Fair Trade

June 08, 2015

Members of Congress & Seniors’ Advocates to House: Don’t Raid Medicare to Pay for Unrelated TAA Issue (to Try and Pass Fast Track)

IMG_0890Contact: Jason Stanford, (202) 637-5037, jason@coalitiontostopfasttrack.org

Washington – Seniors groups and Members of Congress today urged the House of Representatives to oppose plans to cut a total of $950 million from Medicare to fund the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to assist workers displaced by trade – a key sticking point in the larger controversial debate over whether the House should provide fast track authority for trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). On a press call held this afternoon, Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), along with Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, and Max Richtman, President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare noted that the proposed cuts would jeopardize access to care for millions of seniors on Medicare.

“All of us adamantly reject using Medicare as an ATM for unrelated issues, regardless of their merits,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). “Where we can find savings in Medicare, those funds should be used to improve Medicare. They should not be used for something completely unrelated.”

“We have to stop using Medicare as a bank that funds these activities,” added Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA). “It is my hope that before TAA comes up for a vote the changes to this offset are made so that Medicare funding is not cut.”

“It is difficult for us to find any logic for this proposal,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “This is, in plain words, a very bad idea.”

“I find it interesting that some of the same Members of Congress who condemned Obamacare and decried the billions in savings from the Medicare program as cuts are some of the same legislators who want to really cut Medicare to pay for an unrelated program,” said Max Richtman, President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He added, “Millions of Medicare beneficiaries are watching Congress and waiting to see what they will do.”

The new opposition joins recent calls against cutting Medicare to fund TAA in order to pass the damaging fast track bill. Among other recent and relevant voices:

  • A recent letter signed by 61 House Democrats warned against cutting Medicare to fund TAA: “American workers rely on Trade Adjustment Assistance when trade deals send jobs overseas. While it is clear we need Trade Adjustment Assistance, it is not clear why the offset should be extended budget limitations on Medicare, as proposed. More than 50 million seniors rely on Medicare; we should be investing in the trust fund, not using savings to fund other programs.”
  • In an article published on Medium today, James Love, Director of Knowledge Ecology International, writes a piece titled, “TPP, designed to make medicine more expensive, reforms more difficult,” that offers a primer on why advocates of lower prescription drug prices are worried about the effects of the TPP.
  • A recent letter from leading healthcare provider groups, including the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the American Health Care Association, and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, noted: “Hospitals, physicians, nursing homes and home health and hospice providers have already absorbed hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicare program in recent years … Additionally alarming is the use of Medicare cuts to pay for non-Medicare related legislation, a precedent that we believe is unwise.”
  • An earlier letter to Congress signed by the Alliance for Retired Americans; AFL-CIO; AFSCME Retirees; Center for Community Change; Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc.; LeadingAge; Medicare Rights Center; National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys; National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare; Social Security Works; and Wider Opportunities for Women expressed worry about Medicare cuts and as well as the negative effects the TPP trade pact as a whole could have for older Americans, noting the potential harmful effects on drug prices for seniors.
  • In a recent Arizona Republic op-ed titled, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is Bad for Seniors,” Doug Hart of the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans noted, “Pending House legislation would take $700 million from Medicare to pay for trade adjustment assistance, so it is not hard to connect the dots: Medicare would be cut in order to pay for the adverse conditions that workers face as a result of trade promotion authority. Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank every time the government needs funding for other purposes …The Trans Pacific Partnership may also jeopardize the government’s ability to list and price prescription drugs in public programs. More specifically, foreign corporations or subsidiaries will be able to challenge a number of public programs under Medicaid, as well as the Medicare drug discounts negotiated under the Affordable Care Act and the Veterans Affairs system, if drug pricing in these programs affect their profits. Americans already pay the highest drug prices of any industrialized nation, and last year, drug prices went up 13 percent. Congress should be working on ways to reduce drug costs, rather than making this problem worse.”
  • A recent column by the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik raises similar concerns, noting, “Medicare means many things to many people. To seniors, it’s a program providing good, low-cost healthcare at a stage in life when it’s most needed. To Congress, it’s beginning to look more like a piggy bank to be raided.” That’s the only conclusion one can draw from a provision slipped into a measure to extend and increase the government’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which provides assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of trade deals. The measure, introduced by Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.), proposes covering some of the $2.7-billion cost of the extension by slicing $700 million out of doctor and hospital reimbursements for Medicare.

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The Coalition to Stop Fast Track is made up of labor unions and other organizations working on the campaign to stop Congress from passing Trade Promotion Authority, also known as Fast Track.  The Coalition coordinates the campaign with all member organizations in Washington, DC.  In congressional districts and states, the Coalition helps organizations develop plans that include organizing field activities, press events, social media and advertising.

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