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Updated: 2014-10-03T01:49:46.234-05:00


Entitled to Know Has Moved


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Celebrating Medicare’s Anniversary


(image) 43 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare legislation into law not only for the elderly but also for younger generations who care for them. Before Medicare, half of all seniors had no health insurance and nearly 35% lived in poverty. Today senior poverty has dropped by two-thirds and all Americans 65 and older can get health insurance through the Medicare program. Medicare works.

But as Lynda Johnson Robb reminded us at our 25th Anniversary celebration in June, her father knew "Medicare would have to be carefully guarded and improved through the generations".

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Unfortuntely, the privatization of Medicare has neither improved nor carefully guarded the program's core mission to provide equitable and dependable healthcare coverage for America's retirees and the disabled. In fact, massive industry subsidies to private insurers, means-testing, higher premiums and the unchecked costs of healthcare threaten the program.

But there have been some signs that the policy and fiscal truths of the Medicare Modernization Act can no longer be ignored. Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly hopes next year's Medicare anniversary will be celebrated in a very different political landscape in Washington:

“The Congressional Medicare veto override and vote to delay arbitrary cuts show Congress has the courage to reconsider these destructive privatization provisions written by and for the drug and insurance industries. Our members hope that with a new Congress and President in the White House we’ll be able to celebrate next year’s anniversary and the end of Medicare privatization at the same time.

This privatization, which was accelerated by the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, has left seniors saddled with rising premiums, growing out of pocket costs and means testing at a time when they are already feeling the effects of an economic downturn. We must reverse the privatization politics of the past in favor of real policy solutions providing healthcare reform nationwide and strengthening our one universal healthcare plan – Medicare.”
Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO

Will Harry and Louise become healthcare bloggers?


(image) It's a provocative thought offered in jest at today’s Kaiser Family Foundation discussion on Health Bloggers and the role they play in policy debates.

For those of you who don’t remember (or would rather forget), Harry and Louise were the stars of the infamous television ad campaign launched by the health insurance industry to torpedo President Clinton’s healthcare reform proposals in 1993.

By most accounts, including this study by Duke University, this ad
campaign helped turn the tide of public opinion...leaving us without healthcare reform for going on 15 years. But as the nation finally appears ready to take another pass at reform, today's Kaiser panelists talked about the role “new media”, specifically blogs, will play in future healthcare debates.

Here’s a sampling of what some of today’s panelists opined:
The one thing the blogs are very good at is getting the media to notice them. They’re going to be very influential...There will be much more careful conversation because so many partisans are waiting to jump so ferociously on any missteps on either side.” Ezra Klein...The American Prospect

“There will be a much better debate with this many eyes and voices.” Michael Cannon, Cato Institute

“I don’t know if there will be better debate just because there will be more debate.” Tom Rosenstiel, Project for Excellence in Journalism

“It will all happen much, must faster.” John McDonough, Senior Advisor to Senator Edward Kennedy and Former Contributor, A Healthy Blog

As we’ve said here many times, we see nationwide healthcare reform and strengthening Medicare as one in the same. There are clearly lessons to be learned from America’s only universal healthcare plan, lessons we hope policy makers will heed in any future reform debate.

You can also link to video of the full Kaiser session (it runs about 90 minutes).

Congress Does NOT Pull the Trigger on Seniors


(image) Congress once again did the right thing and cast a vote for seniors in Medicare by setting aside the Bush administration’s flawed Medicare trigger proposal (required in privatization legislation passed in 2003) and the mandatory cuts it requires. Chairman Pete Stark says the trigger was passed solely “to do a hatchet-job on Medicare”. He’s so right.

The 45 percent threshold at which the “trigger” is set is a completely arbitrary limit included in the Medicare Modernization Act. There has never been a public debate on whether it is appropriate to establish a cap on the federal revenue contribution to the Medicare program at any level, nor has any policy rationale been identified for selecting 45 percent as that federal contribution limit. The fact that more than 45 percent of Medicare financing may come from general revenues poses no more of a problem in itself than the fact that 100 percent of the financing for defense, veterans’ benefits, education or most other federal programs comes from general revenues. The problem facing Medicare is the cost of health care, not how the cost is allocated between revenue sources.

