Saturday, January 07, 2012

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert January 6, 2012

January 6, 2012 edition

Former Senator Santorum Loses Republican Caucuses in Iowa by Eight Votes
According to the Rasmussen Reports company, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), coming off his photo finish with Mitt Romney in the Republican Iowa caucus, is now in second place nationally among Republican voters in the race for the party’s 2012 presidential nomination. Using the uncertified statewide vote totals tabulated as of Friday, Santorum finished second in Iowa on Tuesday night, losing to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by only eight votes. “Alarmingly, Sen. Santorum has a lifetime score of just 2% on the Alliance’s Congressional Voting Record,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance. “His finish was exciting for political observers, but also terrifying for seniors.”

Politico reported that Santorum had spoken on the campaign trail last Sunday about the possibility of raising the retirement age, pointing out that allowing people to retire as early as 65 means giving a government entitlement to people who are “generally healthy and able to work.” Santorum went much further than that, however, in his 1994 Senate campaign. A source shared a recording of an October ’94 speech that Santorum gave at LaSalle University, in which he endorsed raising the retirement age to 70 – or higher. “It is ridiculous that we have a retirement age in this country of age 65 today. I’d go even farther if I could – at least age 70,” Santorum said in the recording.

Santorum also believes that public employee unions should just be eliminated altogether. “I do not believe that -- that state, federal or local workers, unions, should be involved in unions. And I would actually support a bill that says that we should not have public employee unions for the purposes of wages and benefits to be negotiated,” Santorum said during a Republican debate in September (http://bit.ly/rdx7cz).

For information on Governor Romney’s support for privatizing Medicare, go to http://bit.ly/xQr07z. In a development for Governor Romney this week, Bloomberg News – quoting the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center - wrote that his tax proposal would add $600 billion to the U.S. budget deficit in 2015.

Medicare a Major Issue in 2012 as More Baby Boomers Begin to Receive Benefits
During a campaign stop in Iowa on Sunday, Santorum said, “You have Medicare driving the entire health care system in this country and it’s crushing it.” According to thinkprogress.org (http://bit.ly/xjzuz5), Santorum is a strong supporter of Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s original Medicare privatization scheme to completely eliminate traditional Medicare as an option for seniors, and he has promised to accelerate its implementation. Medicare, however, has a better track record of controlling health care costs than private insurers and has introduced market innovations and payment reforms that private plans later adopted. Medicare’s smaller administrative spending and its ability to use its size and clout to bargain for cheaper services explain this advantage.

“Medicare privatization is shaping up to be the number one campaign issue of 2012,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. According to USA Today, 76 million baby boomers will sign up for Medicare over the next couple of decades.

New Voter Identification Laws Take Effect in Several States This Year
According to The Wall Street Journal, millions more Americans will be required to show photo identification when they head to the polls in four states in 2012, headlining the flurry of new laws across the nation that took effect with the turn of the year. Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas will require voters to prove their identities at the ballot box, bringing the total number of states that require some form of voter identification to 30, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group that provides research and data to state governments. Some of the adverse, often-unintended consequences of voter identification laws for seniors are described at http://wdhne.ws/tcoSzE.

Government Dollars are going to Private Insurance Companies by the Billions
According to CNN, although 2011 was a volatile year for the stock market, one sector has been consistently earning a windfall for investors: health insurers that provide private Medicare plans to seniors. Among the top-performing Fortune 500 stocks of 2011, three - WellCare Health Plans, Humana, and Centene - had a high proportion of Medicare Advantage enrollees. WellCare's share price has nearly doubled, while Humana and Centene are up about 50%. UnitedHealth Group and Aetna, each with significant shares of Medicare Advantage patients, also posted gains of more than 35% in 2011. Health care stocks broadly outperformed the market overall in 2011. The iShares Dow Jones US Health Care Providers Index Fund (IHF), an exchange fund that includes most of the major insurers, was up more than 8%.

The Washington Post stated yesterday that despite the sluggish economy, the nation’s major health insurers have prospered largely by expanding their role in government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, according to a study released Thursday. A report by Bloomberg Government, a research division of Bloomberg LP, suggests that insurers will further increase their reliance on federal dollars with full implementation of the health-care law in 2014 - when Medicaid will expand to cover an eventual 16 million additional low-income Americans and the federal government will begin subsidizing private-insurance policies for an estimated 19 million more. The share of large insurers’ revenues contributed by their Medicare and Medicaid business has jumped from 36 to 42 percent over the past three years.

The Affordable Care Act, the health care reform signed into law by President Obama in 2010, will reduce federal payments to Medicare Advantage plans by $136 billion. Nonetheless, the Bloomberg Government study’s author, Peter Gosselin, theorizes that insurers still expect the plans to prove profitable, because the current national focus on debt reduction will give them political cover to manage beneficiaries’ care tightly. The bill for Medicare Advantage, where private insurers serve as health care administrators for seniors, currently costs taxpayers 10% more than traditional Medicare, where the government serves as the middleman, according to the Congressional Budget Office. “Once again, we see that Medicare Advantage is a great deal for private insurers, but a terrible deal for taxpayers,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.

                    
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