a remarkably in depth look at our American health care system including Medicare.  Using many personal case studies, Brill breaks down and describes the economic devastation being reaped by our for profit medical industrial complex. 

As we’ve said here repeatedly, America doesn’t face a Medicare crisis -- we face a national health care crisis. Rather than targeting Medicare for cuts we should be using it as the model to improve out health care system nationwide.  As Brill reports:

“Unless you are protected by Medicare, the health care market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot. They are powerless buyers in a seller’s market where the only sure thing is the profit of the sellers.”

Consider Time’s example of Susan S. She was 64, one year away from qualifying for Medicare, when she went to the hospital with chest pains.  Her bill for 3 hours of tests and a false alarm was $21,000. If she had Medicare she would have paid less than $500. Compare her costs:

 

Time’s survey of this same hospital found that in 2010 its total charges were 11 times its actual costs. And that’s not unusual in our current private profit and even non-profit health care system.

Not only does Medicare manage these outrages costs better than the private market, Medicare’s administrative costs are two-thirds of 1% or less than $3.80 per claim. Private Insurers administrative costs run much higher.  Brill reports Aetna’s for example, run 29% or $30 for each claim.

However, Medicare isn’t immune from the skyrocketing costs that are burdening our economy. Brill points out that Congress has tied Medicare’s hands in many instances forcing the more efficient Medicare program to perform like the less efficient private market:

Our laws do more than prevent the government from restraining prices for drugs the way other countries do. Federal law also restricts the biggest single buyer — Medicare — from even trying to negotiate drug prices. As a perpetual gift to the pharmaceutical companies (and an acceptance of their argument that completely unrestrained prices and profit are necessary to fund the risk taking of research and development), Congress has continually prohibited the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Department of Health and Human Services from negotiating prices with drugmakers. Instead, Medicare simply has to determine that average sales price and add 6% to it.

Similarly, when Congress passed Part D of Medicare in 2003, giving seniors coverage for prescription drugs, Congress prohibited Medicare from negotiating.

Nor can Medicare get involved in deciding that a drug may be a waste of money. In medical circles, this is known as the comparative-effectiveness debate, which nearly derailed the entire Obamacare effort in 2009.

The health care industrial complex spends more than three times what the military industrial complex spends for Washington lobbying. Is it any wonder why so many in Congress have chosen to ignore the true system wide health care problem in favor of targeting Medicare for benefit cuts, arbitrary caps, cost-shifting, means-testing and privatization.

They know what the core problem is — lopsided pricing and outsize profits in a market that doesn’t work.

In spite of this, Congress appears ready to protect that broken health care market that is wrecking our economy in favor of targeting the program that works for cuts -- all in the name of deficit reduction.  Cutting benefits to seniors in Medicare not only ignores the real challenges we face as a nation but it also threatens the health security of millions of Americans.

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National Committee Volunteer Talks Seniors’ Issues at the Democratic Convention

Modern-day political conventions have always been more about the show than substance. But when you look at the speakers’ chosen and the messages delivered you can at least get a good idea about each party’s core values.  That’s why we were especially glad to see the Democrats extend an invitation to West Palm Beach senior and National Committee volunteer, Carol Berman, to address convention delegates last night.

Carol’s story is one that resonates for many American seniors who have worked hard and saved for their retirement years and are anything but the “greedy geezers” portrayed by many conservatives so eager to slash already modest Social Security and Medicare benefits.  Carol took to the podium last night and eloquently described how important preserving these programs are to millions of American families just like hers. 

I’m so proud to be at the Democratic National Convention from Florida.  I'm one of the seniors who retired to this piece of heaven on earth and I'm as happy as a clam.   It’s not just the sunshine…it’s Obamacare.

I'm getting preventive care for free and my prescription drugs for less. It’s pretty great.But the Romney-Ryan plan has me terrified…not just for me but for my three daughters who are in their 50's.

If Mitt Romney gets into office, the Medicare that they’ve earned will turn into Vouchercare.  Seniors will get a voucher to purchase health insurance …but the voucher won’t keep up with the costs, which could push people into private insurance plans.  And even though many seniors are on fixed incomes, it could add up to $6400 more a year in out-of-pocket costs.  And on top of that, he’s promised to repeal Obamacare on day one.

Thousands of dollars might be pocket change to Mitt Romney – but that’s a lot of money in my family…it’s birthday presents for my grandkids and a flight to visit them. Republicans are trying to end Medicare as we know it but we’re not going to let them.

We have worked for our Medicare; we have paid for our Medicare; and we have earned our Medicare. I’m proud to have been born the same year that Social Security was. It was the most important law of my lifetime. Medicare was pretty great too.  And now we have Obamacare, which preserves the promise of Medicare and a secure retirement.

So like I tell my daughters, let’s vote like our lives depend on it…because they do.

Politically, candidates hope voters will hear something they like at these conventions and provide the party’s presidential ticket the “bounce” needed to create momentum going into the fall.