Here’s reaction from our President Barbara Kennelly, after last night’s House vote suspending consideration of the Medicare trigger:
"The National Committee applauds Congress for postponing cuts which would have hurt millions of seniors who depend on Medicare while ignoring the real challenges facing our healthcare system nationwide. The 45% financing cap, mandated in Medicare privatization legislation passed 5 years ago, is arbitrary and meaningless in the larger debate of reigning in the high cost of healthcare. This healthcare crisis is crippling our nation and skyrocketing costs affect not only seniors in Medicare but Americans of all ages. This trigger is nothing more than a distraction from the true challenge facing Medicare: how will our nation provide high-quality health care for an aging population in an era of unchecked health care costs? We congratulate Congress for turning the tide away from arbitrary cuts and cost-shifting to seniors in favor of taking the longer view. Our National Committee members look forward to working with Washington to craft meaningful reform which will serve seniors in Medicare, their children and grandchildren as well."

New Social Security Estimator


(image) When should I retire?

Sounds like such a simple asked by millions of seniors each year. Yet the answers are as unique as the individual asking them. To help future retirees sort through it all, the Social Security Administration has unveiled a new benefits calculator.

This isn’t a first for SSA but this latest version goes further than earlier models. The Baltimore Sun’s Eileen Ambrose provides a nice breakdown of how it works:

You won't be able to use it if you don't have enough credits to qualify for benefits - 10 years of earnings - or you are already receiving benefits.

You will need to plug in your Social Security number and mother's maiden name. The agency says the site is secure. And when you print out your information, it won't include these identifying details.

The calculator will ask when you plan to stop working and your average future earnings. It combines these with your earnings history so far.

With the click of the mouse, you can see what your monthly benefit will likely be at 62 - the earliest year to receive benefits - and at other ages. You can,for instance, calculate the difference in benefits by working one more year,something the annual paper estimates don't tell you. In my case, retiring at 63 instead of 62 would mean an extra $100 a month.

Our own senior policy analyst, Mary Jane Yarrington, says the more tools available to workers the better. She answers hundreds of questions from seniors and future retirees each year. Do you have a Social Security question? You can reach her at: “Ask Mary Jane”.

New Medicare Law is About More Than Just Doctors’ Pay


(image) Last week’s Medicare votes gave Congress and the President a simple choice: strengthen the Medicare program for seniors and their physicians or support billions in wasteful subsidies the health insurance industry has lobbied hard to protect. Ultimately, even those who’ve supported the billions of dollars of wasteful subsidies to private Medicare Advantage insurers for years realized this was a very important vote to seniors, doctors and their families.

While the major goal was to block scheduled cut in fees to doctors in Medicare there were many other important provisions, which didn’t get as much attention, yet will affect millions of seniors on Medicare, such as:

  • Provides lower out-of-pocket costs for mental health services

  • Offers new preventive benefits to Medicare beneficiaries

  • Some widely used anti-anxiety and sleep drugs will be added to Part D coverage

  • Increases funding for low income beneficiaries and extends the program
    until December, 2009

  • Eliminates the Part D enrollment penalty for low income seniors

  • Provides incentives to doctors to encourage electronic prescribing

  • For more details, here’s our summary of The Medicare Improvements For Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA).

Seniors Applaud Congressional Veto Override


(image) Barbara B. Kennelly, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, issued the following statement to NCPSSM members and supporters today:

“Thanks to hard won bi-partisan support in the House and Senate, America’s seniors and their caregivers have averted physician pay cuts that would have severely limited healthcare access to millions receiving Medicare. The National Committee’s members and supporters applaud those in Congress who made the right choice today and voted to put seniors’ healthcare needs before insurance industry profits, by overriding President Bush’s veto. I hope this is just the first vote of many to come, which will reverse the destructive and costly privatization of Medicare, begin a serious bi-partisan debate about nationwide healthcare reform and strengthen the Medicare program for future generations.”

Bush Will Veto Medicare Bill Tomorrow


The majority of Congress, including loyal Republicans, America's seniors and their physicians will be told once again where this administration's priorities lie...with the insurance industry. Congressional Quarterly reports this afternoon:

President Bush will veto the recently cleared Medicare bill Tuesday, a senior administration official said Monday on a conference call arranged by the White House. The administration is unhappy with the Republican senators who voted for the bill July 9, but appears to hold out little hope of being able to sustain the veto, or flip back GOP senators who deserted the president on the controversial measure. “If everyone votes as they did, we would not be able to sustain this veto,” said Tevi Troy, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Speaking of the likely override, Troy said, “That is a real problem, but it’s not the Democrats who put us in that position. It’s the nine Republicans” who changed their votes in support of the bill.

