Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Alert March 30, 2012

Seniors, Others Await Fate of Health Reform as Supreme Court Hears Arguments
Seniors were among the many supporters and opponents of the 2010 health care law keeping a close eye on the Supreme Court this week, as the court heard oral arguments on the case to overturn the Affordable Care Act. At the center of the case is whether the mandate to buy health insurance is constitutional. In arguing their side in the press, supporters of the law highlighted all of the benefits that millions of Americans have received thanks to the law’s provisions. The Maryland/DC Alliance for Retired Americans was one of several organizations present at the front of the Supreme Court this week, and their members expressed their confidence that the law is constitutional. The court’s ruling, which is set to come in June, could change the interpretation of Congress’ scope of power and have major implications for modern government.

Should health care reform be struck down, seniors risk losing many of the new benefits provided through the law. The shrinking doughnut hole - the coverage gap that leaves seniors paying thousands out of pocket for lifesaving medications - will open back up, leaving many seniors to pay much more for vital and costly medications. The free preventive care and annual wellness visit benefits that are now offered will disappear as well. “If any part of the law is repealed, seniors could lose a great deal of their health care protection and security,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “In addition, Medicare Advantage overpayments to insurance companies could end, meaning that Medicare's Trust Fund would run out sooner.”

Alliance’s 2011 Voting Record: A Breakdown of the Findings
Last Friday, to mark the two-year anniversary of health care reform, the Alliance released its 2011 Voting Record. Every year, the report details the votes of each U.S. Senator and Representative on key issues affecting current and future retirees, and the latest version is available at

The voting record examines 10 key Senate votes and 10 key House votes made in 2011, showing the roll calls on issues such as health care repeal; the Paul Ryan budget - which had a vote in both the House and Senate; and a balanced budget amendment. “Higher scores on the voting record reflect a commitment to improve health care, strengthen Medicare, and put seniors ahead of drug and insurance companies,” said Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling.

According to the Alliance, 155 U.S. House members achieved perfect scores of 100 percent in 2011.  Two hundred and twenty-eight received scores of zero. The strong polarization reflects the voting record of the freshman class of the U.S House and enforced party discipline. Of the 84 freshmen Republicans elected in the 2010 midterm elections, 73 received a score of 0.

Twenty-six members of the U.S. Senate achieved perfect scores of 100 percent in 2011, while another 26 received zeroes.

House Passes the Ryan Budget; Alternatives Rejected
The U.S. House approved a 2013 budget resolution from Budget Committee Chairman Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday by a 228-191 vote; only 10 GOP House members defected. They were Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Duncan (TN), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Todd Platts (PA), Dennis Rehberg (MT), and Ed Whitfield (KY). For a complete tally of the vote, go to This year and last, all Democrats voted “no” on the House GOP budget.

Ryan’s $3.5 trillion plan is considered deeply-flawed by many senior activists. Under the plan, the Medicare eligibility age would slowly rise to 67. Those who turn 65 after 2023 would receive government assistance buying a private health insurance plan, but the spending would be capped, meaning costs would be shifted to seniors as insurance costs rise.

“The House GOP budget proposal lays bare the party’s true colors.  The plan would cut health care for senior citizens in order to pay for more tax breaks for big corporations and for the wealthiest Americans.  It is unconscionable to take from those with the least – seniors trying to afford to see a doctor and fill a prescription – in order to give to those who already have the most,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. Actor Martin Sheen, widely known for his presidential role on “The West Wing,” recently joined the anti-GOP movement, slamming the conservatives for their attacks on Medicare in a video. Click to see it.

A Simpson-Bowles-style budget that contained drastic spending cuts, pushed by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), went down 382-38 on Wednesday night (see tally at House Democrats had released a budget proposal that would begin to curb deficits without making major changes to Medicare and Medicaid, pairing spending cuts with higher taxes on the wealthy. Authored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the House Budget Committee’s top Democrat, the $3.7 trillion budget plan was shot down by a vote of 163-262. For a tally of that vote, click

National Leaders Address Michigan Alliance, NEA
Ms. Easterling is in Detroit today for the Michigan Alliance Founding Convention. Mr. Coyle traveled to Las Vegas to address the National Education Association's Retired Leadership and Organizing Conference on Tuesday.

