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Blog2019-11-06T16:57:30-04:00
2001, 2022

SSA Field Offices to Re-open in March

By |January 20th, 2022|Acting SSA Commissioner Kijakazi, Disability, Social Security, Social Security Administration (SSA), SSA field offices|

After nearly two years of Social Security field offices being closed for all but “dire needs,” the Social Security Administration indicated Thursday that there is progress toward re-opening.  Acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi announced in a press release that the agency and its three main labor unions have reached agreement on a re-opening plan.  The news site Government Executive reported that the target re-opening date is March, 30, “although that date can be postponed if there is another spike in COVID-19 cases.”

“I’m happy with this agreement because it’s going to save lives, and that’s not an exaggeration… We’ve seen how pervasive the Omicron and Delta variants have been in this country, particularly in recent weeks, and pushing out the reentry date to the end of March gives everybody the opportunity to wait out the wave, which will hopefully subside, and plan accordingly.” – Rich Couture, President of AFGE Council 215

The re-opening plan includes an agreement with the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) to restore in-person Social Security disability hearings, which have been mostly virtual since the beginning of the pandemic. As Federal News Network reports, the agreement sets up a “hybrid model of in-person and virtual hearings… as a promising model for the future of work.”

AALJ President Som Ramrup praised the agreement as a win for disability claimants.

 “AALJ (judges are) really focused on providing due process to the claimants that appear before us. Part of that process is the method of the hearing, and to the extent that certain individuals and claimants are uncomfortable with video or telephone, we’re going to give them the opportunity to do it in-person.” AALJ President Som Ramrup, 1/20/22

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has advocated for the resumption of in-person hearings and the re-opening of field offices, so long as it could be done safely for seniors and other beneficiaries.  “It’s a good thing that SSA has begun the arduous task of reopening its network of field offices to Americans who depend on the in-person services they offer,” says NCPSSM Senior Policy Analyst Webster Phillips.

SSA field offices have been largely closed since March, 2020, forcing most seniors and people with disabilities to obtain customer service virtually – via the internet, telephone, and video conferencing. This has been a burden for beneficiaries who lack internet access or adequate technical skills to navigate virtual services.

“Applying for disability benefits in particular can be a very cumbersome process, especially virtually,” says NCPSSM Senior Policy Analyst Maria Freese, along with applying for a Social Security number, change of name, and other services. “These things require a lot of documentation. During the pandemic, people have had to mail-in original documents, and SSA might keep them for a really long time because of service backlogs. You could get stuck for months without your driver’s license or other personal documents, waiting for SSA to return them.”

Acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi

With the details of field office re-openings still pending, SSA Commissioner Kajakazi urges claimants and beneficiaries to continue using the agency’s virtual resources.

“For now, you should continue to reach us online at www.socialsecurity.gov or by calling our National 800 Number or your local office. We will let you know when we are able to restore additional services,” Kajakazi says.


1101, 2022

Pending Aduhelm Coverage Decision Could Pave the Way for Lower Medicare Premiums

By |January 11th, 2022|COLAs, Congress, Medicare, Medicare premiums, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden|

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra

**** THIS IS AN UPDATE OF A BLOG POST FROM JANUARY, 2022 ****

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra confirmed last Thursday that he could lower the large 2022 Medicare Part B premium increase right now, but he would rather wait until Medicare makes a final decision on whether to cover the controversial and expensive Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm.

“Once we have that determination, we’ll be able to fully assess what impact Aduhelm may have had on premiums for seniors in Medicare… We’re gonna make sure that seniors don’t pay more than they have to.” – HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, 3/17/22

Medicare’s final decision is due by April 11, 2022. Back in January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a preliminary decision to limit Aduhelm coverage to patients who are participating in approved clinical trials. That means most Part B beneficiaries would not have coverage for Aduhelm.

The arrival of Aduhelm, originally priced at $56,000 per year (and later lowered to $28,200) contributed to the highest increase in Medicare Part B premiums in recent history.  Beneficiaries have seen their monthly premiums jump to from $148.50 to $170.10 this year.  The preliminary coverage decision on Aduhelm should clear the way for the Biden administration to roll back the Part B premium increase, something seniors’ advocates have demanded since the premium hike was announced last month.

