May 13, 2011

Grassroots Pressure Influences the Medicare Debate

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the GOP has been on defense with older voters since Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan passed the House on April 15 with the support of all but four Republicans. “Since then,” the article reads, “Republicans have faced scathing criticism in public settings from seniors on both sides of the aisle, who say they have deep concerns about turning Medicare into a program where the government subsidizes future retirees through vouchers and private insurance.” The complete story is available at http://bit.ly/m0QCQQ.

At http://bit.ly/iOJwRU, Roll Call wrote, “House Republicans are working to prevent Medicare reform from becoming the politically defining issue of their party for the 2012 election season. But as Members return home for a weeklong Congressional recess Friday, it remains an open question whether media attention and a strong constituent response will turn the issue of entitlements into the GOP’s version of cap-and-trade, a Democratic proposal from 2009 that was met with strong opposition and damaged scores of incumbents in swing districts. Like that issue, the new Medicare overhaul seems to have lost the support of House leaders — this time Republicans — after many potentially vulnerable lawmakers cast controversial votes in favor of replacing Medicare with a voucher program.”

Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance, commented on the articles. “Grassroots education & mobilization has made a big difference. People want to lower the federal budget deficit, but in this case the House GOP leadership led their flock way too far, and grassroots activists blew the whistle on them.  Folks are having a hard enough time getting by as it is, and then along comes Rep. Ryan and his cohorts with a plan that would actually make things much worse.”

Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance, added on the web site Firedoglake, “House Republicans are having a rocky time back home, with much of the wrath coming from seniors.  Their anger is fueled by a House-passed privatization of Medicare that would drive up seniors’ health care costs as they fend for themselves in the wilds of the private insurance market.” To see Ms. Easterling’s full column, go to http://bit.ly/jidUtA. Also, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), an Alliance member, wrote an informative piece for the Puget Sound Alliance’s May newsletter and blog, entitled “Medicare: Our bedrock promise to seniors.” To view it, go to http://bit.ly/kOZPwF.

Social Security, Medicare Trust Fund Reports Released

The Social Security trust fund report came out today and found that Social Security will remain solvent through 2036, a year earlier than was forecast in 2010. “Social Security is doing exactly what it is supposed to do – assuring full payment to beneficiaries, without delay. However, we cannot afford to keep the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. The Medicare trustees report was also issued today, saying Medicare will be able to completely pay its bills until 2024, five years sooner than last year’s projection of 2029. “The Affordable Care Act will save nearly $120 billion for Medicare over the next five years. Imagine where we would be without that,” said Mr. Coyle. “We must do more to create high-quality American jobs, which will lead to more people paying into the system.”

Medicaid Increasingly Targeted by Republicans

According to The New York Times, “The changes to Medicaid proposed by Rep. Ryan, the House budget chairman, could actually have a more direct impact on older Americans than the Medicare part of his plan.” The House plan would turn Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the poor through federal and state money, into a block grant program for states. Beginning in 2013, these grants would increase annually at the rate of inflation, with adjustments for population growth, a rate far below that of inflation for health care costs. As a result, state leaders, who have said that they cannot afford to keep up with the program’s costs, are likely to scale back coverage. Such a reduction could have a disproportionate effect on Medicaid spending for nursing home care.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 7 of 10 nursing home residents are on Medicaid. On Tuesday, the foundation released a report, together with the Urban Institute, stating that by 2012, under the Ryan plan there could be 44 million fewer projected Medicaid enrollees nationally than what is forecast under current law. That is because existing projections include new additions to the program from the health care overhaul. While the House passed the Ryan 2012 budget, including changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the plan is dead on arrival in the Senate. Democrats have voiced strong opposition to block grants, arguing that they would shift too many Medicaid costs to states that are already slashing their budgets. Go to http://bit.ly/iUTS1G to view the Kaiser report.

State Round-up: New York, Wisconsin, Nevada

On Tuesday, Ms. Easterling traveled to New York to address the United Federation of Teachers Retired Teachers Chapter of New York City. On Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin Alliance members joined like-minded activists from other groups in exposing Governor Scott Walker’s (R) “Reverse Robbin’ Hood Budget.”  Activists stressed that Walker’s Reverse Robbin’ Hood budget makes the wrong choices by taking from schools, seniors, healthcare, public services and the poor – to give corporations and his wealthy donors huge tax giveaways.

This Saturday at the Wisconsin State Capitol, Wisconsinites will once again rally against Gov. Walker’s fatally flawed budget. Wisconsin Alliance President Leon Burzynski will join speakers from the Wisconsin State Senate and numerous unions and community organizations to speak out against the deplorable affront to collective bargaining, SeniorCare and more. Buses will transport people from all over the state to Madison. For details, and to RSVP, clickhttp://bit.ly/kKtzQF.

Last week, on May 3, Nevada Alliance members, IBEW Local 1245 retirees, and supporters picketed the NV Energy shareholder meeting in Las Vegas. Retirees presented a resolution urging the utility’s Board of Directors to amend company bylaws to allow holders of 15% of outstanding shares of common stock to call a special meeting of stockholders. The resolution, a clear call for more accountability by management, passed with 60% of the vote. Under CEOMichael Yackira, the company has slashed retiree medical benefits, even as company profits rose 25% last year to $227 million, and Yackira’s own compensation has gone up 42% in just three years.

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