Alliance Members in the South, Northeast Can Still Register for Regional Meetings
While the Alliance’s regional meetings in the West and Midwest have already taken place, it is not too late to register for the Southern Regional Meeting in Orlando that begins on April 30, or the Northeast Regional Meeting, which begins in Philadelphia on May 14. To see a recap of one of the other Regionals that just took place, go to For more information on an upcoming meeting, or to register, go to

Sunday, March 25, 2012

USW Calls for Full Investigation

                          USW Calls for Full Investigation into Tragic Florida Shooting

The United Steelworkers (USW) International Executive Board released the following statement today on the tragic shooting death of a Florida teenager last month:

The United Steelworkers (USW) union is relieved that the U.S. Justice Department announced this week that it would intervene to investigate the Feb. 26 slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford City, Florida after local police failed to act. The local chief has contended a state law allows a person who feels threatened to impose with impunity self-determined, self-initiated capital punishment.

“While it is a good first step that the chief has voluntarily stepped aside, we’re still a long way from achieving justice in this case” said USW International Vice President Fred Redmond.

Mr. Martin, an unarmed youth walking home from a convenience store, was shot to death by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who was charged in 2005 with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. Zimmerman told police he acted in self-defense – even though a 911 dispatcher had told him to stop following Mr. Martin.

A Florida law, called “stand your ground” apparently is being interpreted by Sanford City, Fla., police officers to mean that a large armed adult can claim he felt so threatened by a slight, unarmed youth that the man had the right to shoot and kill the teen. The teen’s girlfriend has said that in the moments before the youth was shot to death, he told her in a cell phone conversation that he was fearful of a man following him.

“No state, no city, no place in America should allow a self-appointed, unsupervised, untrained vigilante to shoot and kill an unarmed teen-ager and face no consequences,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “This is lawlessness, the very kind that countenanced the lynching of mostly African-Americans, but also Italians, Jews and unionists across the American south for decades after the Civil War.”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert March 23, 2012 edition

Alliance Draws Attention to Benefits for Seniors on Affordable Care Act Anniversary

The Alliance marked today’s two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by holding 26 community events around the country, spotlighting new Medicare benefits and educating seniors on where elected officials and candidates stand on health reform. “The Affordable Care Act is helping seniors across the nation better afford to see a doctor and fill a prescription. The 3.6 million seniors with the highest drug costs have already saved an average of $600 on their prescriptions. Thirty-two million seniors have received free, life-saving tests for chronic diseases. The law is closing the ‘doughnut hole’ coverage gap in Medicare Part D, an egregious example of pharmaceutical company profits being placed ahead of the health care needs of our seniors,” said Barbara J. Easterling, the Alliance’s President. To read her full statement, go to

In St. Louis, Missouri Alliance members were joined for an event featuring the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. The Nevada Alliance held roundtables and press conferences in Henderson and Las Vegas. The North Carolina Alliance held a roundtable in Wendell, NC. Additional events included four educational events with seniors and students in Arizona; press conferences in Cape Coral, Florida; Dallas; Indianapolis; Pittsburgh; and across Wisconsin. The New York State Alliance held a press event in Albany.

Roundtables also took place in Denver, as well as in Des Moines, and Waterloo, Iowa. The Illinois Alliance protested at Rep. Aaron Schock’s office in Peoria, and the New Mexico Alliance held truth squads and presentations across New Mexico. The Washington State Alliance hosted cancer screenings in Gig Harbor, as well as additional events in Spokane and Renton, WA. The Oregon Alliance held an educational event at Rep. Kurt Schrader’s office. Other state chapters also celebrated the anniversary by helping to educate seniors about the benefits available to them through the ACA.