While the GOP convention provided a small 1% bounce overall, what is worth noting is how different voting blocks reacted.  CNN summarizes here:

The poll indicates Romney may have picked up support among men, but there was no change at all among women, keeping in place a double-digit gender gap. And there's an interesting movement among age groups. Romney gained a bit among younger voters and among senior citizens, but Obama was the big winner among voters between 50 and 64 years old.‘It's possible that senior citizens who are already on Medicare have accepted the GOP assurances that their benefits will not be affected, but the group of Americans who are approaching retirement - who will be the first ones affected by the GOP-proposed changes in the Medicare system - are getting worried about what's in store for them,’ added Holland.

The problem with those cynical GOP “assurances” to seniors that their reform won’t hurt current retirees is that those are simply empty promises.  If elected, the Romney/Ryan repeal of healthcare reform will immediately strip benefits from 32 million seniors who have already used the new preventive screenings and benefits through the Affordable Care Act.  There’s also $3.1 billion dollars in real savings that seniors have already seen in their prescription drug coverage that will also be taken away. The Part D donut hole will return, private insurers get their massive subsidies back and Medicare will be insolvent by the end of Romney’s first term.

So much for convention promises. 


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Happy Birthday Medicare

Each July we celebrate Medicare’s passage in 1965 and its undeniable success in keeping millions of American seniors from poverty each year.  Unfortunately, far too many others in Washington will continue to spend this Medicare milestone month searching for ways to dismantle the program in the name of “deficit reduction”.  Washington’s fiscal hawks continue to see this economic crisis as the perfect opportunity to attack programs they have never supported in the first place.  Remember Paul Ryan’s “This is not a budget. It’s a cause” clarion call? There has been a lot written recently about the ongoing Washington budget talks and the campaign to slash Medicare benefits, while also preserving tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. In celebration of the Medicare success story, we’ll highlight some of our must-read recommendations for those of you who share our view that Medicare should not be sacrificed at the altar of Washington’s debt reduction idols.  We simply can’t continue to ignore Medicare’s role in the fiscal and physical health of middle class Americans and these articles help illustrate why:

Medicine has changed, but the need for Medicare has not. Senate floor statement by  Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

“Today, virtually every American over 65 has access to health care. And the number of seniors that live below the poverty line has dropped by 75 percent. That’s no accident. Medicare provides 47 million Americans with the access to care and the protection from poverty that Truman envisioned more than 65 years ago. And Medicare and Medicaid don’t only protect seniors from poverty – they also protect those seniors’ children. Forty-six years ago, middle-class families often spent themselves into the poor house honoring their commitment to their fathers and mothers. Today seniors and their children have the security that Medicare and Medicaid will be there to honor that commitment – providing health care and nursing home care when they need it.”

Big Medicare cuts to reduce deficit unpopular. Reuters coverage of new Kaiser Foundation Poll.

“Few Americans would support major cuts to Medicare to reduce the federal deficit, but many would be okay with minor savings in the popular healthcare program, a survey released on Thursday said. The latest tracking survey on healthcare issues by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the public is more willing to accept Medicare spending cuts if done to shore up the elderly healthcare program rather than for deficit reduction or avoiding tax increases. The survey's findings are important because the future of Medicare is at the heart of high level discussions over the $1.4 trillion annual deficit and $14.3 trillion U.S. debt.”

Medicare Proposal Could Stress Strapped Seniors. NPR coverage of Coburn/Lieberman Medicare legislation.

“Half of seniors had income lower than $22,000 in 2010; 25 percent had income lower than $13,000. Only five percent had incomes above $85,000. And while 91 percent of today's Medicare beneficiaries have savings, in most cases those nest eggs aren't nearly enough to pay substantial medical bills. Half of seniors have savings less than $50,000; a quarter have less than $8,400 money set aside. Ten percent had more than half a million dollars, half of those people had a million dollars or more. Yet even with today's Medicare coverage, health spending accounted for an average of nearly 15 percent of the average Medicare household's budget in 2009, according to another Kaiser study. That's three times the health care spending for those not on Medicare.”
Here is something fun we urge you to share with your friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever your favorite form of online communication.  Download the Picture or just forward the link to help spread the word that gutting Medicare is not a “cause” you or the vast majority of Americans support.

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Live Chat on Health Reform and Seniors

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant Secretary for the Administration on Aging Kathy Greenlee will host a webchat tomorrow, Thursday, April 8, to talk about health reform and its impact on America's seniors.  From the HHS news release:

Sebelius and Greenlee will highlight some of the immediate benefits of health reform for America's seniors before answering pre-submitted questions from the public. Members of the public are encouraged to submit questions via email to HealthReform@hhs.gov. HHS officials will try to answer as many questions as possible during the web chat and post questions and answers on the web site as well.  The chat is the second in a series of discussions that is designed to help Americans understand the benefits of the newly passed health insurance reform law.  WHEN: Thursday April 8, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. EDT  WHERE: www.HealthReform.gov For more information on the new health reform law please visit www.healthreform.gov 
We encourage everyone to take a few minutes to get the details on health care reform straight from those who will implement the policy.  Ask questions and engage!  Need some more background? Try these National Committee analyses:  Seniors and Health Care Reform: Separating Truth from Fiction How Reform Will Strengthen Medicare and Expand Benefits for Seniors Medicare Advantage Provisions In Health Care Reform Legislation Closing the Donut Hole and Other Improvements To Medicare Part D Drug Coverage

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