“Medicare’s preliminary decision to limit Part B coverage for the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm is good news for beneficiaries. Restricting coverage to patients in clinical trials is sound policy, given concerns about Aduhelm’s efficacy and side effects — and will significantly lower Medicare’ costs.  Seniors on fixed incomes should not have to subsidize a questionably effective new drug, grossly overpriced by Big Pharma.” – Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 1/12/22

Last month, NCPSSM President and CEO Max Richtman sent a letter to the White House on December 14th asking President Biden to intervene.

“To many seniors and people with disabilities living on a fixed income, a $21 increase will cause hardship. The Part B premium hike will consume a significant amount of their Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) at a time when inflation is making so many other goods and services… more expensive.” – NCPSSM letter to President Biden, 12/14/21

NCPSSM and other seniors advocates were encouraged earlier this week when HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra ordered the Medicare program to re-assess the Part B premium increase. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services now has until April to respond.

The grossly overpriced medication, whose efficacy and side effects are problematic, brought fresh scrutiny of Big Pharma price gouging. Independent analysis places the value of Aduhelm at a fraction of its $28,200 a year cost.  The National Committee has long fought for Medicare to have the ability to negotiate prices with drugmakers. But the current version of the Democrats’ Build Back Better plan, currently stalled in the U.S. Senate, would not allow Medicare to negotiate the price of new drugs like Aduhelm.  Build Back Better originally included more robust price negotiation, but it was diluted after objections from Democratic centrists.

“What makes Aduhelm’s exorbitant cost all the more unconscionable is that many in the scientific establishment do not think the drug is even safe or effective. The American Academy of Neurology has raised concerns about the drug’s safety — it can cause brain swelling — and the ‘absence of convincing scientific evidence of efficacy.’” – NCPSSM letter, 12/14/21

Meanwhile, NCPSSM has urged President Biden to reinstate the ‘reasonable pricing clause’ established by the National Institutes of Health in 1989 but later revoked. “Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers should pay a reasonable price for effective drugs that are worth the amount manufacturers charge,” writes Richtman.

“It’s unlikely that the President would roll back the entire Part B premium increase,” says NCPSSM legislative and policy director Dan Adcock. “It’s more plausible that he would reduce the premium by about $11.50 per month, the amount attributable to the cost of Aduhelm.”


1001, 2022

Seniors’ Voting Rights on the Line As Schumer Vows Senate Action

By |January 10th, 2022|Democrats, Election 2022, Republicans, Voting Rights|

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has set a self-imposed deadline of January 17th – Martin Luther King Day – to pass sweeping voting rights legislation.  This will be a heavy lift given opposition from Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to adjusting the filibuster, an essential step in passing voting rights legislation without Republican votes. Nevertheless, President Biden and Hill Democrats feel compelled to try, given that the voting rights of millions of Americans – including and especially seniors – are very much at stake with the 2022 midterm elections approaching.

The push for new federal voting rights legislation became more urgent when Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country began passing restrictive voting laws in the wake of the 2020 election, based on the Big Lie that it was plagued by massive voter fraud.

 “Anything that makes it harder for people to cast their vote will have an oversized impact on seniors.” – Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes

From Florida to Arizona, onerous state laws would make it harder for seniors to vote by imposing new restrictions on mail-in voting, drop boxes, and early voting – all of which older Americans have come to depend on in exercising their right to cast ballots. Some 54% of senior voters cast votes by mail in 2020, according the Chicago Tribune. 

The new restrictions would particularly impact seniors of color, many of whom continue to prefer voting in person.  Some of the laws erect obstacles to in-person voting, affecting minority precincts the most.  Restricted voting hours, stringent ID requirements, and arbitrary prohibitions (enacted in Georgia) against volunteers providing voters with water and food while they wait in overly long lines, seemed designed to target minority voters (especially elderly ones).

“Most people who live in (minority) wards are older African Americans who like to go to the polls because they fought for their right to vote. But… some polling stations (in 2020) were lacking poll workers and not abiding by health guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.” – St. Louis Public Radio

It’s no secret that Republican state legislators have enacted these laws in order to suppress Democratic votes, alarmed that some traditionally red states turned purple in 2020.  But observers have noted that Republicans’ fixation on limiting mail-in voting, for instance, could backfire, as many of their voters are seniors who cast ballots by mail.