Bob Meeks, an Alliance member from Brandon, Florida, joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn for a press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday. “In 2011, my monthly drug costs of $1200 a month went to between $600 and $800 a month while I was in the doughnut hole. This has been a huge help to me and my wife,” said Mr. Meeks of the ACA.

Easterling Commemorates Anniversary with Speech, Conference Call with Reporters

On Monday, Ms. Easterling held a teleconference call with reporters and Reps. John Larson (CT), Xavier Becerra (CA), Jan Schakowsky (IL), and Doris Matsui (CA), talking about the benefits of health care reform for seniors. Easterling traveled to Boca Raton, Florida on Wednesday to discuss health care with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Retirees Chapter of New York City.

Obama, Romney Differ on Plan to Cut Medicare, Medicaid

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sharply disagreed this week on a budget proposal by U.S. House Republicans that would dramatically change Medicare and Medicaid while lowering taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans. The GOP presidential candidate praised it as “bold and exciting,” while a White House spokesperson called it, “a recipe for destroying Medicare as we know it… it is not a plan that this President could support.” MD/DC Alliance president Frank Stella spoke at a Tuesday rally against the plan, and Alliance Executive Board member Bill Cea is joining Vice President Joe Biden today at an event in Florida to highlight the Administration’s opposition. Read some of Biden’s remarks explaining what’s at stake at

“Under the proposal, seniors would be given vouchers to either buy health coverage in the costly private insurance market, or purchase it from a Medicare program that would be made more expensive by the exodus of younger, healthier retirees,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. The plan would also cut spending on Medicaid and turn it over to cash-strapped states, jeopardizing the only way over 70 percent of seniors are able to afford long-term or nursing home care. The budget plan, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), was approved by the House Budget Committee on Wednesday and is expected to be voted on by the full House next week. Also, on the same day that Romney endorsed the Ryan plan, one of his top economic advisors, Greg Mankiw, was forced to apologize for a joke he shared on his blog about deporting seniors to lower Social Security and Medicare costs. For the Alliance’s latest fact sheet on the Ryan budget, go to

New Congressional Voting Record Now Available on the Web

The Alliance’s 2011 Voting Record is now available at The annual report details the voting record of every U.S. Senator and Representative on key issues affecting current and future retirees. This year's voting record examines the roll calls on issues such as health care repeal; the Paul Ryan budget; and a balanced budget amendment. Check next week’s Friday Alert for a breakdown of the findings.

Oregon Alliance Holds its Convention

Approximately 50 retirees attended the 9th annual conference of the Oregon Alliance, held March 10 in Portland. Scott Blau was elected president; Linda DeLucia was elected first vice president; Roz Gieze was elected trustee; and Jim Davis was elected member at-large. Resolutions addressed campaign finance reform and called for Congress to reauthorize the Older Americans Act. The Alliance also issued a special award to past president Verna Porter.

Pennsylvania Alliance Mourns Loss of Two Leaders

The Pennsylvania Alliance is mourning the recent deaths of two leaders, Ray Myers and Kate Brennan. Mr. Myers was a founding Board member of PARA, and continued in leadership roles for the state chapter even while serving as national President of the Communications Workers’ Retired Members Council.  Ms. Brennan, also a PARA Board member, was a retired university professor who helped bring the Alliance to college campuses to educate students on health care and retiree issues.  “Ray and Kate were dedicated, passionate activists.  We honor their memories whenever we stand up for social and economic justice,” said Ms. Easterling.

Download a printable version of this document at

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Two Years Later: ACA for Indiana

 Two Years Later: The Benefits of the Affordable Care Act for Indiana

For too long, too many hardworking Americans paid the price for policies that handed free rein to insurance companies and put barriers between patients and their doctors. The Affordable Care Act gives hardworking families in Indiana the security they deserve. The new health care law forces insurance companies to play by the rules, prohibiting them from dropping your coverage if you get sick, billing you into bankruptcy because of an annual or lifetime limit, or, soon, discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition.

All Americans will have the security of knowing that they don’t have to worry about losing coverage if they’re laid off or change jobs. And insurance companies now have to cover your preventive care like mammograms and other cancer screenings. The new law also makes a significant investment in State and community-based efforts that promote public health, prevent disease and protect against public health emergencies.

Health reform is already making a difference for the people of Indiana by:

Health plans are now required to allow parents to keep their children under age 26 without job-based coverage on their family’s coverage, and, thanks to this provision, 2.5 million young people have gained coverage nationwide. As of June 2011, 38,480 young adults in Indiana gained insurance coverage as a result of the new health care law.

Thanks to the new health care law, 89,667 people with Medicare in Indiana received a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole in 2010. In 2011, 89,096 people with Medicare received a 50 percent discount on their covered brand-name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole. This discount resulted in an average savings of $648 per person, and a total savings of $57,735,983 in Indiana. By 2020, the law will close the donut hole.

In 2011, 736,054 people with Medicare in Indiana received free preventive services – such as mammograms and colonoscopies – or a free annual wellness visit with their doctor. And 54 million Americans with private health insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing, including 1,160,000 in Indiana.

Under the new health care law, insurance companies must provide consumers greater value by spending generally at least 80 percent of premium dollars on health care and quality improvements instead of overhead, executive salaries or marketing. If they don’t, they must provide consumers a rebate or reduce premiums. This means that 1,634,000 Indiana residents with private insurance coverage will receive greater value for their premium dollars.

In every State and for the first time under Federal law, insurance companies are required to publicly justify their actions if they want to raise rates by 10 percent or more. Indiana has received $4.9 million under the new law to help fight unreasonable premium increases.

The law bans insurance companies from imposing lifetime dollar limits on health benefits – freeing cancer patients and individuals suffering from other chronic diseases from having to worry about going without treatment because of their lifetime limits. Already, 2,259,000 residents, including 822,000 women and 615,000 children, are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage. The law also restricts the use of annual limits and bans them completely in 2014.

As of the end of 2011, 678 previously uninsured residents of Indiana who were locked out of the coverage system because of a pre-existing condition are now insured through a new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan that was created under the new health reform law. To learn more about the plan available in Indiana, check here.

Supporting Indiana’s work on Affordable Insurance Exchanges
Indiana has received $7.8 million in grants for research, planning, information technology development, and implementation of Affordable Insurance Exchanges.
  • $1 million in Planning Grants: This grant provides Indiana the resources needed to conduct the research and planning necessary to build a better health insurance marketplace and determine how its exchange will be operated and governed. Learn how the funds are being used in Indiana here.
  • $6.8 million in Exchange Establishment Grants: These grants are helping States continue their work to implement key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Learn how the funds are being used in Indiana here.

Since 2010, Indiana has received $16.5 million in grants from the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the Affordable Care Act. This new fund was created to support effective policies in Indiana, its communities, and nationwide so that all Americans can lead longer, more productive lives.

The Affordable Care Act increases the funding available to community health centers in all 50 states, including the 98 existing community health centers in Indiana. Health centers in Indiana have received $32.1 million to create new health center sites in medically underserved areas, enable health centers to increase the number of patients served, expand preventive and primary health care services, and support major construction and renovation projects.

Strengthening partnerships with Indiana
The law gives states support for their work to build the health care workforce, crack down on fraud, and support public health. So far, Indiana has received more than $81 million from the Affordable Care Act. Examples of Affordable Care Act grants not outlined above to Indiana include:
$4 million from the Pregnancy Assistance Fund to provide pregnant and parenting teens and women with a seamless network of supportive services to help them complete high school or postsecondary degrees and gain access to health care, child care, family housing, and other critical support.

Elmer Blankenship, President
Indiana Alliance for Retired Americans
431 S. Shortridge Rd
Indpls., IN 46219
317-270-4671 (cell)

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

House GOP Budget Makes Seniors Pay

For Immediate Release                                           Contact: David Blank (202) 637-5275
March 20, 2012                                                                

House GOP Budget Makes Seniors Pay for Tax Breaks for Corporations, Millionaires

The following statement was issued today by Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, regarding the proposal by U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).

