March 26, 2010

Health Care Reform: What's in it for Seniors

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.

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March 23, 2010

House Passes Historic Health Care Bill, Obama Signs It Into Law

House Passes Historic Health Care Bill, Obama Signs It Into Law
House Democrats passed their landmark health care reform on a party-line 219-212 vote late Sunday night, marking an achievement that has been compared to the enactment of Social Security and Medicare.  For a complete tally of the House vote to approve the Senate-authored health care bill, go to http://bit.ly/aTmGlN.   Helping with the effort, some House Members changed their NO votes on the 2009 House reform bill to YES: Reps. Betsy Markey (D-CO), John Boccieri (D-OH), Scott Murphy (D-NY), Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Brian Baird (D-WA).   Two others, Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-NY) and Zack Space (D-OH), flipped from YES to NO.  The House also approved a package of reconciliation "fixes" to the Senate version of the bill, 220-211, which will be considered this week by the Senate.  For a complete tally of the vote on legislative fixes to the Senate-passed bill, go to http://bit.ly/cusbdS.   Reps.  Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Stephen Lynch (D-MA) voted against the House passage of the Senate bill but for the reconciliation bill fixes. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) did the opposite: he voted for the Senate bill and against reconciliation.
 
Alliance Executive Director Edward F. Coyle was with the President as he signed the bill into law today.  "This landmark act will help current and future retirees in several specific ways," said Mr. Coyle.  He listed:

  • Closing the Medicare "doughnut hole" coverage gap so seniors will no longer have to cut dangerous corners on their medications;
  • Eliminating co-pays for preventive screenings to help older Americans more quickly and affordably identify and treat diseases such as cancer and diabetes;
  • Cutting wasteful spending to extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund so seniors can better afford premiums which have doubled over the past eight years; and
  • Reducing costly health problems by assisting pre-Medicare retirees with insurance costs and banning discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

Many provisions go into effect quickly:

  • A $250 rebate for Medicare beneficiaries who fall into the doughnut hole gap in prescription drug coverage in 2010;
  • A 50% discount on drugs in 2011 for individuals in the doughnut hole;
  • By 2011, free annual check-ups for seniors in Medicare, without having to make a co-payment for mammograms, colonoscopies and other preventive screenings;
  • A prohibition on insurers from placing lifetime limits on coverage; and
  • A prohibition on "rescission," or dropping coverage when individuals became sick

The Friday Alert of March 29, 2010 will be providing additional details.

Alliance Plays a Key Role Throughout the Process
"Thank-you, thank you, thank you for your role in making this happen!" Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling said to fellow members of the Alliance after the House voted on Sunday.  "We logged over 6,300 calls to Congress yesterday alone.  Thank you also to the members of Congress who have shown such tremendous courage."  The Alliance encourages its members to attend welcome-home rallies for the House members who voted for reform, and to call them on the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to voice your appreciation.

Alliance Executive Vice President Judy Cato was in attendance on Sunday for the drama at the U.S. Capitol.  She said, "I need health care reform.  My family needs health care reform.  Senior citizens need health care reform.  Disabled vets need health care reform.  I came here today to be another body to try to see this through.  It feels really good to be here today.  This moment is a long time a'coming. It's been tolling and a long, hard road to get this done.  I think about my mother and father rallying here before, I just hope they're looking down on us and saying 'job well done!'"

Judy Cato, pictured with Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Working America's Liz Stender & baby Lola [Photo: AFL-CIO]

Republicans to Attempt Delay, Repeal
A majority of Senators, all Democrats, have agreed to support the reconciliation measure.  Sen. John McCain of Arizona and other Republicans, however, have promised to slow the process down in the Senate through procedural objections.  In addition, an effort to repeal the law has quickly become popular among conservatives.  Please contact your senators at the same number as above, (202) 224-3121, to urge them to support the reconciliation measure.  Also, please forward this Friday Alert to any friends and neighbors whom you do not think are fully aware of the advantages to seniors of the historic health reform that the President signed into law today.