They changed their vote in support of a bill which would prevent scheduled pay cuts for Medicare doctors, improve access to prevention and mental health services for all beneficiaries, and decrease the cost-sharing burden for low-income seniors who often forgo services because of expense. Of course, private insurers will lose some of their billions in government subsidies too and that's where the President will draw a line with his veto pen. However, this time it appears his allies in Congress won't be following his lead:

Both chambers have more than enough votes to override the president, assuming no members change their votes. In the case of a veto override, the House would vote first. A House vote on overriding the president’s veto could occur as early as Tuesday, with the Senate acting rapidly afterwards.

Sen. McCain Spins Social Security Comment


You know it’s bad when even the “clarification” gets it wrong. Senator McCain’s explanation of his ‘Social Security is a disgrace’ comment shows he either doesn’t understand the system’s long-term financial picture or he’s just picking up where the President’s privatization campaign left off. Here is his clarification from The Trail:
(image) McCain sought to clarify his remarks this afternoon on the Straight Talk Express. Young people, he said, "are paying so much that they are paying into a system that they won't receive benefits from on its present track that its on, that's the point."The Social Security trustees "have clearly stated its going to go bankrupt," he said, adding that this is what he meant when he called the system a disgrace. "I don't think that's right," he said. "I don't think it's fair, and I think it's terrible to ask people to pay in to a system that they won't receive benefits from. That's why we have to fix it."

And yet, the Social Security Trustees report actually shows young people are on track to receive 78% of current benefits, even if not a single thing is done to modify funding in the out years (and no one believes that will happen). Beneficiaries will receive full benefits for another 33 years! Let's not forget that the “Social Security is bankrupt” myth and this intergenerational warfare strategy were also the heart of President Bush’s failed attempt to scare the American people into privatizing Social Security 3 years ago. That campaign failed largely because the American people didn’t Buy the Lie.

Unfortunately, it appears Senator McCain is ready to begin that same privatization debate all over again. The Straight Talk Express is beginning to feel more like a time machine transporting us back to 2005.

Medicare Victory for Seniors and Their Doctors


HR 6331 Stops Medicare Physician’s Payment Cuts and Trims Wasteful Insurance Industry Subsidies.
Reaction from National Committee President/CEO, Barbara B. Kennelly:

“Today’s vote provided a clear choice between sound policy to improve healthcare for seniors or funding massive giveaways to private Medicare insurers. We thank those Senators who made the right choice. We only hope President Bush will also put the needs of seniors and their physicians ahead of insurance industry profits. Make no mistake about it, Medicare beneficiaries, low income seniors and their physicians need this legislation. However, President Bush has threatened a veto in order to preserve billions in subsidies to private insurers offering Medicare Advantage plans which will put the healthcare of America’s seniors in jeopardy. The National Committee’s members and supporters nationwide urge the President to set aside privatization politics in favor of doing what’s best for seniors and their caregivers."

In addition to preventing the scheduled cuts for Medicare doctors, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (H.R. 6331) will improve access to prevention and mental health services for all beneficiaries, and decrease the cost-sharing burden for low-income seniors who often forgo services because of expense.

John McCain Says Social Security is a “Disgrace”


Hard to imagine, right? Even the most hard-core, anti-Social Security flame throwers in town generally use less inflammatory (and fundamentally flawed) language to describe America’s most popular government program. Why then would Senator McCain go there? Good question.

Now, you might be thinking “he probably didn’t mean what he said...or it was just a slip of the tongue” (honestly, that was our first thought too). However, when a politician delivers basically the same message twice in 24 hours the “he didn’t mean it” theory just doesn’t work. Specifically, here is what Senator McCain has said about Social Security in the past two days, first at his Denver Economic Town Hall on Monday:
“Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.” John McCain, Denver Economic Town Hall, July 7, 2008
Well...Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system but that’s certainly not news, at least it shouldn’t be to someone who's been in Congress for more than 25 years. And while conservatives do want to fundamentally change the program through privatization, does that really make Social Security an absolute disgrace? Hardly.

Here’s the Senator’s second pass at the same message, pitting young versus old in an attempt to convince us Social Security is broken, this time on CNN.

