The U.S. House passed a watered-down version of H.R. 4213, "The American Jobs, Closing Tax Loopholes, and Preventing Outsourcing Act," on Friday.
"Raising the retirement age would inflict further hardship among a group of workers who are likely to face health and economic problems in their 60s." –Doug Hart, President, Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans
"Of all the lies and confusion that still surround the Affordable Care Act, perhaps the greatest is that it is bad for seniors." - Dave Meinell, President, Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans
"My father died when I was three. Because of Social Security (survivors) benefits, my Mom, my younger sister and I survived." – Diane Fleming, DC Alliance Member
"We fear that Congress will balance the budget on the backs of the 98 percent, which is working Montanans and retired Montanans. We simply cannot afford these devastating cuts to vital services such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," –John Forkan, President, Montana Alliance for Retired Americans
"Along with national parks and Social Security, Medicare is one of the best ideas we Americans have ever devised." -Tim Cunningham, New Mexico Alliance Member
"Seniors have earned and deserve their Social Security checks, and they shouldn't have to go to Congress every 10 years and beg for the program to be renewed." –James Parent, Alliance for Retired Americans Regional Board Member
"Today's retirees paid Medicare and Social Security taxes in every paycheck we ever earned. Now that we are retired, these programs help us to be able to stay healthy and pay our bills. They are the promise we make to people who worked hard all their lives, and we need to keep that promise for today’s workers." –Tony Fransetta, President, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans
"Today's seniors want to lower the budget deficit. We do not want a large debt to be the legacy we leave to future generations, but we should not punish people who have paid Social Security taxes all their lives." –Jim Moore, President, North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans
"Social Security should remain what it has been for 77 years – a solid, reliable way that generations of workers have been able to retire with dignity, economic security, and peace of mind." –Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
"The fight for Social Security and Medicare is part of a larger fight for justice and fairness"—Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
"The health insurance reform helps not just seniors, but also middle-class families and young Americans, who are just starting to see the benefits. Don’t let Republicans take all that away." –Don Rowen, President Emeritus, Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans
"Honoring the promise of Social Security and Medicare should not be a partisan issue. Honoring the contributions that we make throughout our working years so that we may feed and clothe ourselves, keep a roof over our heads and those of our family, there is no reason for that to be a hotly contested partisan issue." –Edward Coyle, Executive Director, Alliance for Retired Americans
"We need to make sure that people who need Social Security to make ends meet will have it, and not fall victim to ill-informed and unnecessary cuts to these vital programs."
–Barbara J. Easterling, President, Alliance for Retired Americans
On Tuesday, Democrat Mark Critz defeated Tim Burns (R), 53% - 45%, in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, winning a special election and a seat in Congress.
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) lost his bid for a 15th term Tuesday in a primary defeat. He is the first House member to lose a reelection bid in the 2010 campaign, and his defeat comes just days after Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) was knocked off the November ballot in Utah's convention process.
On Tuesday, the Alliance marked Older Americans Month by releasing its latest voting record, a new report detailing the 2009 votes of every U.S. Senator and Representative on key issues affecting current and future retirees.
Alliance Members Protest Across the Country as Fiscal Commission Meets in DC
On Tuesday in Washington, DC, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform met for the first time. Erskine Bowles, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, and retired Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), co-chair the Commission.
Alliance Seeks Open Government as Fiscal Commission Holds Its First Meeting
Two important summit meetings will be held in Washington next week to discuss ways of reducing the federal deficit. The first will be President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which holds its first meeting on Tuesday, April 27. In advance of the meeting, the Alliance sent a letter on Thursday to Bruce Reed, Executive Director of the Commission.
New Health Reform Law Extends Election Period to Change Part D Plan
The new health reform law changes and extends the annual enrollment period for Medicare Part D plans. Anyone interested in switching plans should keep in mind the new enrollment period is now October 15 - December 7.
Note that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides for a Special Enrollment Period for contract violation if a prescription drug plan (PDP) violated a provision of its contract under Part D in relation to the individual. Violations include: failure to provide on a timely basis benefits available under the plan; failure to provide benefits in accordance with quality standards; or the PDP sponsor (or its agent) materially misrepresenting the PDP when marketing the PDP. The enrollment period begins when CMS determines that a violation has occurred.