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March 19, 2010

Historic House Health Care Vote is Expected on Sunday

Historic House Health Care Vote is Expected on Sunday
House Democrats are "pushing to the brink of passage a landmark, $940 billion health care overhaul bill that would simultaneously deliver on President Barack Obama's promise to expand coverage while slashing the deficit," according to the Associated Press.  The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the total 10-year cost of expanding coverage to be $940 billion. The nonpartisan analysts said the legislation would reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over its first 10 years, continuing to drive down the red ink thereafter. Democratic leaders added that the deficit would be cut $1.2 trillion in the second decade.  House leaders appear increasingly confident of getting the 216 votes they need for passage by following a complicated legislative strategy.  First, the House will have to approve - "deem," in parliamentary terms - a Senate bill passed in December.  After that, both chambers will quickly pass a package of fixes agreed to in negotiations with the White House. 

Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) announced his support for reform on Wednesday, becoming the first Democrat to declare he would vote in favor of the legislation after opposing an earlier version.  On Thursday, the AFL-CIO executive council voted to strongly endorse the bill, and labor group Change to Win is also supporting the bill.  Seniors would see the doughnut hole coverage gap in their prescription benefits gradually eliminated.  A key point of the bill includes giving Medicare beneficiaries who hit the doughnut hole limit this year $250 rebates. Also, the bill would scale back a new excise tax on higher-end insurance policies so that it would not take effect until 2018; the Senate had wanted it to begin five years sooner.  The final piece of the health package will be taken up under rules that protect it from a Republican filibuster, but Senate Republicans can raise multiple objections under a complicated set of rules written by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) more than 35 years ago.  "Medicare premiums have doubled during the past 8 years and will double again in the next 8 years unless Congress acts to control health care costs," said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance, in endorsing the bill.   A vote in the House appears likely at or after 2:00 PM Eastern Time on Sunday.

Alliance Takes Active Role as Health Reform Vote Nears
The Alliance had key roles in two events with U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) this week.  Alliance Executive Director Edward F. Coyle was with the Speaker on Tuesday on Capitol Hill as she tried to gather the votes needed for passage http://bit.ly/9FdkYq.  On Thursday, Alliance member Stella Johnson of Washington, DC, spoke at a press event with the Speaker and several other House members, describing her difficulties as a senior who faces the doughnut hole.  On Monday, Alliance members joined the President for a health care reform rally in Strongsville, Ohio.  On Friday, several Alliance members joined the President at a George Mason University rally for health reform in Fairfax, Virginia.  Alliance members also worked in their Congressional Districts, making thousands of phone calls and sending more than 2,000 letters to their Members of Congress this week urging passage of reform. The national Alliance signed on to a reform letter from the "Seniors to Seniors" coalition and sent its own letter to each member of the U.S. House.  "The U.S. House now has the historic opportunity to pass comprehensive health care reform.  Retirees and all Americans have waited long enough," said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. 

Republicans Name Six Members to Deficit Commission
Senators Tom Coburn (OK), Mike Crapo (ID), and Judd Gregg (NH) and Representatives Dave Camp (MI), Jeb Hensarling (TX), and Paul Ryan (WI) are the new Republican appointees to the bipartisan commission to lower the federal budget deficit.  "Nicknamed the 'Sock Our Seniors Six,' they are a group of lawmakers who have consistently voted to weaken Social Security and sell off Medicare to the big drug and insurance companies," said Mr. Coyle.  The new panelists have combined to average a 6.5% lifetime rating on the Alliance for Retired Americans Voting Record on key congressional votes on Social Security, Medicare, and other issues affecting retirement security.  "We hope the Commission will accurately point out the reckless fiscal decisions that got us to this point, and also reaffirm that Social Security and Medicare are two of our nation's greatest success stories and have helped generations of seniors stay healthy and out of poverty," he concluded.

Barbara Easterling is Honored by
President Easterling was honored by the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) at the 'Working Women's Award Celebration,' yesterday afternoon.  Ms. Easterling was recognized, along with 10 others, as a women's leader whose achievements are inspirations for greater advancements in the workplace, union and community.  In their first annual award celebration, the CLUW chose extraordinary role models who uphold the ideals of commitment and dedication to their work.  The other honorees are: Anna Burger, Chair, Change to Win; Arlene Holt Baker, Executive VP, AFL-CIO; Augusta Thomas, National VP of Women and Fair Practices, AFGE; Elizabeth Bunn, Secretary-Treasurer, UAW; Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO; Gloria Johnson, President Emerita, CLUW; Jane Broendel, Secretary-Treasurer, National Association of Letter Carriers; Joyce Miller, President Emerita, CLUW; Linda Chavez-Thompson, Executive VP Emerita, AFL-CIO; and Nancy Wohlforth, Secretary-Treasurer Emerita, OPEIU. 

Hilda Solis to Speak at Alliance's Las Vegas Convention
The Honorable Hilda Solis has been announced as another speaker at the Alliance's National Convention in Las Vegas, April 5-8, 2010.  She joins Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Liz Shuler and several others.  The conference, themed Building Retiree Power, offers educational and training opportunities to improve activism techniques and leadership skills for the 2010 elections.  For discount hotel rates, book on Bally's Las Vegas website http://bit.ly/btQ57d.  Reservations can also be made with Bally's directly at 1-800-358-8777 - tell them you are with the Alliance.  To register for the convention itself, please go to http://bit.ly/1jIzz2 or call (202) 637-5377.

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March 12, 2010

In Week of Health Care Developments, Thousands Gather to Rally Against Insurers

In Week of Health Care Developments, Thousands Gather to Rally Against Insurers
Tens of thousands of activists, seniors, union members, and religious leaders protested against insurance company abuses on Tuesday in front of the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., where America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) leaders were meeting.  The enthusiastic crowd chanted and brandished their signs, demanding that Congress finish their health care reform fight.  Several Alliance groups were among the protestors who turned out in full force.  The same day, Alliance members participated in a conference call on health care with White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod.  On Wednesday, President Barack Obama delivered a passionate, campaign-style health care stump speech in St. Charles, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis.  Ten Alliance members attended that event.  The next day, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the Senate health care plan would cut the deficit by $118 billion over a decade.  Also on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) outlined in a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) his plans to use reconciliation to make budget-related changes to the health reform legislation passed by the Senate in December.  The procedure will allow the changes to pass with a simple majority in the Senate, rather than a super-majority of 60 votes.  Reid noted in the letter that the bill reduces health care costs and fills the prescription drug "donut hole" for seniors while reducing the deficit.  "We urge Congress to take the next step and pass this legislation, for the benefit of all Americans, especially seniors, who are feeling the brunt of health insurance abuses," said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

Alliance Works with National Center on Senior Transportation
The National Center on Senior Transportation (NCST) held their annual educational briefing on Capitol Hill on March 2, calling attention to the "silent need" for senior transportation in both rural and urban neighborhoods.  NCST's priority is to ensure that older Americans have options in order to maintain mobility and their independence.  Throughout the past year, they have partnered with numerous transportation groups to provide free or affordable travel options for seniors and the disabled.  Among the topics discussed at the briefing were pedestrian-friendly senior communities and door-to-door pick-ups and drop-offs.  "The Alliance is excited to work with the NCST on this issue," said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.  "Nothing is more essential than helping seniors to maintain their independence and improve their quality of life."  To find or organize a transportation program in your area, go to http://bit.ly/aHKRZk.

CVS Exec Kills Drug Labeling Reform in California
Last month, the California pharmacy board was poised to adopt strict new requirements for prescription drug labels, such as large type on labels and an oral translation available for non-English speakers.  Senior citizens, consumer advocacy groups, and minority organizations had championed these proposals, calling them essential.  However, the day before the vote, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) placed a CVS/Pharmacy executive on the board.  The executive, Deborah Veale, then cast a vote that effectively killed that plan.  Under the new regulations that did pass, pharmacies are not obligated to provide non-English translations of drug labels, and the small print on labels will remain.  Nan Brasmer, President of the California Alliance, criticized the decision, stating plainly, "We can't clearly read little tiny type."  The regulations contradict recommendations by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, but Schwarzenegger's spokesman said only that the governor was not trying to influence the vote and does not have an official position on labeling requirements.

Community-Based Scholarships Announced!
In order to ensure attendance of the nation's most dedicated and accomplished community-based seniors, the Alliance granted 10 scholarships to 12 individuals nationally to defray the costs of this year's Las Vegas convention.  One of the scholarships was shared three ways.  The winners include: Dawn Bronsema (CA), Samuel Burnett (OH), Sadie Coleman (MD), James Collins (NY), Suleika Cabrera Drinane (NY), Artist Gilbert (CA), Kathleen Kennedy (AZ), Diana Carpenter Madoshi (CA), Larry Malone (MO), Lithangia Robinson Murray (GA), Will Parry (WA) and Gerald Rennert (FL).  Mr. Burnett said, "The number of seniors is growing and so is the need for them to get reliable information about the issues that matter to them.  The Alliance provides a way for seniors to receive this information and to act accordingly.  I look forward to taking skills from the convention back to my state."

Suggested Resolutions for Convention are Due by Monday
The Alliance's April 5-8 Las Vegas convention will offer educational and training opportunities to improve both grassroots activism techniques and leadership skills.  Confirmed speakers include Sen. Reid and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV); the Alliance wishes Sen. Reid's wife and daughter a speedy recovery from injuries sustained in a serious car crash on Thursday.  As part of the convention, any delegate registered to attend may offer or second a resolution for consideration.  The resolution must pertain to a statement of the Alliance's position or policy on a specific matter. Please send your suggestions to 2010Resolutions@retiredamericans.org to be considered.  Proposed resolutions, and seconds, must be received by the Alliance no later than March 15, 2010 in order for the Resolutions Committee, designated by the Alliance President, to review them.  To register for the convention, please go to http://bit.ly/1jIzz2.

Phil Feaster: A Lifetime of Service
Phil Feaster
, former board member of the Teamster National Black Caucus and active member of the Maryland Alliance, died on Sunday, March 7.  He was 70 years old.  Feaster was elected President of Local 639, a position that he held for 17 years.  A recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award in 1995, he devoted his life to the labor movement and improving the lives of working families.  He served as a Maryland delegate for the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and remained active in retirement, speaking at a U.S House press conference with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in July about the "donut hole."  A video that includes Mr. Feaster is on the Alliance's home web page at http://www.retiredamericans.org/.  He will be greatly missed.

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March 05, 2010

$250 Payment to Social Security Recipients Voted Down By Senate

$250 Payment to Social Security Recipients Voted Down By Senate
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) lost a bid on Wednesday to boost the income of millions of Social Security recipients and offset the elimination of the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2010.  His amendment calling for $13 billion to fund a one-time, $250 payment to seniors, veterans, and the disabled needed 60 votes to pass, but failed 47-50.  For a tally of the vote, go to http://bit.ly/bTH5iG.  The amendment was to be attached to legislation that would extend jobless benefits and COBRA health care subsidies.  There will be no COLA this year due to low inflation.  Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance, said, "The purchasing needs of seniors are unique, and often include medications needed to stay alive.  We insist that the Senate realize the importance of this $250 payment to struggling retirees."  Sen. Sanders also said that the fight for the measure, which President Obama included in his budget, would continue.

Obama Calls for Reconciliation in Order to Pass Health Care Reform Quickly
In a health care speech by Barack Obama on Wednesday, the President called for an "up or down vote" that would leave Republicans unable to kill the bill through a filibuster.  The current Democratic plan is to have the House vote to approve the already-passed Senate bill, plus fixes, then have the Senate pass these fixes through reconciliation.  Under this scenario, only a simple majority in the Senate, rather than a super-majority of 60 votes, would be needed to pass health reform.  The President stated that he wants action within a few weeks, echoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) call for an informal deadline of March 18.  Despite Republican criticism that a decision to bar the filibuster would be "met with outrage" by the public, Democrats shot back with claims that the same rules had been used five times during George W. Bush's administration.  The Obama White House is still working to include bipartisan measures, and announced that they were exploring GOP proposals that include additional crackdowns on fraudulent medical charges and new rules for medical malpractice suits.  "We can't just quit," said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.  "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to fix a health care system that is not benefiting millions of Americans, including many seniors."

Alan Simpson Strikes at Seniors, Social Security, and Medicare
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson sat down with the CNBC television network last week to discuss his post as co-chair of the President's Fiscal Commission on the national debt.  Throughout the conversation, he leveled several attacks against seniors and senior advocacy organizations, accusing them of not caring "a whit about their grandchildren

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February 26, 2010

Response to President's Health Care Plan and Summit: Three Things You Can Do

Response to President's Health Care Plan and Summit: Three Things You Can Do
In order to bridge the differences between the U.S. House and Senate-passed health care bills - and continue to move reform forward - President Obama unveiled his Administration's own health plan on Monday.  The plan contains several major steps toward improving the well-being of current and future retirees.  "President Obama's plan recognizes the millions of seniors who are struggling to afford to see a doctor or get a prescription filled," said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.  "For retirees, continued inaction would be devastating.  Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs would soon eat up more than one-third of a retiree's Social Security benefits."  For the Alliance's comparison of Obama's health reform bill with those passed by the U.S House and Senate, go to http://bit.ly/aMvKTJ.  On Thursday, President Obama led a televised health care reform summit, which focused on discussing ideas and grievances about the proposed health care bill from both parties.  White House officials named 21 lawmakers the president wanted to attend the summit: the top leaders in the House and Senate and of the committees with jurisdiction over the health legislation.  Obama also invited the top four leaders to invite four more lawmakers each, bringing the total to 37; 20 Democrats and 17 Republicans. For a specific list of the attendees, go to http://bit.ly/aTLD6n.  As a follow-up to the summit, concerned senior activists are encouraged to do 3 things:

  1. Contact your U.S. House member and two Senators by calling 202-224-3121.  Tell them that President Obama's proposal would close the "doughnut hole" coverage gap in Medicare Part D; finally end the $3.60 per month every senior pays in higher premiums to subsidize the big insurance corporations that run Medicare Advantage; and make long-term care more affordable for middle-class families.
  2. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper reiterating the need for reform.  You may find it helpful to use the language at http://bit.ly/8YMsgI as a guide; and
  3. Share Alliance materials like the comparison chart above and the fact sheet at http://bit.ly/a1qtC8 with your friends and neighbors.

Further evidence of the need for reform came last Friday, with the release of a study by a major consulting firm showing that spiraling costs are a problem even for seniors with solid insurance.  The Avalere Health study found that premiums for private Medicare Advantage plans offering medical and prescription drug coverage jumped 14.2% on average for 2010.  Some 8.5 million seniors and disabled Americans who signed up for the private plans will therefore be facing sharp premium increases this year, following an increase of 5.2% last year. 

More Debt Commission Appointees Named
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday appointed Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to serve on the President's fiscal panel tasked with developing a plan to bring down the $12.3 trillion national debt.  The President said that the commission can consider everything, including new taxes, spending cuts and changes to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, in order to reach his goal of balancing the federal budget except for debt interest payments by 2015.  Obama is asking Congress to consider the panel's recommendations.  Obama will appoint six people to the 18-member panel and up to four can come from the same party.  Leaders in Congress will choose the other 12 members, with three coming from the Republican and Democratic caucus in each chamber.  Reid is the first congressional leader to announce his picks.  The majority leader said that he would make sure that the panel's recommendations, which are non-binding, receive votes in the Senate.  Both Baucus and Conrad are noted centrists, a group of lawmakers that has made debt and deficit issues a priority.  Obama last week selected former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) to head the panel.  Today, the president named former Clinton White House budget director Alice Rivlin; Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern; former Young & Rubicam Brands CEO Ann Fudge; and Honeywell CEO and Chairman David Cote to fill remaining slots, an administration official said.  "I would like to say to the panel: Social Security's long-term solvency can be resolved by relatively modest adjustments, and without cutting benefits," stressed Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.  To see the Alliance's latest document on Social Security, which refutes opponents' charges that today's budget problems are due to Social Security, go to http://bit.ly/c68Nom.