“On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money which is their taxes and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it." John McCain, CNN American Morning, July 8, 2008
So, Senator McCain, not just once but twice this week, has objected to the very definition of Social Security. This is a very different argument than what has been posted on his website or presented to the American public during his campaign to date (which has been confusing enough as it is).

Our President, Barbara Kennelly, summed up our reaction this way:

“Since its inception, Social Security has been a pay-as-you-go system. That’s not new and it’s certainly not a disgrace. To suggest that Social Security is fundamentally ‘broken’ because of this fact, shows a lack of understanding of the program, its traditional role and and the need to preserve and strengthen it for the future. Social Security is a successful intergenerational program that has served this country well. If Senator McCain wants to entirely restructure Social Security’s funding, through privatization or some other means, now is the time to say it directly. Calling Social Security a disgrace is anything but straight talk.”...Barbara B. Kennelly, President/CEO

Improved Medicare Patient Care or Higher Insurer Profits?


Sounds like an easy choice, right? Apparently, not for Republican Senators who voted against the Medicare bill last month. By all accounts, that Medicare vote, which preserved billions in insurance industry subsidies while requiring cuts in doctors’ payments, made for a tough July 4th recess for some Senators. You can certainly see why... casting a vote to protect billions in industry overpayments while cutting pay for doctors in Medicare has to be a tough sell to seniors, their families, and the doctors serving them. Especially as they're all feeling the pinch of this current economy.

The bill will come up again this week and National Committee members have added their voices to the debate by urging the Senate to cast the right vote this time around. We’re launching an internet ad campaign and have emailed our new :30 Medicare spot to our members urging them to contact their Senators before the mid-week vote:

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As Finance Committee Chairman, Senator Max Baucus told reporters today:

“It’s not often we get a second chance to do the right thing... This bill will do a lot more for seniors and that’s the point. Our job is to legislate good policy...that’s what we’re doing. “

Find out how your Senators voted and then use our Legislative Hotline at (800) 998-0180 to connect to them directly with one toll-free call. Ask them to support HR 6331-the Medicare mprovements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008.

Statement from National Committee President on Senate vote against Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008


Barbara B. Kennelly, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, issued the following message to NCPSSM members and supporters today:

“Once again we’ve seen the profits of the insurance industry take precedence over a call for help from America’s seniors and their doctors. The Administration’s allies in the Senate last night rejected HR 6331, a bill that would have preserved Medicare beneficiaries’ access to their doctors by averting a physician fee cut. Instead of approving important beneficiary improvements for the more than 44 million seniors and people with disabilities served by Medicare, a minority in the Senate once again blocked action on legislation that would have begun to reduce the overpayment of billions of tax payer dollars to Medicare Advantage insurers.

H.R. 6331 would have improved access to prevention and mental health services for all beneficiaries, and decreased the cost-sharing burden for low-income seniors who often forgo services because of expense. In addition, the bill would have preserved access to needed physical, occupational and speech-language therapy and prohibit many of the abusive marketing practices used to enroll beneficiaries in private Medicare Advantage plans and Part D prescription drug plans.

The momentum of the on-going privatization of Medicare continues to worsen the economic and healthcare outlook for the elderly. How ironic as the Presidential candidates discuss improvements to our nation’s healthcare system, the Congress continues to weaken our one universal healthcare plan – Medicare.”

John McCain and Social Security


So whatever happened to the Straight Talk Express?

Watching John McCain parse words over Social Security private accounts during the past few months has left more than few people bewildered. Last week’s pronouncement that he is...

‘not for, quote, privatizing Social Security. I never have been, I never will be’

was the ultimate proof the straight talk express has jumped the track. Here’s Senator McCain on Friday:

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But wait a minute, just 3 months ago conservatives were relieved to see Senator McCain promise the Wall Street Journal he still supports President Bush’s failed privatization plan, in spite of what his campaign website said at the time.

“Asked about the apparent change in position in the interview, Sen.McCain said he hadn't made one. 'I'm totally in favor of personal savings accounts,' he says. When reminded that his Web site says something different, he says he will change the Web site. (As of Sunday night, he hadn't.) 'As part of Social Security reform, I believe that private savings accounts are a part of it -- along the lines that President Bush proposed.' "
In fact, here’s John McCain promoting the privatization of Social Security in 2004. So much for never have, never will:

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While the American people overwhelmingly rejected President Bush’s plan to turn Social Security over to Wall Street, the privatization campaign did succeed in one way...most people now understand what private accounts and the privatization of Social Security really means. Senator McCain’s attempts now to redefine what privatization is in order to hide his past and present support for a failed and wholly unpopular strategy tells seniors and their families a lot about John McCain’s priorities.

