July 16, 2010

Comments from Fiscal Commissioners, New Study Concern Seniors

On Sunday, the co-chairmen of President Barack Obama’s fiscal commission offered an ominous assessment of the nation’s economic future, calling current budgetary trends a “cancer” that will destroy the country from within unless checked by tough actions in Washington. The two leaders – Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles – singled out Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, saying that the three programs fully consume federal revenue. The commission looks to reduce the deficit primarily through spending cuts and additional revenue. Separately, a new study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) finds that if the Social Security benefit cuts and retirement age increases that have been widely suggested were adopted, they would have a substantially negative impact on low- and middle-income families. The report, “The Impact of Social Security Cuts on Retiree Income,” is available at http://bit.ly/dplKBb. “Social Security and Medicare have helped generations of seniors stay healthy and out of poverty,” Alliance Executive Director Edward F. Coyle argued. “Balancing the budget on the backs of seniors is absolutely not the solution.”

Ohio Alliance Supports Delphi Workers

Ohio Alliance activists appeared on Tuesday at a U.S. House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing that addressed the slashing of pensions for Delphi salaried workers while maintaining those for hourly and UAW employees. Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-OH) arranged the hearing in Canfield, OH to review the challenges faced by Delphi retirees as a result of the corporate collapse in the auto industry and the effects of the fiscal crisis on retirees created by the implosion of the financial industry. Alliance members were there to support Delphi retirees who are fighting for fair treatment, and to denounce the pervasive weakening of retirement income security. Ohio Alliance State Director Norm Wernet testified, “The Delphi workers…are asking for some measure of economic justice for the compensation they have earned after a life of work. To allow those who managed this company into bankruptcy to walk away with huge sums of money that guarantee their livelihood at the expense of the retirees is not just an injustice but a structural weakening of the local and state economies.” Wernet encouraged Congress to return the pensions and pass the “Protecting Employees and Retirees in Business Bankruptcies Act of 2010,” which would bring relief to workers caught in a corporate bankruptcy.  More here:http://bit.ly/beMcxU.

HHS Unveils New Preventive Care Benefits

On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services released their new preventive care rules, which are included in the new health care law. The rules make it easier and more affordable for seniors on Medicare and Americans enrolled in Medicaid to access preventive screenings and services. For seniors enrolling in a new health plan on or after September 23, 2010, their plans will be required to cover recommended preventative services such as mammograms, colonoscopies, immunizations, and annual check-ups, without charging a co-pay, co-insurance, or deductible. Some of the covered preventive services for seniors include colorectal cancer screening for adults over 50, diet counseling, as well as Type 2 Diabetes and cholesterol screening. To see the full list of covered services, visit the official HHS website athttp://bit.ly/asJydX.

Seniors at Hospitals for “Observation” Face Bills Not Covered by Medicare

According to Bloomberg Business Week, seniors are increasingly finding themselves hit with thousands of dollars in normally reimbursed hospital bills, because of an unintended glitch in Medicare rules. In December 2008, Medicare expanded a pilot auditing program nationwide to cut fraud. Since then, the number of patients in long-term observation has increased. Under Medicare rules, patients listed under observation face 20% co-payments that would not be required if they were admitted, and expensive aftercare isn’t covered at all. The observation classification is designed to be used when there is not an immediate diagnosis, or if it is determined the condition is not normally treated within an inpatient setting. However, hospitals sometimes extend the use of observation status in order to avoid being challenged by Medicare auditors on patient admissions when cases fall in a gray area between inpatient and outpatient. “In the past, hospitals and physicians were on their honor, but no more,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of theAlliance. “Congress needs to make clear that anyone who is in a hospital for 24 hours or more is considered an inpatient.”  For more, go to http://bit.ly/9qNHB3.

Alliance in the States: Florida, New Mexico, Iowa

Alliance activists attended a wide variety of events this week.  On Monday, Florida Alliance members met with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) for a senior health care reform forum. The event was a huge success, with around 80 participants and local FOX coverage.  On Thursday, Eva Dominguez, a Legislative Representative of the National Alliance, spoke to participants of a League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) workshop in New Mexico and led a discussion on how the new health care law affects seniors.  The Alliance has six fact sheets and membership documents in Spanish on its web site (including at http://bit.ly/cfjX1I).

This past Wednesday, the Iowa Alliance held their third annual conference, with more than 60 activists attending to gear up for the 2010 election season. Iowa Senate President Mike Gronstal kicked things off, followed by a message from Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA) and speeches from state legislators and policy experts who led lively conversations with Alliance activists. Congratulations to the state President Don Rowen, organizer Midge Slater and the entire leadership team for another hugely successful event!

PhRMA Announces New President, John Castellani

One of the most powerful drug lobbying groups, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), announced on Tuesday that John Castellani will become their new President in September. Castellani has suggested he may push back against aspects of the new health care law that he finds worrisome. He is a major campaign contributor – top beneficiaries of his giving over the years have included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance, said, “Hopefully, PhRMA will work with Congress to ensure fair consideration of the needs ofAmerica’s seniors. However, if the past is any indication, there is reason for concern.

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