For other details on the new health reform bill, what it does, especially for seniors, and when provisions go into place, check out fact sheet here: http://bit.ly/ccGLay.
2010 Campaigns Heating Up: Retirees Must Know the Facts
Political developments in three states this week were a reminder of how retirees - expected to be the largest voting bloc this fall - must be well versed on the issues and where the candidates stand. Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling traveled to Arkansas to endorse Lt. Gov. Bill Halter for the U.S. Senate and rebut television ads that falsely claim he supports Social Security privatization. Noting that Halter ran the Social Security Administration under President Clinton and has consistently worked to help retirees, Easterling said, "Bill Halter is a great friend of Social Security and Medicare. He is a great friend to seniors." Write-up here: http://bit.ly/bA0D7P.
In the first U.S. House election since health reform was signed into law, voters in a heavily-senior Florida congressional district elected Democrat Ted Deutch by a 2-1 margin over his Republican opponent to fill a vacant seat. In Missouri, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, criticized a provision in the new health law that prohibits adults from being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Video here: http://bit.ly/ce5t5S. In May, both Pennsylvania and Hawaii will be holding closely contested special elections to fill vacant U.S. House seats. "More than ever, we must be a nation of politically savvy seniors," Easterling commented.
CEO Pay at the Big Health Insurance Companies: Enough to Make You Sick
According to new data from the AFL-CIO
Barbara Easterling, Ruben Burks Re-elected as Leaders of the Alliance
The Alliance's 2010 national convention took place in Las Vegas, Nevada on Monday through Thursday of this week. On Wednesday, Barbara J. Easterling, who has been President of the Alliance since February of 2009, was re-elected to a four-year term. Prior to joining the Alliance, Ms. Easterling had served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Communications Workers of America. "You have helped improve the lives of millions of current and future retirees," said Ms. Easterling to those in attendance. "We have more work to do. I know none of you will rest, and neither will I," she continued. Ruben Burks, who has been Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance since it was launched in 2001, was elected to another four-year term. Mr. Burks was once the Secretary-Treasurer of the United Auto Workers. "Thank you for re-electing me. I will do everything I can do to help this unique and wonderful organization," he said. More than 400 Alliance members watched and cheered as the two took their oaths. Six non-union members were elected to the Community Advocacy Network (CAN) Board on Tuesday: Julie Harbin of South Carolina; Rosario Holguin and Mary Magill of California; Rev. Louis B. Jones of Maryland/Washington, DC; Suleika Cabrera-Drinane of New York; and John Jensen of Nebraska. President Emeritus George J. Kourpias administered the oaths, and Hawaii Alliance President Al Hamai served as Parliamentarian during the convention. For photos from this week, go to http://bit.ly/bsqo0Y.
Congratulations to Award Winners Harry Reid, Scott Watts, and Bill Holayter!
The Alliance presented its Leadership Award to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Monday. "This award is especially meaningful because the first recipient was Sen. Ted Kennedy," said Sen. Reid.
The Alliance's President's Award was bestowed upon Scott Watts, President of the Nevada Alliance, and Executive Board member William J. Holayter of Washington State. "I'm going to cherish this moment," said Mr. Watts.
President Obama Signs Health Care Reform into Law One More Time
On Tuesday, President Obama put his final signature on the health reform bill that has been front and center in the news this year and last. One of the bill's provisions, the establishment of a federally funded program to cover people turned down by private insurers due to pre-existing conditions, is slated to go into effect in the next 90 days. About 2 million people could be eligible for this new pool, and the process is being watched closely to see how effectively health reform is implemented [ http://bit.ly/aTuicp ]. Those concerned with both the rising costs and importance of long-term care are relieved that the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act (The CLASS Act) will be put into effect beginning in 2011 by the new health reform law. The CLASS Act, a legacy of Sen. Ted Kennedy, sets up a national government-run long-term care insurance program, offered mainly through employers. The CLASS Act does not require screening of participants for health issues, so people unable to qualify for private long-term care insurance will have an option [ http://nyti.ms/dfmf8w ]. For more information on provisions for seniors, please find Alliance Fact Sheets here: http://bit.ly/auzJi7.