“Smaller rural counties have a large elderly population who typically choose to vote absentee because of weather or health concerns. Why are we making it harder for them to vote?” Rebecca Bissell, Adams County, FL Elections Commissioner

The Senate Democrats’ voting rights bill, based on legislation passed in the House in 2021, would neutralize many of the objectionable voting laws enacted in the states. It would, in effect, restore many of the Voting Rights Act protections that the Supreme Court invalidated in 2013, giving the federal government greater oversight of state election laws.

The Senate voting rights bill would also:

*Make Election Day a public holiday;

*Mandate same-day voter registration;

*Guarantee that all voters can request mail-in ballots;

*Restore federal voting rights for ex-felons.

In September, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare sent letters to Senators Manchin and Sinema, imploring them to support changes to the filibuster that would allow voting rights legislation to pass the Senate.

“We urge you to support a narrow change to the filibuster rule to allow the Senate to approve new voting rights legislation by a simple majority vote. This crucial legislation will help to protect our democracy and the right to vote for all Americans.” – NCPSSM President Max Richtman, 9/21/21

Unfortunately, neither Senator has budged yet, effectively blocking commonsense legislation that would make it easier for their own constituents to vote. In order to rally support, President Biden will campaign for a “filibuster carveout” during a scheduled trip to Georgia on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, former First Lady Michelle Obama announced on Sunday that she will lead “a coalition of voting rights organizations to register more than a million new voters in the run-up to this year’s mid-term elections,” reports Politico.

With the political muscle of the President and former First Lady behind it, voting rights legislation may have a slightly better chance of passage. At the very least, a Senate floor vote will force Senators to go squarely on the record as supporting – or opposing – fundamental rights cherished by seniors, people of color, and, presumably, all Americans.


2212, 2021

Trump Plan to Privatize Medicare Is Alive and Well

By |December 22nd, 2021|Medicare, privatization, Trump Administration, Uncategorized|

Seniors and their loved ones may be alarmed to learn that there is an insidious, but largely unpublicized effort underway to gradually privatize Medicare. According to media reports, some traditional Medicare patients are now being placed in for-profit managed care plans without even knowing, thanks to a Trump administration policy that is still in effect. Under this pilot program, called “Direct Contracting,” private companies are supervising selected Medicare patients’ care, even though the beneficiaries signed up for traditional Medicare. 

“The experiment is likely to make traditional Medicare a gold-mine for for-profit companies, who will make money for executives and shareholders by establishing complex administrative rules that undermine access to care and by imposing high out-of-pocket costs that discourage care.” – Common Dreams, 3/8/21

Up to now, traditional Medicare has been administered exclusively by the government, with no profit motive – unlike the Medicare Advantage program, which is run by private, corporate interests.  The Direct Contracting model is a serious, but lesser-known move toward privatizing the entire Medicare program – something the majority of the public and seniors’ advocates fiercely oppose. With good reason.

“Instead of paying doctors and hospitals directly for seniors’ care, Medicare gives these middlemen (called Direct Contracting Entities, or DCEs) a monthly payment to cover a defined portion of each seniors’ medical expenses. DCEs are then allowed to keep what they don’t pay for in health services, a dangerous financial incentive to restrict and ration seniors’ care.” – Rep. Pramila Jayapal, The Hill, 12/9/21

“The lure of Direct Contracting for these companies is potential profits. The limits on the amount of money a Direct Contracting entity can keep that’s not used for a patient’s medical needs is significantly more generous than those imposed by Medicare Advantage.” – Helaine Olen, Washington Post, 12/13/21  

Worse yet, the Direct Contractors needn’t have any experience in the health care field.  Venture capital and private equity firms (some with ties to former Trump administration officials) are among the corporate concerns “who are lined up like pigs at the trough to get their hands on taxpayer dollars,” according to Helaine Olen of The Washington Post.  In fact, Congress has no oversight authority over the selection of direct contractors in the pilot program.

“This should be a huge red flag for taxpayers and anyone concerned about funding Medicare for future generations,” says Rep. Japyal, who sits on the House Budget Committee.

Privatized plans generally cost the Medicare program more money and can erect barriers to proper care, in the form of higher out-of-pocket costs, denied claims, and limited networks of health care providers.  In other words, patients suffer while the private plans make billions.

Medicare Advantage plans have also been caught overcharging the program (i.e., American taxpayers) and using other deceptive tactics. “The incentive is to deny as much care as possible,” health advocate Diane Archer told The Intercept. “It’s also to delay as much care as possible.”

The Direct Contracting model has different rules than Medicare Advantage, but the pilot program clearly incentivizes profit over patient care.

“While Traditional Medicare spends an impressive 98 percent of its budget on patient care, Direct Contracting Entities only spends 60 percent of our tax dollars on patient care — keeping up to 40% of revenues for their own profit and overhead.” – Common Dreams, 3/8/21

Seniors’ advocates and champions in Congress are pushing-back on the Direct Contracting program, insisting that the Biden administration cancel it.  According to Rep. Jayapal, advocates have met with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to make their objections known, and have demanded that Congress hold hearings on the program.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal calls the Trump-era policy a” dangerous financial incentive to restrict and ration seniors’ care.”

Four Democratic members of Congress sent Becerra a letter last May, requesting that the Direct Contracting program be frozen because it funnels patients into “Medicare Advantage-like plans, (which) not only eliminates beneficiary choice, but also erects more barriers and provides fewer consumer protections for beneficiaries.”

Olen reports in The Post that the Biden administration put a “temporary stop” on “an even more egregious version of the (pilot) program.”  But “CMS, HHS, and ultimately, the White House are continuing to press ahead with Direct Contracting, even though they could end it if they choose.”

Despite journalists’ efforts to shine light on the program and objections from members of Congress and the advocacy community, the Direct Contracting program – a vestige of the Trump administration that favored profits over patients – proceeds unimpeded.


1712, 2021

President Biden Should Roll Back Medicare Premium Hike

By |December 17th, 2021|COLAs, Congress, Medicare, Medicare premiums, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden|

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Note:  Since this post was published, the drugmaker Biogen reduced the price of Aduhelm from $56,000 to $28,200. It is unclear, however, whether that will lower the scheduled Medicare Part B premium increase for 2022. 

*************************************************************************************************************************

The National Committee is urging President Biden to mitigate the announced $21 monthly increase in Medicare Part B premiums. President and CEO Max Richtman sent a letter to the White House this week asking President Biden to intervene before the premium hike takes effect in 2022.

“To many seniors and people with disabilities living on a fixed income, a $21 increase will cause hardship. The Part B premium hike will consume a significant amount of their Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) at a time when inflation is making so many other goods and services… more expensive.”  – NCPSSM letter to President Biden, 12/14/21

The premium increase is driven partly by the introduction of the new Alzeheimer’s drug, Aduhelm, with a price tag of $56,000.  The cost of Aduhelm was factored into the 2022 premium hike in the event that Medicare Part B covers it, which is not even certain.

“Beneficiaries in traditional Medicare without supplemental coverage would be forced to pay a 20 percent co-payment of $11,200 out of pocket for Aduhelm. This medication is ‘Exhibit A’ for what is wrong with drug pricing in the United States and why Medicare should have broad authority to negotiate prescription drugs prices, including medications under patent or exclusivity.” – NCPSSM letter, 12/14/21

The current version of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan would not allow Medicare to negotiate the price of new drugs like Aduhelm.  Build Back Better originally included more robust price negotiation, but it was diluted after objections from Democratic centrists.

Independent analysis places the value of Aduhelm at a fraction of its $56,000 a year cost.

“What makes Aduhelm’s exorbitant cost all the more unconscionable is that many in the scientific establishment do not think the drug is even safe or effective. The American Academy of Neurology has raised concerns about the drug’s safety — it can cause brain swelling — and the ‘absence of convincing scientific evidence of efficacy.’” – NCPSSM letter, 12/14/21

The National Committee is calling on President Biden to take steps to prevent Aduhelm from driving up the cost of Part B premiums for seniors and people with disabilities.  In addition, NCPSSM urges the President to reinstate the ‘reasonable pricing clause’ established by the National Institutes of Health in 1989 but later revoked. “Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers should pay a reasonable price for effective drugs that are worth the amount manufacturers charge,” writes Richtman.

“It’s unlikely that the President would roll back the entire Part B premium increase,” says NCPSSM legislative and policy director Dan Adcock. “It’s more plausible that he would reduce the premium by about $11.50 per month, the amount attributable to the cost of Aduhelm.”


SSA Field Offices to Re-open in March

By |January 20th, 2022|Acting SSA Commissioner Kijakazi, Disability, Social Security, Social Security Administration (SSA), SSA field offices|

After nearly two years of Social Security field offices being closed for all but “dire needs,” the Social Security Administration indicated Thursday that there is progress toward re-opening.  Acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi announced in a press release that the agency and its three main labor unions have reached agreement on a re-opening plan.  The news site Government Executive reported that the target re-opening date is March, 30, “although that date can be postponed if there is another spike in COVID-19 cases.”

“I’m happy with this agreement because it’s going to save lives, and that’s not an exaggeration… We’ve seen how pervasive the Omicron and Delta variants have been in this country, particularly in recent weeks, and pushing out the reentry date to the end of March gives everybody the opportunity to wait out the wave, which will hopefully subside, and plan accordingly.” – Rich Couture, President of AFGE Council 215

The re-opening plan includes an agreement with the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) to restore in-person Social Security disability hearings, which have been mostly virtual since the beginning of the pandemic. As Federal News Network reports, the agreement sets up a “hybrid model of in-person and virtual hearings… as a promising model for the future of work.”

AALJ President Som Ramrup praised the agreement as a win for disability claimants.

 “AALJ (judges are) really focused on providing due process to the claimants that appear before us. Part of that process is the method of the hearing, and to the extent that certain individuals and claimants are uncomfortable with video or telephone, we’re going to give them the opportunity to do it in-person.” AALJ President Som Ramrup, 1/20/22

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has advocated for the resumption of in-person hearings and the re-opening of field offices, so long as it could be done safely for seniors and other beneficiaries.  “It’s a good thing that SSA has begun the arduous task of reopening its network of field offices to Americans who depend on the in-person services they offer,” says NCPSSM Senior Policy Analyst Webster Phillips.

SSA field offices have been largely closed since March, 2020, forcing most seniors and people with disabilities to obtain customer service virtually – via the internet, telephone, and video conferencing. This has been a burden for beneficiaries who lack internet access or adequate technical skills to navigate virtual services.

“Applying for disability benefits in particular can be a very cumbersome process, especially virtually,” says NCPSSM Senior Policy Analyst Maria Freese, along with applying for a Social Security number, change of name, and other services. “These things require a lot of documentation. During the pandemic, people have had to mail-in original documents, and SSA might keep them for a really long time because of service backlogs. You could get stuck for months without your driver’s license or other personal documents, waiting for SSA to return them.”

Acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi

With the details of field office re-openings still pending, SSA Commissioner Kajakazi urges claimants and beneficiaries to continue using the agency’s virtual resources.

“For now, you should continue to reach us online at www.socialsecurity.gov or by calling our National 800 Number or your local office. We will let you know when we are able to restore additional services,” Kajakazi says.


Pending Aduhelm Coverage Decision Could Pave the Way for Lower Medicare Premiums

By |January 11th, 2022|COLAs, Congress, Medicare, Medicare premiums, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden|

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra

**** THIS IS AN UPDATE OF A BLOG POST FROM JANUARY, 2022 ****

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra confirmed last Thursday that he could lower the large 2022 Medicare Part B premium increase right now, but he would rather wait until Medicare makes a final decision on whether to cover the controversial and expensive Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm.

“Once we have that determination, we’ll be able to fully assess what impact Aduhelm may have had on premiums for seniors in Medicare… We’re gonna make sure that seniors don’t pay more than they have to.” – HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, 3/17/22

Medicare’s final decision is due by April 11, 2022. Back in January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a preliminary decision to limit Aduhelm coverage to patients who are participating in approved clinical trials. That means most Part B beneficiaries would not have coverage for Aduhelm.

The arrival of Aduhelm, originally priced at $56,000 per year (and later lowered to $28,200) contributed to the highest increase in Medicare Part B premiums in recent history.  Beneficiaries have seen their monthly premiums jump to from $148.50 to $170.10 this year.  The preliminary coverage decision on Aduhelm should clear the way for the Biden administration to roll back the Part B premium increase, something seniors’ advocates have demanded since the premium hike was announced last month.