They will, no doubt, have a lot to say in return come November.

To Engage or Not to Engage...on Social Security


The Youth Entitlement Summit wraps up in Washington today and our President, Barbara B. Kennelly, addressed the group this morning. Given the clear anti-entitlement bent of the summit’s sponsors such as the Concord Coalition and the Peterson Foundation, some early supporters, like Rock-the-Vote, ultimately withdrew their summit sponsorship. Future Majority blogged about it here.Barbara was in fact a very lonely anti-privatization voice in the room today. Even so, as a bi-partisan membership organization we felt strongly the National Committee’s message needed to be heard. I’m here to tell you that my members are every bit as passionate about protecting their children and grandchildren as the organizers of this Summit. We oppose privatization because we want to protect Social Security and Medicare for future generations. Believe me, privatizers want to dismantle Social Security – not for this generation of retirees –but for the generations down the road.Our difference of opinion is not about the ultimate goal – we are all here because we care about what happens to our younger generation. Where we strongly disagree is on how the goal is to be achieved. Organizations such as mine believe that our children will absolutely need programs like Social Security and Medicare when they reach retirement age. We believe that the best way to represent their interests is not to spend our time talking about how to cut these essential programs, but instead in finding ways to make sure Social Security and Medicare are still strong and vibrant decades into the future.Because we are primarily focused on the needs of our children rather than shrinking the size of government, we are less likely to buy into the ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric that young people have been bombarded with over the years. I understand that combining Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all together into one huge catastrophe-waiting-to-happen makes for great theater, but it makes no sense to those of us who work with these programs every day. While all 3 are entitlement programs, that’s about all they have in common.But combining them all together gives you very large and impressive numbers, particularly if you accumulate decades-worth of future projections into one present day number. In a way, it’s not that different than projecting the cost of a house today by adding together 30 year’s-worth of mortgage and interest payments into one lump sum. If we really shopped for housing that way, we would all still be renting apartments. And as for all the sky-is-falling crisis rhetoric...Many of the people who are complaining today about long-term spending on entitlements were largely silent when annual deficits were increasing and the debt was rising to its current record level. It wasn’t too long ago that we were running a surplus which was paying down debt, and economists were wringing their hands about what disasters might befall us if we actually paid all of our debt off. I wish we still had that kind of problem.I also find it interesting that the only solvency solution presented by President Bush and so many of those who have opposed Social Security over the years is a combination of private accounts and dramatic benefit cuts. I was quite proud of my members, who have been vocal and active in their opposition to private accounts. But their passion was not born from a desire to protect their own benefits. It was an absolute determination to protect the benefits of their children and grandchildren.Those who promote private accounts have never suggested privatizing Social Security for older people – in fact, they are quite careful to assure everyone over age 50 that they w[...]

Here's a New Social Security and Medicare Video


Who is the National Committee anyway and why should you care?

We've produced a new video detailing our organization's 25 year history, the history of the Social Security and Medicare programs and the vital role they play in the lives of American Seniors.

Social Security and Medicare: Past, Present and Future

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This is only the second video we've produced since buying basic video & editing equipment. Our first was a youth video created to take our message to younger generations via our new YouTube channel and MySpace page. It's certainly been a learning experience but we hope to produce many more over the coming months to help spread the word that together we can preserve Social Security and Medicare. After all, it's all about priorities.

Celebrating Social Security and Medicare’s Successes


That's right, successes. Because that’s what our 25th Anniversary celebration was really all about, marking the all-too-often ignored truth that without Social Security and Medicare millions of seniors would face poverty in their retirement years.

Here’s video from yesterday’s celebration. We wanted to share some of the program with all of our friends and members who were with us in spirit but couldn’t be here in person.