Pelosi Appoints Three to the Executive Debt Commission Panel
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appointed House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC), Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The panel, created by the President, is designed to bring down the nation's $12.4 trillion debt, and will consider cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid in doing so. "These three Members of Congress will use their common sense to take steps to balance our nation's budget while not sacrificing our nation's commitment to seniors. Their backgrounds, proven records, and expertise will assist them in addressing the debt crisis while protecting Social Security and Medicare," stated Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. Democratic Leadership Council CEO Bruce Reed will take on the newly-created post of Executive Director of the commission. The panel's first meeting will occur on April 27, and the commission is required by the president's executive order to report its findings and proposals to Congress by December 1.
Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance, had a column in last Friday's Huffington Post blog, urging retirees and all who care about Social Security to keep a sharp eye on the commission. "Many in Washington are urging the panel to recommend changes in Social Security as a way to reduce the debt," Ms. Easterling warned. To view the entire column, go to http://huff.to/bE8Okb. Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), the panel's co-chair, said recently, "What we're interested in is what to do with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. If we don't get a handle on those three babies, it won't matter what you love or what you have in mind ... the federal budget, it'll be gone." On Monday night on CNN, Tea Party organizers joined Larry King for a discussion. King noted that programs like Social Security are mandatory and asked if the tea partiers would like to "do away with" that program. Both Tea Party organizers enthusiastically said "yes, absolutely" and added that a compromise would be at least privatizing the system.
Alliance Activities: Florida Legislative Conference, FCC Protest
The Florida Alliance (FLARA) recently held its Legislative Conference in Tallahassee. The week's events began with a press conference in the State Capitol Rotunda, with over 50 activists in attendance. FLARA President Tony Fransetta brought together business leaders and elected officials of both parties to advocate for expanded affordable housing for seniors. Alliance Executive Director Edward F. Coyle is speaking today at a rally in Washington, DC, in front of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) headquarters. The rally protests the sale of most of Verizon's landline telephone operations in several states to Frontier, a small Connecticut-based company. Many are against the deal for several reasons, including the chances that Frontier would be unable to provide services during emergencies and would cut services in rural areas.
New Chapter Presidents in Texas, Maryland/DC
Shane Fox, who has been with the Texas Alliance since its inception, is the new President of the Texas Alliance chapter. A community-based activist, radio, newspaper, and public relations figure, blog creator, and actor, Mr. Fox has been an Alliance Community Advocacy Network board member the past four years. He also created the Alliance's chapter in Tyler, Texas and surrounding communities, the first in the state. Mike Vivirito, a Communications Worker of America (CWA) retiree from Middle River, Maryland, has taken the reigns as President of the Maryland/DC Alliance. Mr. Vivirito has had decades of experience as an active union and retiree leader, working on issues including Social Security, health care, and prescription drugs. He has been recognized by Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D) for his community involvement.
Dr. Donald Berwick to Run Medicare and Medicaid
President Obama will soon name Dr. Donald M. Berwick, a scholar of health policy, to oversee the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Berwick, a pediatrician, is president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass. In the past, he was a member of an advisory commission appointed by President Bill Clinton that recommended a patients' bill of rights and steps to reduce medical mistakes. "Dr. Berwick is an excellent fit for the job. I am confident that he will bring efficiencies to the Medicare program without cutting needed benefits to seniors," said Mr. Coyle.
Alliance's National Convention in Las Vegas Just 4 Days Away
Alliance members will elect a president and secretary-treasurer, and community members will elect six community-based board members, at the Alliance's national convention in Las Vegas next week. The theme for the April 5-8 convention is Building Retiree Power; to register, go to http://bit.ly/1jIzz2 . Guests are welcome to attend the Monday portion of the program - which will feature Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, and the Honorable Hilda Solis - free of charge.
