The scant 1.6% Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2020 is another big disappointment for America’s seniors. The paltry new COLA will yield a $24 per month increase for the average beneficiary. With Medicare Part B premiums predicted to rise by about $8 next year, the net cost-of-living adjustment for most seniors will be only $16 per month. The new COLA inches-up the average monthly retirement benefit to $1,503 — a mere $288 yearly raise for seniors living on fixed incomes.
“It’s ironic that as billionaires and big corporations continue to profit from the $1.5 trillion in Trump/GOP tax cuts, America’s seniors are asked to get by with a meager $24 monthly raise. The negligible 2020 COLA illustrates why seniors need a more accurate formula for calculating the impact of inflation on their Social Security benefits. For years, we have urged the government to adopt the CPI-E (Consumer Price Index for the Elderly), which reflects the spending priorities of seniors, including health care, as opposed to the current formula based on younger urban wage earners’ expenses.” – Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
If the CPI-E were adopted, beneficiaries would see a 6% overall increase in benefits over 20 years compared to the current formula, which yielded a zero cost-of-living adjustment three times during the past decade — and a mere 0.3% in 2017.
Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) 2010-2019
2010 0.0% 2015 1.7%
2011 0.0% 2016 0.0%
2012 3.6% 2017 0.3%
2013 1.7% 2018 2.0%
2014 1.5% 2019 2.8%
Meanwhile, health care costs have increased about 6% in 2019 alone. The prices of the most commonly prescribed drugs for seniors on Medicare rose ten times the rate of inflation from 2013-2018. The cost of senior living facilities is growing at 3% annually – which adds up quickly over time.
“COLAs are out of sync with seniors’ actual expenses. Retirees have been living on very tight cost-of-living adjustments for a number of years now, which forces them to make hard decisions about their monthly budgets.” – Webster Phillips, Senior Legislative Representative, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
With roughly half of America’s seniors relying on Social Security for at least 50% of their income, and 1 in 4 depending on the program for at least 90% of their income, the 2020 COLA does not go very far toward paying the bills. A net increase of $16 per month probably won’t cover typical expenses, such as the cost of a single prescription co-pay, a month’s medical supplies, or transportation to a doctor’s appointment.
According to the most recent Medicare Trustees’ report, the basic Medicare Part B premium will increase by about $8.80 a month to $144.30 per month in 2020. Wealthier earners pay higher Medicare Part B premiums.
Local citizens organized by a National Committee volunteer protested the President’s fact-challenged Medicare speech at the Villages retirement community outside Ocala, Florida on Thursday. The roadside protest near the Ocala airport (where Air Force One landed) was a reminder that seniors shouldn’t be fooled by the President’s misleading Medicare rhetoric. Protesters ranging in age from their 40’s to 80’s held signs reading, “Hands off my Medicare” and “Protect our Medicare Benefits,” eliciting honks and waves from passing cars. The protest garnered coverage in today’s Ocala Star News:
“There are (affluent) people out there that think Medicare is just extra spending money,” said one of the protesters, Anne Mangum, who says many Americans need every penny from Medicare to survive. Mangum said Trump’s team organized the invitation-only event at an affluent retirement community where most of the residents “do not need Medicare.” – Ocala Star News, 10/4/19
“It was invigorating,” says Mary Savage, the local National Committee volunteer and activist who organized the protest. “The majority of people passing by were thumbs-up and supportive,” she adds, in stark contrast to the invitation-only crowd at the Villages retirement community where Trump spoke.
Savage rejected the President’s claim that he and the GOP will “protect” Medicare. “How is that possible, when the Republicans want to privatize everything and give money to corporations and leave crumbs for everyone else?”
She also excoriated Trump for proposing to cut Medicare by billions of dollars and Medicaid by more than one trillion dollars. Medicaid covered skilled nursing care for Savage’s elderly mother, who was legally blind, wheelchair-bound, and suffering from high blood pressure. “I don’t want to think about what would have happened without Medicaid,” she says. “We would have been financially devastated.”