First, here's Barbara B. Kennelly, National Committee President/CEO

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James Roosevelt, Jr., son of our founder James Roosevelt, Sr. and grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson

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Celebrating Social Security and Medicare


In these days of seemingly never-ending sky-is-falling entitlement rhetoric, today’s National Committee 25th Anniversary celebration offered a much-needed reminder of the critical roles Social Security and Medicare play in the lives of millions of Americans. Our 25th Anniversary celebration today was very much a “family” affair.James Roosevelt, Jr., grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt and son of the National Committee’s founder, James Roosevelt reminded the several hundred advocates, policy experts, and leaders from the aging community assembled today, why it’s so important to continue fighting to preserve Social Security for future generations:“My father believed as I do that Social Security was an essential part of maintaining the dignity of Americans throughout their lives. I’m pleased to say that, in spite of those who continue to misinform and advocate privatization (and they haven’t gone away), the dedicated Social Security funding mechanism and the dedicated delivery system has been very successful in raising the vast majority of our elderly citizens out of poverty. I’d even suggest the National Committee is even more needed today than when it was created 25 years ago.”Lynda Johnson Robb accepted the National Committee’s 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of her father, President Lyndon Johnson. She told the crowd: “Medicare, completing FDR’s Social Security legislation, helps seniors weather the rigors of old age and was a jewel in the crown of the Great Society. Daddy knew that it was not perfect and would have to be carefully guarded and improved where necessary by coming generations. Medicare is not a monument to him. Although, I take great pleasure that his name is associated with it. It is a living monument to the spirit of the American people and I’m proud of that too.”We also recognized two other award winners today. The National Committee’s 2008 Media Excellence Awards went to Saul Friedman from Newsday and Ronni Bennett, “Time Goes By” blogger.Friedman’s “Gray Matters” column covers the political, economic, and social issues affecting older Americans, and Ronni Bennett is one of the first bloggers to engage in an in-depth conversation on elder issues with her thought-provoking and entertaining blog “Time Goes By”.National Committee President/CEO Barbara Kennelly summed up the day this way:“All of us in this room care about Social Security and Medicare, not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren. We will always speak out to protect those already in retirement, because Social Security and Medicare are critical to their ability to get from day to day. But we also speak for their 45 year old sons and daughters, who are struggling to make ends meet so finding extra money to save for retirement simply isn’t in the picture. And we speak for the 20-somethings, who have their entire future in front of them and so they aren’t yet thinking about the challenges of life they will surely face someday.”As our Anniversary speakers highlighted today,it’s all about family. Grandparents and parents ensuring the safety net they created will remain for their children and grandchildren. It’s a commitment the National Committee made 25 years ago and will continue for many more years to come. [...]

Celebrating 25 years protecting Social Security and Medicare


My how time flies when you’re fighting the good fight.The National Committee is celebrating its anniversary today at a National Press Club ceremony. A few hundred of our closest friends and allies will join us as we mark a quarter of a century devoted to the singular and unique mission of preserving America’s two most successful social insurance programs.We’re so pleased to have many special guests attending today including, Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson and James Roosevelt, Jr., son of NCPSSM’s founder James Roosevelt, Sr. and grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt.The National Committee will also present the 2008 Media Excellence Awards to Saul Friedman from Newsday whose column Gray Matters covers the political, economic, and social issues affecting older Americans, and Ronni Bennett, one of the first bloggers to engage in an in-depth conversation on elder issues with her thought-provoking and entertaining blog “Time Goes By”.Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly gave us a sneak-peak of some of her remarks today:Some might ask, "Why join an organization like the National Committee when you can just write or call Congress yourself?" Well -- the answer is simple...there is power in numbers. We know -- first hand -- the power of millions of voices versus one voice. That’s why time after time, issue after issue, our National Committee members have been united in the fight for what they believe. We believe in the social insurance mission of Social Security and Medicare, which is why we strongly oppose privatization.As FDR himself once said…"Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth". That statement is as true today as it was when Social Security was created 73 years ago. Just because those who are fundamentally opposed to Social Security continue to say it’s a failed program, doesn’t mean it’s true. So, while we have had past successes in the battle over private accounts...the war over the long-term future of Social Security and Medicare continues. The same groups that want to turn Social Security over to Wall Street and Medicare over to private insurers, have been building the case that America "can’t afford" these programs...all under the guise of"entitlement reform". They’ve targeted young people in a cynical divide-and-conquer strategy to pit the young versus the old. Ultimately the hope is that our children and grandchildren will just give up on Social Security and Medicare because they’re been told these programs won’t be there for them anyway. Well, guess what? The National Committee won’t let that happen and we know neither will any of you.So, here’s to another 25 years![...]