“The House GOP budget proposal unveiled today lays bare the party’s true colors.  The plan would cut health care for senior citizens in order to pay for more tax breaks for big corporations and for the wealthiest Americans.  It is unconscionable to take from those with the least – seniors trying to afford to see a doctor and fill a prescription – in order to give to those who already have the most.

“The callously cold details of the Ryan budget are hidden behind Washington jargon of ‘premium support.’  But the painful reality is that seniors would be given inadequate vouchers to either buy health coverage in the costly, unfair private insurance market, or purchase coverage from a Medicare program that would be badly weakened by the exodus of younger, healthier retirees.  Moreover, the budget plan would turn Medicaid over to cash-strapped states, jeopardizing a program that is the only way over 70 percent of seniors can afford long-term or nursing home care.

“Medicare is a lifeline for the American middle class.  It is one of our nation’s greatest success stories, rooted in shared American values of hard work and sound planning.  For decades, a worker sets aside a small portion of each paycheck to Medicare for the peace of mind of quality, affordable health care in retirement.  Under the Ryan budget, Medicare would be little more than an empty promise. The Ryan budget would badly weaken Medicare and badly weaken the middle class.

“The Alliance for Retired Americans, a four-million member grassroots advocacy organization, will be educating and mobilizing seniors across the country about how this cold, irresponsible budget threatens the well-being of current and future retirees.”

Source: Alliance for Retired Americans

Friday, March 16, 2012

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert March 16, 2012 edition

Health Care Reform Marks its Two-Year Anniversary
Next week – March 23 - marks two years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law and made health care reform a reality. The Alliance is planning almost 30 events across the country to commemorate the anniversary - and the benefits for seniors that come with it. The events are planned for Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas,

Washington and Wisconsin and range from educational forums with experts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to protests at the offices of Members of Congress who opposed this law. While the whole week will celebrate the anniversary, Monday, March 19 is a day for all seniors to celebrate the ways that the ACA is improving their own lives.

If you would like to participate in an anniversary event, please use the contact information at: “When we hear people bad-mouth the new health law by derisively calling it ‘Obamacare,’ say, ‘Damn right! Obama cares for seniors – that is why his new law is closing the doughnut hole, lowering the cost of prescription drug costs, and helping seniors better afford their doctor visits and medical tests,’” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.

On March 26th through March 28th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision and other components of the Affordable Care Act. “Congress knew what it was doing when it wrote the law. Several lower-court judges, including many conservatives, have found health care reform to be constitutional,” said Mr. Coyle.

Washington Post Finds Conservative Seniors Group “60 Plus” Less Than Honest

The 60 Plus Association, a conservative seniors group, is spending $3.5 million on television advertisements accusing five Democratic senators of voting to ration Medicare services. The ads feature musician Pat Boone. Historically, many critics have referred to “60 Plus” as a front group for the pharmaceutical industry. The group’s targets are potentially vulnerable Democrats in states with large populations of senior citizens: Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio). “The Washington Post refers to the ads as, ‘More “Mediscare” Hooey, GOP Version,’ and I agree wholeheartedly,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Plan to Cut Spending Faces a Logic Test – and Fails
The Center for American Progress writes that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is targeting seniors as he purports to help lower-income households; his proposals include slashing $771 billion from Medicaid over ten years. To see how Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, plans to take from seniors , poor children, and people with disabilities to give to the wealthy, go to

Romney: No Medicare for Me
Mitt Romney, a leading candidate to secure the Republican nomination for President, turned 65 on Monday, making him eligible for Medicare. But his campaign said that he will not enroll in it, choosing instead to keep his private insurance. “Mitt Romney can afford private insurance, but for millions of seniors, Medicare is the only way they can afford to see a doctor and fill a prescription,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “He can do what he wants with his own health care, but he shouldn’t try to take Medicare away from those whose lives depend on it.”

Voter ID Laws Face Legal, Public Relations Hurdles in Texas, Wisc., and Penn.

