June 18, 2010

Senior Issues take Center Stage in Nevada Senate Race

Nevada Alliance members rushed to Republican/tea party Senate candidate Sharron Angle’soffice last Friday to protest her position on privatizing Social Security.  “She’s extreme. She’s dangerous,” said NARA President Scott Watts.  Her opponent is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D).  Watts called emergency meetings in Las Vegas on Wednesday and Sparks, Nevada on Thursday about Angle’s positions, and scores turned out to exchange warnings about her ideas for privatizing Social Security.  Emotions ran high.  Other sources of concern for retirees include Angle’s stated desire to privatize Medicare and the Veterans Administration.  Despite numerous attempts by television stations to reach Angle for comment and clarification, no one from her campaign returned their calls and e-mails over the past few days.  During the primary campaign, Angle said that she wanted to phase out Social Security and Medicare programs, for something private.  “I’ve never seen any compassion from this person as far as senior citizens are concerned.  Never,” Mr. Watts added.  To see the print and television coverage, go tohttp://bit.ly/cPMtGr or http://www.facebook.com/retiredamericans.

Doc Fix Stalled in Congress as Some Medicare Patients Start Losing Their Doctors
On Monday, Obama Administration officials announced that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services would hold all Medicare claims until today, June 18th, in order to give Congress more time to pass the “Doc Fix” provision.  While the president’s temporary solution put the Medicare reimbursement cuts on hold for a couple of days, it has by no means satisfied doctors or Medicare beneficiaries.  The legislation currently stalled in the Senate, H.R. 4213, would prevent the 21% cuts to Medicare doctors through the end of 2011, extend unemployment insurance, provide pension fund relief, and add funds for the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) program – federal matching funds under Medicaid for state expenditures on certain social services, medical costs, and health care insurance.  Most of these provisions are emergency spending; traditionally, it has not been required that these be paid for in the legislation. The House passed a smaller bill that did not include FMAP.  Neither the House nor Senate bill currently has a COBRA extension, though Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) has an amendment ready should the bill get to the floor for debate.  Despite a multi-million dollar campaign by the American Medical Association, pressure from seniors around the country, and a plea from the President himself, Senate Republicans have refused to support the “Doc Fix” provision, because they feel that it is too expensive.  On Thursday night, Senate Democrats came up four votes short, 56-40, in their attempt to invoke cloture on the measure, preventing the bill from going to the floor for a vote.  Here is a link to the vote: http://bit.ly/aesGvc.  Consequently, some doctors have been forced to stop accepting Medicare patients because they simply cannot afford to.  “Medicare beneficiaries should never be at risk of losing their doctor, and that is why we ask that Congress work efficiently to prevent these cuts,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.  Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and ranking Republican Charles Grassley (R-IA) are now attempting to move a six-month fully offset “doc fix” through the Senate.  If they succeed, Baucus and Grassley would uncouple the doctors’ provision from the rest of the bill (H.R. 4213).  The fate of that bill, particularly without the doctor language, remains up in the air.

More Reason to Beware Social Security Cuts
Americans are living and working longer, and Alice Rivlin, a member of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, told CNBC last week that raising the Social Security retirement age would help put the Social Security program on a sound footing.  However, Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance, said that Ms. Rivlin’s idea is not the right solution.  “Raising the retirement age would put further hardships on many workers in their 60s who have all they can do to work until the current retirement age of 67,” he said.  The President’s Fiscal Commission has been tasked with proposing recommendations designed to balance the budget by 2015 and helping put the country on a path to fiscal sustainability.  Its recommendations will not be forced upon Congress, but Rivlin expects the commission’s recommendations will come up in Congress for a vote.  For the Alliance’s latest publication on Social Security, go to http://bit.ly/cdq3lC.

Obama Administration Focuses on Preventing Medicare Fraud
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder have teamed up to combat Medicare fraud.  Recently, at the directive of President Obama, Holder and Sebelius sent out a letter to state attorneys general asking them to help the administration fight Medicare fraud and scams that seek to target vulnerable seniors.  In their letter, Sebelius and Holder outlined many actions that the state attorney generals could take, including leading fraud prevention forums across the country and educating seniors about the risk of scams.  The first of these fraud prevention forums is scheduled to take place in Miami, Florida on July 16th, with other summits in Los Angeles, New York, and Boston to follow shortly thereafter.  “This administration is devoted to protecting seniors from malicious criminals who seek to make a profit at their expense,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.  At his tele-town hall meeting last Tuesday, President Obama issued a stern warning to potential scammers, saying that he will ensure that they pay a heavy price for attempting to harm seniors.

Indiana Alliance Turns Concern About Home Health Care Funds into Action
Indiana seniors and people with disabilities who rely on home health care could experience a 15% funding reduction in the publicly funded care they receive come July 1.  That could result in many more Hoosiers being forced into nursing homes rather than remaining in their homes while receiving less-expensive home health care visits.  Civic leaders from the Indiana Home Care Task Force, including Indiana Alliance members, shared their concerns Wednesday in Terre Haute as they talked about the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s decision to reduce funding for the CHOICE home care program, and continue a freeze on enrolling new clients in the Medicaid aged and disabled waiver.  Indiana Alliance President Elmer Blankenship is especially vocal about the cause – sadly, he even knows people who say they have saved up pills to use to commit suicide rather than go into a nursing home.

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