Health Care Reform: What's in it for Seniors
The Senate-passed health care reform bill dramatically cleared the House on a 219-212 vote Sunday night, and President Obama signed it into law on Tuesday. Please see the Alliance's Special Edition Friday Alert of March 23 at http://bit.ly/dttZ01 for more details of the related votes. The reform phases out the doughnut hole gap in prescription drug coverage, providing a $250 rebate in 2010 for seniors who fall into the hole. Beginning in 2011, seniors will receive a 50% percent discount on their prescription drugs when they fall into the doughnut hole, and by 2020 the doughnut hole will be completely eliminated. To see the Alliance's one-page write-up listing provisions in the health reform law that will affect seniors, along with the time line for their implementation, go to http://bit.ly/9mja6j. To summarize that document, the new law also:
- Covers preventive services; in 2011, seniors in Medicare will receive free annual check-ups with no co-payments for mammograms, colonoscopies and other preventive screenings;
- Supports early retiree coverage, providing financial assistance to employer health plans that cover early retirees;
- Encourages doctors to coordinate care and improve quality, creating incentives for providers to work together and reduce wasteful care like repeated tests;
- Removes obstacles to changing Part D prescription drug plans, allowing Part D enrollees to make a mid-year change in their enrollment if their plan makes an unexpected change;
- Expands the Medicare Part D low-income subsidy, which will significantly help struggling seniors afford their health care costs;
- Enacts the CLASS Act, creating a new, voluntary long term care insurance plan;
- Enacts the Elder Justice Act, authorizing new criminal background checks on long-term care workers who have access to residents or patients; and
- Eliminates wasteful overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans while creating incentives for coordinated, high quality care across the health care spectrum, extending the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by 9 years and improving Medicare for generations to come.
For a listing of which changes take effect immediately, go to http://bit.ly/ag60lc. In short - in addition to the doughnut hole changes - within the next six months alone, the new law:
- Provides a $5 billion reinsurance fund to help employers who provide health benefits to early retirees ages 55 to 64 (goes into effect in 90 days);
- Eliminates pre-existing conditions for non-dependent children up to age 26;
- Prohibits insurers from placing lifetime limits on coverage;
- Restricts new plans' annual limits on coverage;
- Provides $5 billion to states to create a high risk insurance pool for those denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions and who have been without insurance for 6 months;
- Prohibits rescission, or dropping coverage, when individuals become sick;
- Creates a public health and wellness fund and requires new private insurance plans to offer preventive services without co-payments;
- Provides up to 35 % tax credits to small business that offer health care coverage; and
- Creates a new and independent health insurance appeals process for consumers
A USA Today/Gallup poll found that 49% of those polled concluded that the passage was "a good thing," as compared to 40% who concluded its passage was "a bad thing." Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance, urged seniors to thank Members of Congress who helped to pass reform with personal visits to their offices during the spring district work period, March 29 - April 9. "Thank you again to seniors who worked for decades to pass health reform. Now, let's give House Members who voted courageously for health care reform in the face of violence some words of appreciation, in person or in writing," said Mr. Coyle. To see the video of Alliance member Bob Meeks of Brandon, FL and Mr. Coyle on the importance of closing the Medicare drug doughnut hole, go to http://bit.ly/a3SPUz.
Misinformation has been spread on how the health care reform will affect veterans' care. The health care bill provides protections for veterans and the health care they have earned through their service. President Obama has strongly supported a 16% budget increase in 2010 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the largest in over 30 years. "TRICARE, the U.S. Department of Defense's military health care program, will continue to be available for all eligible servicemen and women, and their families," said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.
Senate, House Pass Final Health Care Reconciliation Bill
The Senate passed the final piece of the health care package on Thursday, 56-43, and sent it back to the House, after Republicans identified two minor violations of reconciliation rules that forced changes to a provision on student loans. For a tally of that vote, go to http://bit.ly/aFpCZq. Three Democrats voted against the bill: Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas, and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. In total, 29 Senate amendments were easily rejected, meaning that the health-care package survived essentially intact. The House approved the Senate's reconciliation bill later on Thursday, 220-207 ( http://bit.ly/9bDdAG ).
Twelve Days Until the National Convention in Las Vegas
On Monday, April 5, Alliance members will be able to personally thank Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for shepherding health reform through the Senate. On that day, Reid will address the Alliance's 2010 national convention in Las Vegas. Other speakers will include AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), and the Honorable Hilda Solis. The theme for the April 5-8 convention is "Building Retiree Power." To register, go to http://bit.ly/1jIzz2 .
Note: Due to Good Friday, the next Friday Alert will be published on Thursday, April 1, 2010.