Major kudos to Elizabeth Warren for being the first candidate to mention Social Security on the 2020 Democratic primary debate stage. The moderators of last night’s CNN/New York Times debate failed to ask a single question about Social Security, but Senator Warren raised the issue in response to the topic of Universal Basic Income.
“I understand that what we’re all looking for is how we strengthen America’s middle class. And actually, I think the thing closest to the universal basic income is Social Security. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve put forward a plan to extend the solvency of Social Security by decades and add $200 to the payment of every person who receives Social Security right now and every person who receives disability insurance…”
Senator Warren unveiled her Social Security proposal last month. It tracks pretty closely with Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act and Senator Bernie Sanders’ Social Security Expansion Act, though Sanders did not mention his own proposal in last night’s debate.
In fact, none of the other candidates took the time to follow-up on Senator Warren’s Social Security comments, nor did the moderators. National Committee president Max Richtman had implored moderators Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett, and Mark Lacey to include a question about Social Security in last night’s debate, writing letters to all three in advance. Last week, Richtman argued in the online publication, Common Dreams:
“How long do seniors have to wait until they hear the Democratic presidential candidates’ positions on Social Security during a primary debate? Older Americans are the country’s largest voting bloc, but during the first four Democratic presidential debates, the moderators didn’t ask even one question about Social Security. This makes no sense.” – Max Richtman, National Committee President and CEO, 10/10/19
In his letters, Richtman suggested that the debate moderators ask a question about how the candidates would keep Social Security financially sound, with the trust fund facing insolvency in 2035. Both Warren’s and Sanders’ plans fix that problem while modestly boosting benefits, as does Rep. Larson’s.
What’s more, some Democratic candidates do address Social Security on the campaign trail. Joe Biden told a seniors’ forum in Iowa that “we should be increasing, not decreasing, Social Security.” Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Corey Booker have all advocated boosting and strengthening the program. But except for one mention by Senator Warren last night, viewers of the Democratic debates this primary campaign season could be forgiven for not knowing the candidates’ positions on Americans’ earned benefits.
The next Democratic debate is scheduled for November 20th in Atlanta, hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post. Let’s hope the moderators of that debate recognize the importance of Social Security to millions of Americans and will include a question about how to safeguard the program’s future. As Senator Warren said last night, “After a lifetime of hard work, people are entitled to retire with dignity.” Debate viewers deserve to know how the candidates plan to uphold that promise.
Today marked an important step in the National Committee’s Don’t Cut Pills, Cut Profits campaign to educate and empower voters to help reduce prescription drug prices. Seniors in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area joined elected leaders and experts for a town hall this morning on the skyrocketing cost of drugs. The town hall featured Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin State Senator Tim Carpenter, and a panel of experts from the National Committee and the event’s cosponsor, AARP.
Attendees at today’s town hall shared stories about hardships caused by soaring drug prices:
“I purchase my prescriptions from a Canadian pharmacy because costs are considerably less and generic alternatives are available that can’t be purchased in the United States.”
“I have a chronic autoimmune disease. One of my meds costs about $4,000 a month.”
“My insulin drug cost has gone from $72 a month to $600 a month. I’m no longer able to purchase the prescribed brand that my doctor ordered.”
“Our daughter’s caregiver couldn’t afford her medication for a condition she had. She died as a result.”
These kinds of stories are painfully common, especially among seniors living on fixed incomes. The median annual income for Medicare beneficiaries is only $26,200. Meanwhile, the price of the most commonly prescribed medications for seniors increased ten times the rate of inflation between 2013 and 2018. According to AARP, the annual average cost of prescription drugs overall increased nearly 60% between 2012-2017.
Today’s prescription drug pricing town hall was moderated by National Committee president and CEO Max Richtman, who wrote in the Friday edition of the Milwaukee Courier:
“As seniors struggle to pay for life-saving medications, Big Pharma has been raking in record profits. This is unacceptable in the world’s wealthiest country. But there is something that older Wisconsinites can do about it: become educated about the forces behind rising drug prices – and empowered to help bring those prices down to earth for the sake of Americans of all ages.” – Max Richtman, Milwaukee Courier, 10/11/19
The National Committee supports legislation to lower prescription prices, including the bill put forward by the House Democratic leadership that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug costs with pharmaceutical companies. At this morning’s town hall, Congresswoman Moore took the drug industry to task for labeling such measures “socialism,” pointing out that the rest of the federal government (including the military) negotiates prices with businesses, why not Medicare? Price negotiation, she said, is fundamental to capitalism.
The “Don’t Cut Pills, Cut Profits” campaign is committed to ending prescription price gouging by holding drug-makers and elected leaders accountable, with the help of millions of seniors around the country. The campaign includes town halls, voter education, petition drives, and outreach to Members of Congress to vote for legislation that will reduce drug costs. The next town halls will be held in Portland, Oregon on November 8th and Lansing, Michigan on December 9th.
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 are projected to rise 6% in 2020 The prices of the most commonly prescribed drugs for seniors on Medicare increased 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.