Whatever it takes to Protect Medicare Advantage Overpayments


Once again the Bush administration is threatening to veto legislation which would prevent June’s scheduled pay cuts to doctors in Medicare because Congress wants to pay for it by trimming some of the billions of dollars in industry subsidies going to private insurers. Let’s’s pay cuts or industry subsidies?

(image) For many it’s seems obvious that supporting providers should take priority over government giveaways to an industry already seeing record profits thanks to the privatization of Medicare; however, for the Bush administration the priority continues to be to protect this industry slush fund above all else.

Congress Now quotes our Government Relations and Policy Director, Maria Freese:

“Democrats need to get 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster,but without the support of Republicans like Grassley and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who both oppose MA cuts, it will be difficult for them to be able to meet this threshold, Maria Freese, director of government relations and policy for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said.”They're going to be lucky" to get 60 votes, she said.”

So, once again Congress appears ready to protect these outrageous industry overpayments ($150 billion over ten years) even though they shave almost two years from Medicare’s solvency, and force all beneficiaries (not just those enrolled in MA plans) to pay $36 per year in higher premiums. Even MedPac continues to recommend their repeal.

Oh yes, don’t forget why Congress is even debating this issue now. Doctors serving Medicare patients will also face payment cuts in less than a month in order to protect this giveaway to insurers.

No Mystery in Medicare Marketing Abuses


(image) The May 21st New York Times’ editorial on Medicare Advantage Marketing Abuses is our selection for this month’s “Networthy Award” for outstanding coverage of elder issues on the net.

Entitled “Medicare’s Much-Too-HardSell” this piece narrows in on the unavoidable truth behind the inexcusable fraud and predatory marketing practices too often used to sell private Medicare Advantage plans. The Times writes:

“The Bush administration has proposed welcome new regulations to curb the deceptive, hard-sell tactics often used to foist private Medicare policies on unwary consumers. Unfortunately, it has been unwilling to eliminate the root cause of the problem: the high subsidies that prop up these plans and make them so attractive to high-pressure marketers.”


“The worst abuses have been committed by predatory marketers selling the comprehensive policies known as Medicare Advantage plans. The government pays these plans 13 percent more, on average, than the same services would cost in the traditional Medicare program. The subsidies are even more egregious — averaging 17 percent above cost — for the so-called private fee-for-service plans within Medicare Advantage. All told, the unjustified subsidies will cost the government more than $50billion from 2009 to 2012. Small wonder that plans use high-pressure tactics to market these lucrative policies.”

Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly, commended the Times on its dead-on assessment in this letter to the editor:

“Rather than spending even more federal dollars policing private insurers in Medicare, why not remove the underlying incentive encouraging them to push these higher profit plans in the first place? How many dollars will we spend on investigations and enforcement for private insurers who want to maximize the financial incentives provided to them by Congress?”

Another Reason Why We Need Social Security


One of the most frequently used arguments used to promote private accounts is the promise that “you can do better” by investing your Social Security money yourself.
Problem is...for too many people, that’s just not true. A new analysis of nearly 1 million retirement portfolios show the majority of savers are making costly errors in their 401(k)s. The Associated Press reports:

"...69 percent have inappropriate risk or diversification of holdings and 36 percent have worrisome concentrations of company stock. In addition, one-third of savers aren't putting enough aside to qualify for the full company matching contribution. The problems are especially pronounced among young and low-paid workers... When looking at risk and diversification of investments, 38 percent of the portfolios had very inefficient or very inappropriate investments. That could range from a young participant with a portfolio that's too conservative to an older worker with one that's too aggressive. An additional 31 percent had somewhat inefficient or risk-inappropriate holdings. The remaining 32 percent had good balance in their portfolios.”
The study was done by Financial Engines, an investment advice firm. It’s President, Jeff Maggioncalda says:

"Unfortunately, our study found that those who need their 401(k) the most look to be benefiting the least."

That’s why the role that Social Security plays as a secure source of retirement income is so critically important, especially as pensions disappear and investments in Wall Street continue to ride our current economic roller coaster. Retirees need to save and invest for their futures; however, they also need the stable income Social Security provides.

Social Security Can’t Continue to Do More with Less


(image) by Barbara B. Kennelly, NCPSSM President/CEO

I was on the Hill today testifying before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. At issue is legislation that requires the Social Security Administration to administer a national employment verification system. The National Committee has not taken a position on the underlying goals of any of the immigration bills before Congress. However, this employee verification issue demands our response.