For more insight on the President’s Medicare publicity stunt, watch this week’s “Behind the Headlines” on Facebook Live.
Find out how to become a National Committee Volunteer here.
President Trump used a speech at a Florida retirement community today to spread falsehoods about Medicare in front of an audience of seniors. “Medicare is under threat like never before,” he said this afternoon at the Villages retirement community outside Ocala, accusing Democrats of undermining a program they enacted in 1965 – and have been fighting to protect in the face of unrelenting attacks from conservatives ever since.
Meanwhile, a President who was willing to strip more than 20 million Americans of their health coverage in the blink of an eye has the gumption to paint Democrats as “extremists” on health care. If Medicare is under threat from anyone, it’s Trump and his allies in Congress.
When it comes to healthcare – and especially seniors’ health care – Trump chooses to dwell in an Orwellian ‘opposite world’ where Republican attempts to cut and privatize Medicare are actually meant to “protect” the program. Apparently, President Trump and his GOP allies believe they must destroy Medicare in order to save it.
The President’s claim that he and his party want to make Medicare “better and stronger” takes a lot of brass, considering his administration has:
*Proposed $846 billion in Medicare cuts over ten years, weakening the program’s solvency.
*Attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which strengthened Medicare’s solvency, improved benefits, and lowered premiums for ‘near seniors’ under 65 years old.
*Promoted private Medicare Advantage (MA) plans while neglecting traditional Medicare (which covers most of the program’s 59 million beneficiaries).
While the Trump administration pumps up private Medicare Advantage plans with goodies like rides to the doctor and gym memberships, why hasn’t the president supported at least one of several Democratic bills to expand traditional Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage?
Today’s speech re-emphasizes that the President has bought into the profits-first-patients-second ideology of his key health care advisers, including budget director and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Medicare administrator Seema Verma, who have never met a government program they don’t want to privatize.
The president’s Medicare rant may have provoked applause from the invitation-only audience at the Villages, but seniors around the country know who has truly protected their Medicare for 54 years – and which party wants to expand and strengthen the program now. And it isn’t President Trump or the “entitlement reformers” in the GOP.
For more on this story, watch this week’s “Behind the Headlines” on Facebook Live.
President Trump will be in Florida Thursday, touting a new executive order entitled, “Protecting Medicare from Socialist Destruction.” Though the president enjoys some support among the residents of the Villages retirement community where he will unveil the order, most seniors will wisely say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
We’ll deal with the ‘Socialist Destruction’ canard a little later. But first… why would America’s seniors entrust their Medicare coverage to a president whose administration has worked so hard to undermine it since the day he took office? Expecting Trump to protect Medicare is like trusting former House Speaker Paul Ryan to protect Medicaid.
Despite candidate Trump’s promising older people “not to touch” their earned benefits, the president has proposed to slash Medicare by $846 billion over ten years, which would accelerate the insolvency of the Medicare trust fund. So far, Congress has rejected these cuts, but if the President wins re-election, all bets are off.
“Republicans want Trump to deal with the exploding deficit by gutting the social safety net, and the president is reportedly receptive to the idea… President Trump has told friends that gutting Medicare could be a fun ‘second-term project.’” – Vanity Fair, 8/22/19
And that’s only the beginning.
Medicare Advantage Bias
Bloomberg reports that the President will use his Florida appearance to promote private Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. This would be consistent with the administration’s unabashed advocacy for Medicare Advantage over traditional Medicare.
“From day one, President Trump and his administration have worked to provide seniors with high-quality, affordable care in the Medicare program and improved options through Medicare Advantage.” – White House spokesperson Judd Deere
But it isn’t the President’s job to shill for private plans while ignoring publicly-run traditional Medicare, which has provided seniors with quality health coverage for more than 50 years. Medicare remains one of the most efficient health insurers in the nation, consistently spending less per patient than private insurance providers.
