June 25, 2010

Congress Delivers President Obama a ‘Doc Fix’ Bill

After realizing that combining the ‘Doc Fix’ provision with a jobs creation package was not politically feasible, House Democrats promptly passed a six-month solution to the ongoing cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates to physicians.  The temporary fix passed the House late Thursday night by a vote of 415-1.  The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services had already started to process Medicare claims at the 21%-lower rate, causing severe financial damage to medical practices nationally.  All prior claims will be resubmitted and paid at the new reimbursement rates. Additionally, the bill allows for a 2.2% raise for physician reimbursement rates.  Despite this small-scale victory, there were no celebrations on Capitol Hill, as the same problem is on the verge of occurring yet again.  In December, Medicare physicians are scheduled to face a 23% cut in reimbursement rates, increasing up to 30% by January.  Policy experts, Medicare beneficiaries, and doctors alike are grateful for the fix, but believe that a permanent solution must be implemented.  “The Alliance is pleased that Congress has put politics aside in order to protect the quality of care that seniors receive,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.  “We hope that during the next six-months, Congress will be able pass a permanent solution to this recurring problem, and we still hope for a jobs and economic relief package.”

America Speaks: National Meeting to Take Place on Saturday
On June 26, America Speaks, an organization its creators describe as seeking to increase citizen involvement in public policy, will be holding a town hall meeting on the budget deficit in twenty different cities around the country.  The participants will be connected via interactive technology.  After the meeting, America Speaks and its partners will put together a series of recommendations; they will then present those findings to Congress and the President’s Fiscal Commission, most immediately when the Commission meets on June 30.  The stated goal of the forum is to grant the public the ability to voice their opinions on how best to deal with the country’s financial troubles.  However, many senior advocates fear that some will try to manipulate the discussion in order to blame Social Security unfairly for the national debt.  “Social Security has not added a single cent to our debt.  It is funded directly by payroll contributions from workers and employers,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.

Obama Warns Insurers About Rate Hikes
An AFL-CIO blog post on Tuesday repeated a warning from President Obama that “health insurance companies should not use the new heath care reform law as an ‘opportunity to enact unjustifiable rate increases.'” The President made his remarks at a White House ceremony marking the 90-day anniversary of signing the landmark bill, which he termed “a true patient’s bill of rights.”  The warning came a day after a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) showed that health insurers are raising prices by an average of 20% for working-age adults who are not covered on the job and who buy their own policies.  At the ceremony, Obama referred to Anthem Blue Cross of California attempting to raise its rates by 39%, before caving in to pressure.  Now, says Obama, “The CEOs here today need to know that they’re going to be required to publicly justify unreasonable premium increases on your websites, as well as the law’s new website – healthcare.gov. As we set up the exchanges, we’ll be watching closely, and we’ll fully support states if they exercise their review authority to keep excessively expensive plans out of their insurance exchanges.”  Under the law’s new rules issued Tuesday, Obama said the insurance companies’ “worst abuses will be banned forever.”  For the full post, go to http://bit.ly/dxHBON.

States are Cutting Pension Costs in a Variety of Ways, Hurting Retirees
A New York Times story on budget cuts and pensions last Sunday stated that Illinois has raised its retirement age to 67, the highest of any state.  Arizona, New York, Missouri and Mississippi will be making people work more years to earn pensions; and Virginia is requiring employees to pay into the state pension fund for the first time.  Nearly all of the cuts so far apply only to workers not yet hired. An exception is Colorado, which has imposed cuts on its current workers, not just future hires, and even on people who have already retired.  The retirees have sued to block the reduction.  Illinois is putting less money into its pension fund now, starting with $300 million this year – raising the risk of a collapse long before the real savings start to materialize.  Some other states are raising employee contributions.  New Jersey officials are quietly looking into whether it, too, could reduce the benefits that current employees can expect to accumulate in the future.  To read the story, go to http://nyti.ms/d3d0bX.

Alliance Educational Fund Awards Seidman Prize
The Alliance Educational Fund awarded its fifth annual Bert and Annabel Seidman Prize for Advancing Social Policy to National Labor College (NLC) student Robert Auchard, a member of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association from San Jose, California.  Mr. Auchard was awarded the prize for his senior project entitled, Passing the Torch: Can Building Trades Retirees Help to Attract New Members Through Volunteerism?  The prize, and its accompanying $3,000 honorarium, encourages NLC students to research and analyze social policies that affect the older population.  The winning entry conducted an in-depth analysis on how intergenerational community service projects can help bolster union membership.  Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling said of Mr. Auchard’s paper, “Bert and Annabel Seidman were wonderful people who were deeply committed to improving and growing the Organized Labor community.  I can think of no better way to honor their memory than Mr. Auchard’s work on intergenerational volunteerism, which will undoubtedly help ensure a bright future for the labor movement.”

State Alliance Chapters Compare Notes
State Alliances are working closely on issues of common concern.  Earlier this month, Alliance representatives from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island met in Hooksett, New Hampshire.  Topics included chapter history, growing and retaining membership, and involving community based members.  Also, Alliance board member Sam Burnett last week held a steering committee meeting to plan a Midwest Regional Meeting for this fall

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