STATEMENT BY MAYA ROCKEYMOORE, PH.D.
NCPSSM BOARD OF DIRECTORS CHAIR
CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS
HEALTH CARE ISSUE FORUM
147B WALTER E. WASHINGTON CONVENTION CENTER
SEPTEMBER 21, 2012
I want to thank Chairman Emanuel Cleaver and Congressman John Conyers and all the Congressional Black Caucus members on behalf of the millions of members and supporters of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which I Chair, for your invitation to participate today.
In addition to my position with the National Committee, I am President of Global Policy Solutions, which is a Washington, DC-based strategic social change firm that helps make policy work for people, communities and the environment. I would also like to associate my comments with Global Policy Solutions.
While I am here today to speak about the importance of Medicare and Medicaid, I wanted to address to two pressing issues.
First, I am sure many of you were appalled by Governor Romney’s comments about the so-called “47 percent.” Millions of American seniors and African Americans and Hispanics are among 47 percent of the Americans he so clearly disregards.
There are many troubling things about what he said — but one of the most disturbing is that you are a freeloading moocher if your receive health care from the federal government. Never mind that seniors earned their Social Security and Medicare through their payroll taxes. Never mind that veterans earned their health care through their service to our country. Never mind that every other industrialized country has enshrined health care as a fundamental human right. Unlike Governor Romney, our compassionate values compel us to offer health and long term care to Americans who cannot afford it. We make no apology for protecting 100 percent of Americans from the hazards and vicissitudes of life.
I also want to discuss the fight we anticipate against a so-called “Grand Bargain” budget deal during the Lame Duck session or during the 113th Congress, which could rely on significant benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Millions of middle and working class Americans would be hurt by this deal and communities of color would take a disproportionate hit.
Unfortunately, too many lawmakers are embracing the Simpson-Bowles proposal as a template for the Grand Bargain. What some of your colleagues don’t know – or have chosen to ignore – is that Simpson-Bowles would disproportionately cut the social insurance safety net in exchange for vague promises of tax reform.
Here are a few of the arguments they use to justify a bargain that is not so grand for the American people.
Those pushing the Simpson-Bowles framework say that there must be “shared sacrifice” in addressing our nation’s debt. Yet, they forget that middle and working class Americans have already sacrificed much in the form of foreclosed homes, evaporated home values, drastically reduced 401(k) balances, increased poverty rates, and high unemployment rates. Middle and working class Americans have sacrificed even as wealthy corporations and individuals were given a pass with taxpayer-funded bailouts and the continuance of Bush-era tax breaks heavily skewed to benefit their bottom line.
Those pushing the Simpson-Bowles framework say that they are doing it for our children. Our children — who will be inheriting the cost of poor policy and fiscal decisions from the past 14 years. Our children — who are the products of a recession generation of parents who have lost homes to foreclosure and vital financial security due to unemployment. Our children — for whom the cost of education is getting steeper — even as their prospects for landing well-paying jobs after graduation diminishes. Our children — who by the year 2019, will be majority black and brown, and who hail from households that have the highest poverty rates and possess the least amount of wealth in this nation.
These are the children who have not benefitted from the decisions that caused the deficit and debt crisis and they are not well positioned to shoulder their costs in the future.
Yet Simpson-Bowles supporters seek to make our children subsidize our nation’s wealthiest corporations and individuals, in part by seeking to decrease the value of vital social insurance and safety net programs just as these children reach maturity.
That’s not a bargain, and it’s not grand.
Instead of embracing a plan that undermines the health and economic security of middle and working class families, The National Committee supports H. Res. 733, the “Deal for All” resolution that was introduced by Congressman Keith Ellison. The “Deal for All” resolution contains our shared principle that any deal to replace the Budget Control Act of 2011 should not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits. For that reason, the National Committee urges all House Members, including the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to cosponsor the “Deal for All” resolution.
Forty-seven years ago, President Johnson built on F-D-R’s legacy by providing health security to older Americans through the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.
Before Medicare, only 50 percent of seniors had health insurance and 35 percent lived in poverty. Insurance companies and hospitals regularly discriminated against seniors based on ability to pay, health status, and even race and ethnicity.
The passage of Medicare in 1965 represented a watershed moment. Our nation’s leaders decided our nation’s seniors deserved better and in 1965, they created Medicare — a near universal health care system to provide essential coverage for older adults. Many people do not realize that the Medicare law also required hospitals to desegregate their care in order to be eligible for federal dollars.
Today, Medicare continues to be essential for middle income seniors. Over half of Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes of less than $22,500 and savings of less than $53,000.
Having guaranteed access to health insurance coverage is particularly beneficial for communities of color. Two-thirds of African Americans and Hispanics have incomes below $22,500, and they make up a large share of those who have incomes below the poverty level. In addition, people from communities of color are at greater risk for certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes. As a result, communities of color have a disproportionate stake in Medicare’s future.
Congress should support improving and strengthening Medicare by building on provisions in the Affordable Care Act that have already resulted in:
Extending the solvency of Medicare Part A by an estimated eight years,
Lowering Part B out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries,
Offering preventive services without out-of-pocket costs, and
Reducing prescription drug costs.
Unfortunately, the House-passed Ryan Budget would take Medicare in the wrong direction by:
ending traditional Medicare to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy,
privatizing it for the benefit of insurance companies,
making it harder for seniors to choose their own doctors,
cutting prescription coverage, free preventive services, nursing home benefits and
increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67.
We reject all of these proposals. They take our country in the wrong direction.
Likewise, reductions to Medicaid funding would negatively impact middle- and low-income seniors, many of whom have spent their life savings to pay for long-term care. Older adults and people with disabilities account for two-thirds of all Medicaid spending, and Medicaid pays for about 62 percent of all long-term services and supports. Cutting the federal contribution to Medicaid would jeopardize the availability and quality of long-term care both in nursing homes and in the community.
Medicaid remains a vital safety net and is especially important to communities of color. About 50 percent of all Medicaid beneficiaries are members of ethnic or racial minorities. Medicaid covers the cost of premiums, co-payments, and other essential services for dually-eligible seniors.
Sadly, millions of existing Medicaid beneficiaries likely would forgo needed medical assistance and become sicker if a proposal in the Ryan budget to block grant Medicaid became law. Establishing a federal “blended rate” would also reduce Medicaid payments to states.
Instead, what’s needed is the Medicaid expansion enacted in the Affordable Care Act. But to make this work – all states – red and blue – must cover vulnerable seniors, people with disabilities and children.
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are vital to the economic and health security of millions of senior Americans, especially communities of color. That is why, according to our latest poll, African Americans are the strongest group in opposition to the Ryan budget plan – 17 percent for and 73 percent against.
This is our fight. That is why any changes in these programs must be made based on what is best for their beneficiaries, and not what is expedient for reducing America’s debt. And, Congress can cut the deficit without cuts to these cherished and successful programs if it focuses on improving the economy and asking those who have done extremely well in the last decade to finally pay their fair share.
Thank you for making the protection of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid your fight. We look forward to working with you, Congressman Conyers, to protect our essential social insurance safe net programs during the Lame Duck session and during the 113th Congress.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate.