May 21, 2010

Alliance Celebrates Victory of Mark Critz in Pennsylvania

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.  Each political party said the race to succeed the late John Murtha (D) was something of a bellwether for the fall.  “Seniors have elected a real friend to Congress,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.  “The Alliance looks forward to working with Mr. Critz on protecting Social Security as the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform comes up with its recommendations,” he added, since Critz signed a pledge to oppose privatizing Social Security.  In the race for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Rep. Joe Sestak defeated current Senator Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary, 53% – 47%.  Sestak, who achieved a score of 100% in 2009 on the Alliance’s voting record, will face former Rep. Pat Toomey, who won the Republican nomination, in November.  In Arkansas, incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln got 44.5% of the vote in the Democratic primary, with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter gathering 42.5%.  The two will face off in a June 8 run-off, since no one gathered more than half the votes.  In Kentucky, political newcomerRand Paul rode support from tea party activists to victory in the Republican Senate primary.  Mr. Paul has said that the retirement age will almost certainly have to be raised for people to be eligible for Social Security.  In Kentucky’s Democratic primary, state Attorney General Jack Conway defeated Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, 44% – 43%.

Congress Trying to Fix Doctors’ Medicare Reimbursements
The U.S House and Senate are scheduled to vote soon on H.R. 4213 — the American Jobs, Closing Tax Loopholes, and Preventing Outsourcing Act — that extends unemployment benefits, COBRA subsidies, and enhanced Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP) matching funds for states, while fixing physician payments under Medicare for 5 years.  Failure to pass this legislation will result in doctors facing a 21% cut in their Medicare reimbursements.  However, the doctor reimbursement fix will ensure that Medicare beneficiaries continue to have access to family physicians and specialists.  Also included in H.R. 4213 is a provision to increase funding to states to help pay for increased Medicaid reimbursements. Medicaid dollars provide assistance to low-income seniors and pay for nursing home care; failure to extend this provision will force states to close budget gaps with brutal cuts that will affect many seniors.  Alliance members have already sent more than 2,000 letters this week to Congress by clicking on http://bit.ly/bk1MXA and pushing for doctors’ reimbursements not to be cut.

Special Committee on Aging: Social Security Only Needs Modest Changes
Social Security faces a $5.3 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years, but a new congressional report says the gap could be erased with only modest changes to payroll taxes and benefits.  Many changes wouldn’t affect current recipients, according to the report by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.  Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the committee, said small “tweaks” are all that is needed to bolster Social Security’s finances for future generations of retirees.  “Modest changes can be made over time that will keep the program in surplus,” Kohl told The Associated Press.  The report lays out options for fixing Social Security, but does not endorse any of them.  Kohl said lawmakers will probably combine several options to ease their impact. To view the report, go to http://bit.ly/bQkEdp.  The panel’s analysis will be presented to PresidentObama’s Fiscal Commission.  Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), who sits on the Commission, said recently that raising the Social Security retirement age would not have much of an impact on someone’s “lifestyle.”  “He must be referring to his own lifestyle, and not that of thousands of Granite State residents who work in physically demanding construction and service sector jobs,” said Charlie Balban, President of the New Hampshire Alliance.

Insurance Companies Focused on Shaping New Rules
Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care law passed, the health insurance industry has switched its attention from opposing reform to manipulating how the law will be implemented [http://nyti.ms/b8BooG ]. Key areas of interest include how the new rules will define “unreasonable” premium increases, as well as a provision effective January 1st requiring that 80-85% of premiums be spent on real medical costs involved in patient care – not, for example, on administration.  How this provision is interpreted, and what insurance companies can justify as patient care costs, remains to be seen.  Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling said, “We cannot allow anyone to undo what we just accomplished with the passage of the new health law.  Insurance bosses haven’t stopped fighting, so neither can we.”

Rhode Island Alliance Provides Wellness Screenings
The Rhode Island Alliance, led by President John Pernorio, held its Spring Healthlink Wellness screenings this week.  Last month, the Rhode Island Alliance co-hosted its HealthLink Wellness Health Fair.  Visitors were screened for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, oral cancer, and other health issues.  Both events helped the uninsured and underinsured get basic medical care.

Alliance Travel
Ms. Easterling is in Buffalo, New York today for the general meeting of the Erie-Niagara County Alliance.  Mr. Coyle is in Indianapolis for the Indiana Alliance’s annual convention.

Budget Blogging Event Next Wednesday
Next Wednesday is the second meeting of the fiscal commission.  The Alliance joins Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) in co-sponsoring a blogging event all day. In order to have more voices heard on Obama’s Fiscal Commission, and keeping the promise of Social Security, the Alliance encourages the public to sound off on their budget concerns. Raise your voices on blogs or social networks: What can President Obama and Congress do to help Americans be economically secure while balancing the nation’s budget? More information is available athttp://bit.ly/9y2wMA, with examples at http://bit.ly/9y2wMA . For Power Point slides on blog day, go to http://bit.ly/aYBjH1.

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