Requests for Heating Assistance Rise By 15%
As the winter wears on, the number of households applying for home heating assistance has risen to record levels for the third straight year, rising by 15% to include 8.8 million households.  The majority of these applicants are low-income seniors, disabled people, and families living beneath the federal poverty line.  Under LIHEAP (the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program), states provide grants of about $500; however, due to increased demand, many states have had to cut the grants or applications to stretch funds, leaving many in the lurch.  "While several states forbid the cut-off of utilities during the winter, struggling retirees often put off payments and build up debt," said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.  "In the spring, seniors may find themselves lacking gas and electricity as companies seek payment."

Sign Up By March 2 to Get Special Room Rate for the Las Vegas Convention!
As 2010 political campaigns heat up, retirees need to begin learning more about elections that will see the entire U.S. House, one-third of the U.S. Senate, and 36 gubernatorial races on the November ballot.  A great place to start is this year's Alliance National Convention, April 5-8 in Las Vegas, which will feature noted speakers and training workshops on mobilizing retirees for electoral success.  Alliance members will elect a president and secretary-treasurer, and community members will elect six community-based board members.  Hotel reservations must be made by contacting Bally's Las Vegas directly at 1-800-358-8777.  To guarantee the low room rate of $89, you must make your hotel reservation by March 2, 2010.  To register for the convention itself, please go to http://bit.ly/1jIzz2.

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February 19, 2010

President Establishes Debt Commission to Look at Social Security and Medicare

President Establishes Debt Commission to Look at Social Security and Medicare
Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a commission to tackle the federal debt.  The commission's purpose is to reduce the federal budget deficit from 10% to 3% by 2015 and to propose ways to contain costs related to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  As co-chairs of the commission, the president named former Bill Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson

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February 12, 2010

Insurance Premium Increase of 39% in California Adds to Health Reform Urgency

Insurance Premium Increase of 39% in California Adds to Health Reform Urgency
The health care problem remains on the center stage now that Anthem Blue Cross of California has unveiled rate increases of up to 39 percent for its 800,000 individual policyholders. The increases, which will take effect on March 1, far outpace the increases of 10 to 25% seen in previous years among most insurers offering individual policies.  Kaiser Health News and The San Diego Union-Tribune report that as the economy slowly recovers, health insurance costs for those with individual policies continue to increase due to larger numbers of unemployed and those relying on government health care programs. As a result, "hospitals and doctors are passing on more of their uncompensated costs to patients with private insurance."   The San Francisco Chronicle adds that "California physical, occupational and speech therapists are also taking issue with Anthem."  The therapists said the insurer cut their reimbursement rates by 30 to 50% on February 1.  In addition, the Chronicle reports that patients covered by other health insurers, including Health Net and Aetna, are reporting being hit with sky-high increases.   "This is exactly the kind of news that proves we need health care reform immediately," said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. 

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February 05, 2010

President's Budget Includes $250 Stimulus Payment for Social Security Recipients

President's Budget Includes $250 Stimulus Payment for Social Security Recipients
President Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposes a $250 payment to Social Security recipients.  The relief would come at a time when Social Security beneficiaries will not be receiving a normal cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) because of a formula that forbids adjustments during times of negative inflation.  "Without a COLA, far too many of America's seniors will find it even more difficult to purchase basic necessities, heat their homes and pay for their medications," said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.  "We urge Congress to similarly work to provide much-needed economic relief to older Americans who are struggling to make ends meet during these difficult times," she continued.  "The President's budget proposal will provide Social Security beneficiaries with the equivalent of a 2% increase in benefits and will help greatly to bolster their financial security."

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January 29, 2010

President Obama Delivers State of the Union Address

President Obama Delivers State of the Union Address
During his State of the Union address on Wednesday, President Obama vocalized the critical need for a reduction in the federal deficit.  Alliance Executive Director Edward Coyle agreed with the sentiment but cautioned, "We cannot balance the budget on the backs of America's seniors.  Vital programs such as Social Security and Medicare did not cause these large deficits."  He added, "The passage of a strong health care reform bill will not only improve our nation's physical health, but its fiscal health as well, and therefore must remain a priority."  The day after the speech, the President traveled to speak at a Town Hall event in Florida at the University of Tampa.  Alliance members Bob Meeks and Tony Scelzo were among those in attendance, along with Florida Alliance Field Organizer Jenny Kenny.

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