“Medicare’s preliminary decision to limit Part B coverage for the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm is good news for beneficiaries. Restricting coverage to patients in clinical trials is sound policy, given concerns about Aduhelm’s efficacy and side effects — and will significantly lower Medicare’ costs.  Seniors on fixed incomes should not have to subsidize a questionably effective new drug, grossly overpriced by Big Pharma.” – Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 1/12/22

Last month, NCPSSM President and CEO Max Richtman sent a letter to the White House on December 14th asking President Biden to intervene.

“To many seniors and people with disabilities living on a fixed income, a $21 increase will cause hardship. The Part B premium hike will consume a significant amount of their Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) at a time when inflation is making so many other goods and services… more expensive.” – NCPSSM letter to President Biden, 12/14/21

NCPSSM and other seniors advocates were encouraged earlier this week when HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra ordered the Medicare program to re-assess the Part B premium increase. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services now has until April to respond.

The grossly overpriced medication, whose efficacy and side effects are problematic, brought fresh scrutiny of Big Pharma price gouging. Independent analysis places the value of Aduhelm at a fraction of its $28,200 a year cost.  The National Committee has long fought for Medicare to have the ability to negotiate prices with drugmakers. But the current version of the Democrats’ Build Back Better plan, currently stalled in the U.S. Senate, would not allow Medicare to negotiate the price of new drugs like Aduhelm.  Build Back Better originally included more robust price negotiation, but it was diluted after objections from Democratic centrists.

“What makes Aduhelm’s exorbitant cost all the more unconscionable is that many in the scientific establishment do not think the drug is even safe or effective. The American Academy of Neurology has raised concerns about the drug’s safety — it can cause brain swelling — and the ‘absence of convincing scientific evidence of efficacy.’” – NCPSSM letter, 12/14/21

Meanwhile, NCPSSM has urged President Biden to reinstate the ‘reasonable pricing clause’ established by the National Institutes of Health in 1989 but later revoked. “Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers should pay a reasonable price for effective drugs that are worth the amount manufacturers charge,” writes Richtman.

“It’s unlikely that the President would roll back the entire Part B premium increase,” says NCPSSM legislative and policy director Dan Adcock. “It’s more plausible that he would reduce the premium by about $11.50 per month, the amount attributable to the cost of Aduhelm.”


Seniors’ Voting Rights on the Line As Schumer Vows Senate Action

By |January 10th, 2022|Democrats, Election 2022, Republicans, Voting Rights|

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has set a self-imposed deadline of January 17th – Martin Luther King Day – to pass sweeping voting rights legislation.  This will be a heavy lift given opposition from Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to adjusting the filibuster, an essential step in passing voting rights legislation without Republican votes. Nevertheless, President Biden and Hill Democrats feel compelled to try, given that the voting rights of millions of Americans – including and especially seniors – are very much at stake with the 2022 midterm elections approaching.

The push for new federal voting rights legislation became more urgent when Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country began passing restrictive voting laws in the wake of the 2020 election, based on the Big Lie that it was plagued by massive voter fraud.

 “Anything that makes it harder for people to cast their vote will have an oversized impact on seniors.” – Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes

From Florida to Arizona, onerous state laws would make it harder for seniors to vote by imposing new restrictions on mail-in voting, drop boxes, and early voting – all of which older Americans have come to depend on in exercising their right to cast ballots. Some 54% of senior voters cast votes by mail in 2020, according the Chicago Tribune. 

The new restrictions would particularly impact seniors of color, many of whom continue to prefer voting in person.  Some of the laws erect obstacles to in-person voting, affecting minority precincts the most.  Restricted voting hours, stringent ID requirements, and arbitrary prohibitions (enacted in Georgia) against volunteers providing voters with water and food while they wait in overly long lines, seemed designed to target minority voters (especially elderly ones).

“Most people who live in (minority) wards are older African Americans who like to go to the polls because they fought for their right to vote. But… some polling stations (in 2020) were lacking poll workers and not abiding by health guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.” – St. Louis Public Radio

It’s no secret that Republican state legislators have enacted these laws in order to suppress Democratic votes, alarmed that some traditionally red states turned purple in 2020.  But observers have noted that Republicans’ fixation on limiting mail-in voting, for instance, could backfire, as many of their voters are seniors who cast ballots by mail.