I cannot say strongly enough what a serious disservice would be done to America’s seniors and others if Social Security was required to carry the burden of this enormous, costly and unrelated immigration workload. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost to SSA of one of the leading immigration proposals would be more than $1 billion in just the first year of amount equal to nearly 10 percent of the agency’s administrative budget. Experts have concluded that the E-Verify process, with its millions of notifications about mismatches of employee information...would result in a deluge of phone calls and visits to Social Security field offices around the country, swamping other crucial SSA activities.

The Social Security Administration is already facing significant challenges, primarily because of years of insufficient funding which isn’t keeping up with the increasing workloads. Chief among these challenges is a disability claims crisis. Disability cases are piling up and needy people are waiting years to receive their benefits. At the same time, SSA is facing the retirement of 80 million Baby Boomers who will also be expecting swift and accurate processing of their retirement claims.

Historically, the Social Security Administration has the government’s best reputation of solid service to its beneficiaries. However, the strains of recent years have taken their toll. I say enough is enough.

Here are some important links on this issue: CBO and GAO Reports on verification legislation, our National Committee Viewpoint on SSA funding, and my full Congressional testimony.

Shedding Crocodile Tears for Medicare


Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt continues the entitlement crisis call, this time in an address to conservative think-tankers who’d rather see Social Security and Medicare just go away entirely. While using language like “drifting toward disaster” and “serious danger” to describe the program he’s overseen for almost 8 years, he conveniently ignores the role the Bush Administration has played in worsening Medicare’s financial condition.

It’s very hard to take these clarion calls very seriously when it was this administration that implemented and continues to fight to protect $150 billion in industry subsidies to insurance companies providing private Medicare coverage. These subsidies alone steal almost two years of solvency from the Medicare program. If Secretary Leavitt and the Bush administration are really worried about Medicare’s about putting that $150 billion back into Medicare rather than private insurers’ pockets?

Secretary Leavitt also expressed concerns there could be a generational divide on funding entitlement programs:
“The kind of division I worry about is when we begin to see one generation pitted against another or when you begin to see economic classes pitted against each other. Those are the kinds of divisions that have classically divided and undermined nations.”
No kidding. Maybe this administration should’ve considered that before making a generational divide and conquer strategy a key component in the President’s failed Social Security road tour three years ago. Lamenting your own strategy, so long after the fact is disingenuous at best.

There’s also an interesting discussion of Medicare and the Secretary’s remarks, from a beneficiaries point of view, at Time Goes By. It’s definitely worth a read.

Social Security Avoids the Wall Street Roller Coaster


For baby-boomers who’ve been watching their retirement investment income lose money week by week, the fact that Social Security remains stable and predictable while Wall Street is anything but is critically important. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls the failure to privatize Social Security “the best thing that didn’t happen during the Bush administration”:
“... had we privatized, they’d (retirees) be totally reliant on the stock market. And look what’s happened to the market: Compared to stock values ten years ago, the S&P 500 has risen a little over 1 percent a year, adjusted for inflation. Even Treasury bonds have done better. Go back nine years and there’s been no gain at all. Go back eight years and the market has been off an average of 1.4 percent a year.”

This isn’t a unique analysis. Even a member of President Bush’s own Social Security Commission and a private accounts supporter, co-authored an analysis for the National Bureau of Economic Research which showed promises of higher returns with private accounts just didn’t hold up to scrutiny:

“...the popular argument that Social Security privatization would provide higher returns for all current and future workers is misleading, because it ignores transition costs and differences across programs in the allocation of aggregate and household risk.” The paper states: “A popular argument suggests that if Social Security were privatized, everyone could earn higher returns. We show that this is false.”

Still not convinced? Here’s the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis:

“This paper explains the basis of findings that economists broadly agree upon — that the type of rate-of-return comparison that some Administration officials and other private-accounts proponents are using is not valid, and that when analytically valid comparisons are made, the supposed differences in rates of return essentially disappear.”

Social Security is an insurance program, not an investment vehicle. Social Security is not supposed to make you rich, it is supposed to prevent you from slipping into poverty. Social Security is the one insurance program that provides some measure of economic support for Americans if a family wage earner dies or becomes disabled. Privatizing Social Security turns a safety net for everyone into a golden parachute for a few.