While Medicare Advantage may be a viable option for healthier seniors, it constricts patients’ choices of doctors and may not cover medical expenses incurred while traveling. A healthy senior might not worry about the limited network of medical providers in Medicare Advantage, but a patient diagnosed with a chronic or serious condition like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer may find that her preferred specialists are not part of her private MA insurer’s system. If that patient switches to traditional Medicare, she may not be able to acquire a supplemental Medigap policy to cover copays and deductibles.
Meanwhile, Medicare Advantage plans are currently under fire from watchdog groups for overcharging for health care services, to the tune of billions of dollars.
“Officials have known for years that some Medicare Advantage plans overbill the government by exaggerating how sick their patients are or by charging Medicare for treating serious medical conditions they cannot prove their patients have… Officials with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services repeatedly have postponed or backed off efforts to crack down on billing abuses and mistakes.” – National Public Radio, 7/16/19
As we begin another open enrollment season, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) online tools once again may be skewed toward Medicare Advantage. That flies in the face of CMS claims that its goal is to be “a trusted and neutral resource for Medicare beneficiaries.” As David Lipschutz of the Center for Medicare Advocacy noted:
“Unfortunately, CMS materials since the Fall of 2017 have not maintained such neutrality. Rather than presenting differences between traditional Medicare and private MA plans in an unbiased manner, CMS material has overplayed the pluses of MA and downplayed minuses in a manner that is highly misleading, at best.” – Center for Medicare Advocacy, 8/8/19
Debunking “Socialist Destruction”
Through word and deed, President Trump has betrayed his campaign promise to protect Medicare. But in Florida it appears that the president, with his talk of “Socialist Destruction,” will take this effort to undermine the program to new Orwellian lows. In fact, Medicare has deep roots in American social policy dating to the early 20th century, an evolving belief that workers needed insurance against inevitable economic hardships – including sickness, disability, retirement, and loss of employment.
Before Medicare was enacted in 1965, conservatives including Ronald Reagan predicted that if the seniors’ health care program became law, Americans would one day find themselves “telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
But President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed Medicare into law, had it right when he said that Medicare “is the American way. It is practical. It is sensible. It is fair. It is just.”
Fifty-four years later, there’s no doubt that Medicare needs improvements. Democrats in Congress have proposed legislation to add dental, hearing, and vision coverage to traditional Medicare. Speaker Pelosi has championed a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with Big Pharma, which could save patients and taxpayers billions of dollars per year. The Affordable Care Act – which President Trump tried mightily to repeal and continues to undermine – extended Medicare’s solvency and provided beneficiaries with annual wellness screenings at no out-of-pocket cost to the patient.
The Trump administration and powerful special interests may want to see Medicare cut and privatized, but the public is solidly behind the program. Polling indicates that majorities of voters across party lines oppose Medicare benefit cuts – including raising the eligibility age to 67 – and do not want to see the program privatized. The president can go Florida, pose as a champion for seniors’ health care, and rant about “Socialist Destruction,” but seniors know that the Trump administration and its allies in Congress constitute the most fundamental threat to Medicare today.
National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman sent the following letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal in response to an article, “Social Security Expansion Under Consideration Would Boost Payroll Taxes” (9/11/19):
The Journal article on Rep. John Larson’s legislation to strengthen Social Security benefits is lacking some crucial context.
Social Security payroll taxes have been raised multiple times since the program’s creation in 1935. Rep. Larson’s proposed 1.2% increase in employee contributions over 24 years would be one of the smallest payroll tax adjustments in Social Security’s history. And, as Rep. Larson reminds us, for what other “tax” do workers receive retirement, disability, spousal, and survivor insurance?
The alternative to Rep. Larson’s approach, espoused by many conservatives, is to cut benefits. But public opinion is squarely on Rep. Larson’s side. In a recent Pew Research poll, nearly 75% of adults oppose any reductions in benefits, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats.
American workers realize that with pensions vanishing, saving for retirement becoming increasingly difficult, and seniors’ living expenses soaring, they will depend on every penny of their Social Security benefits to stay financially afloat in old age.