“Smaller rural counties have a large elderly population who typically choose to vote absentee because of weather or health concerns. Why are we making it harder for them to vote?” Rebecca Bissell, Adams County, FL Elections Commissioner

The Senate Democrats’ voting rights bill, based on legislation passed in the House in 2021, would neutralize many of the objectionable voting laws enacted in the states. It would, in effect, restore many of the Voting Rights Act protections that the Supreme Court invalidated in 2013, giving the federal government greater oversight of state election laws.

The Senate voting rights bill would also:

*Make Election Day a public holiday;

*Mandate same-day voter registration;

*Guarantee that all voters can request mail-in ballots;

*Restore federal voting rights for ex-felons.

In September, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare sent letters to Senators Manchin and Sinema, imploring them to support changes to the filibuster that would allow voting rights legislation to pass the Senate.

“We urge you to support a narrow change to the filibuster rule to allow the Senate to approve new voting rights legislation by a simple majority vote. This crucial legislation will help to protect our democracy and the right to vote for all Americans.” – NCPSSM President Max Richtman, 9/21/21

Unfortunately, neither Senator has budged yet, effectively blocking commonsense legislation that would make it easier for their own constituents to vote. In order to rally support, President Biden will campaign for a “filibuster carveout” during a scheduled trip to Georgia on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, former First Lady Michelle Obama announced on Sunday that she will lead “a coalition of voting rights organizations to register more than a million new voters in the run-up to this year’s mid-term elections,” reports Politico.

With the political muscle of the President and former First Lady behind it, voting rights legislation may have a slightly better chance of passage. At the very least, a Senate floor vote will force Senators to go squarely on the record as supporting – or opposing – fundamental rights cherished by seniors, people of color, and, presumably, all Americans.


Trump Plan to Privatize Medicare Is Alive and Well

By |December 22nd, 2021|Medicare, privatization, Trump Administration, Uncategorized|

Seniors and their loved ones may be alarmed to learn that there is an insidious, but largely unpublicized effort underway to gradually privatize Medicare. According to media reports, some traditional Medicare patients are now being placed in for-profit managed care plans without even knowing, thanks to a Trump administration policy that is still in effect. Under this pilot program, called “Direct Contracting,” private companies are supervising selected Medicare patients’ care, even though the beneficiaries signed up for traditional Medicare. 

“The experiment is likely to make traditional Medicare a gold-mine for for-profit companies, who will make money for executives and shareholders by establishing complex administrative rules that undermine access to care and by imposing high out-of-pocket costs that discourage care.” – Common Dreams, 3/8/21

Up to now, traditional Medicare has been administered exclusively by the government, with no profit motive – unlike the Medicare Advantage program, which is run by private, corporate interests.  The Direct Contracting model is a serious, but lesser-known move toward privatizing the entire Medicare program – something the majority of the public and seniors’ advocates fiercely oppose. With good reason.

“Instead of paying doctors and hospitals directly for seniors’ care, Medicare gives these middlemen (called Direct Contracting Entities, or DCEs) a monthly payment to cover a defined portion of each seniors’ medical expenses. DCEs are then allowed to keep what they don’t pay for in health services, a dangerous financial incentive to restrict and ration seniors’ care.” – Rep. Pramila Jayapal, The Hill, 12/9/21

“The lure of Direct Contracting for these companies is potential profits. The limits on the amount of money a Direct Contracting entity can keep that’s not used for a patient’s medical needs is significantly more generous than those imposed by Medicare Advantage.” – Helaine Olen, Washington Post, 12/13/21  

Worse yet, the Direct Contractors needn’t have any experience in the health care field.  Venture capital and private equity firms (some with ties to former Trump administration officials) are among the corporate concerns “who are lined up like pigs at the trough to get their hands on taxpayer dollars,” according to Helaine Olen of The Washington Post.  In fact, Congress has no oversight authority over the selection of direct contractors in the pilot program.

“This should be a huge red flag for taxpayers and anyone concerned about funding Medicare for future generations,” says Rep. Japyal, who sits on the House Budget Committee.

Privatized plans generally cost the Medicare program more money and can erect barriers to proper care, in the form of higher out-of-pocket costs, denied claims, and limited networks of health care providers.  In other words, patients suffer while the private plans make billions.

Medicare Advantage plans have also been caught overcharging the program (i.e., American taxpayers) and using other deceptive tactics. “The incentive is to deny as much care as possible,” health advocate Diane Archer told The Intercept. “It’s also to delay as much care as possible.”

The Direct Contracting model has different rules than Medicare Advantage, but the pilot program clearly incentivizes profit over patient care.

“While Traditional Medicare spends an impressive 98 percent of its budget on patient care, Direct Contracting Entities only spends 60 percent of our tax dollars on patient care — keeping up to 40% of revenues for their own profit and overhead.” – Common Dreams, 3/8/21

Seniors’ advocates and champions in Congress are pushing-back on the Direct Contracting program, insisting that the Biden administration cancel it.  According to Rep. Jayapal, advocates have met with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to make their objections known, and have demanded that Congress hold hearings on the program.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal calls the Trump-era policy a” dangerous financial incentive to restrict and ration seniors’ care.”

Four Democratic members of Congress sent Becerra a letter last May, requesting that the Direct Contracting program be frozen because it funnels patients into “Medicare Advantage-like plans, (which) not only eliminates beneficiary choice, but also erects more barriers and provides fewer consumer protections for beneficiaries.”

Olen reports in The Post that the Biden administration put a “temporary stop” on “an even more egregious version of the (pilot) program.”  But “CMS, HHS, and ultimately, the White House are continuing to press ahead with Direct Contracting, even though they could end it if they choose.”

Despite journalists’ efforts to shine light on the program and objections from members of Congress and the advocacy community, the Direct Contracting program – a vestige of the Trump administration that favored profits over patients – proceeds unimpeded.


President Biden Should Roll Back Medicare Premium Hike

By |December 17th, 2021|COLAs, Congress, Medicare, Medicare premiums, Prescription Drug Prices, President Biden|

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Note:  Since this post was published, the drugmaker Biogen reduced the price of Aduhelm from $56,000 to $28,200. It is unclear, however, whether that will lower the scheduled Medicare Part B premium increase for 2022. 

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The National Committee is urging President Biden to mitigate the announced $21 monthly increase in Medicare Part B premiums. President and CEO Max Richtman sent a letter to the White House this week asking President Biden to intervene before the premium hike takes effect in 2022.

“To many seniors and people with disabilities living on a fixed income, a $21 increase will cause hardship. The Part B premium hike will consume a significant amount of their Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) at a time when inflation is making so many other goods and services… more expensive.”  – NCPSSM letter to President Biden, 12/14/21

The premium increase is driven partly by the introduction of the new Alzeheimer’s drug, Aduhelm, with a price tag of $56,000.  The cost of Aduhelm was factored into the 2022 premium hike in the event that Medicare Part B covers it, which is not even certain.

“Beneficiaries in traditional Medicare without supplemental coverage would be forced to pay a 20 percent co-payment of $11,200 out of pocket for Aduhelm. This medication is ‘Exhibit A’ for what is wrong with drug pricing in the United States and why Medicare should have broad authority to negotiate prescription drugs prices, including medications under patent or exclusivity.” – NCPSSM letter, 12/14/21

The current version of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan would not allow Medicare to negotiate the price of new drugs like Aduhelm.  Build Back Better originally included more robust price negotiation, but it was diluted after objections from Democratic centrists.

Independent analysis places the value of Aduhelm at a fraction of its $56,000 a year cost.

“What makes Aduhelm’s exorbitant cost all the more unconscionable is that many in the scientific establishment do not think the drug is even safe or effective. The American Academy of Neurology has raised concerns about the drug’s safety — it can cause brain swelling — and the ‘absence of convincing scientific evidence of efficacy.’” – NCPSSM letter, 12/14/21

The National Committee is calling on President Biden to take steps to prevent Aduhelm from driving up the cost of Part B premiums for seniors and people with disabilities.  In addition, NCPSSM urges the President to reinstate the ‘reasonable pricing clause’ established by the National Institutes of Health in 1989 but later revoked. “Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers should pay a reasonable price for effective drugs that are worth the amount manufacturers charge,” writes Richtman.

“It’s unlikely that the President would roll back the entire Part B premium increase,” says NCPSSM legislative and policy director Dan Adcock. “It’s more plausible that he would reduce the premium by about $11.50 per month, the amount attributable to the cost of Aduhelm.”



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