The Obama administration on Monday blocked a new law in Texas requiring voters to show photo identification before they can cast a ballot, citing a concern that it could harm Hispanic voters who lack such documents. The Justice Department said that the requirements for potential voters in Texas could lead to them paying high fees for copies of legal documents such as birth certificates. Additionally, nearly one-third of the counties in the state do not have offices where potential voters can obtain a driver's license or state identification card, and some residents live more than 100 miles away from such locations, the Justice Department said.

A Dane County, Wisconsin judge also struck down that state's new voter ID law on Monday - the second judge in Wisconsin in a week to block the requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls. The latest ruling goes further than the one issued last week, because it permanently invalidates the law for violating the state constitution.

In addition, a new voter ID law in Pennsylvania is drawing flak because it wouldn't allow disabled veterans to use a photo ID issued by the Veterans Administration if it is not stamped with an expiration date ( Governor Tom Corbett (R) signed the bill into law on Wednesday; a legal challenge looms.

Alliance Acts to Improve Transportation and Housing
Smiling transit workers and retirees greeted commuters on Tuesday morning as they emerged from Metro stations in downtown Washington, D.C., drawing attention to potential problems related to proposed cuts in transportation spending. A horse and buggy clip-clopped down the city streets nearby, symbolizing a past the transit workers warn may become the future if cuts in funding for mass transit across the country take effect. The cuts range from fare increases in metro D.C. to reduced routes, 25 percent fare increases and layoffs in Detroit. To see photos from the event, including Maryland/DC Alliance President Frank Stella, go to The Amalgamated Transit Union organized the event.

Mr. Coyle and Ms. Easterling were in Lake Buena Vista, Florida on Saturday for the Board of Directors Meeting of the Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corporation.

Alliance Members in the South, Northeast Can Still Register for Regional Meetings
While the Alliance’s regional meetings in the West and Midwest have already taken place, it is not too late to register for the Southern Regional Meeting in Orlando that begins on April 30, or the Northeast Regional Meeting, which begins in Philadelphia on May 14. For more information, or to register, go to

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Stinking Basketball

Elaine, it's supper time.
Elaine, it's time for dinner.
Stinking basketball!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Health Care Reform At-A-Glance

Strengthen Medicare by slowing growth in spending

• Adds 7 years of solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund, from current 2017 to about 2024.
• Saves about $450 billion in the first decade, mostly through agreed upon reductions in payment rates for inpatient hospitals, long-term care hospitals, home health services, skilled nursing facilities, and other providers, as well as reduced subsidies to private Medicare Advantage plans.
 • Slows Medicare growth by about 2 percent per capita, annually. Medicare will still be growing faster than the overall economy.
• The Medicare Part B premium for 2012 rose significantly less than projected to $99.90 per month. In addition, the Part B annual deductible decreased by $22 from $162 to $140.

Closes the donut hole in the Part D prescription drug program

• Provided a $250 rebate in 2010 for any senior who fell into the hole, regardless of their income — even those who entered the coverage gap by as little as one dollar received a check for the full $250.
• Provides a 50 percent discount for brand name drugs beginning in 2011 for seniors in the donut hole, regardless of income.
• Phases in additional discounts for both brand name and generic drugs until seniors’ copayments are reduced to 25 percent by 2020, regardless of income.
• Saves the typical senior who hits the donut hole $250 in 2010, over $600 in 2011, and over $3,000 by 2020.
• Counts both the seniors’ out-of-pocket spending and the drug company discount as “True Outof- Pocket Costs”, helping seniors reach the catastrophic threshold more quickly.
Slows the increase in the dollar amount where catastrophic coverage of drug costs begins.
Improves prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors

• Expands access to plans with zero premiums for low-income seniors.
• Reduces the number of seniors required to change plans each year to maintain their zero premiums.
• Allows widows and widowers to more easily retain their low-income eligibility.
• Improves outreach and information for low-income seniors and other Part D enrollees.
• Eliminates co-payments for seniors in home- and community-based settings that are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare.

Improves the Part D program for all seniors

• Improves seniors’ access to important classes of drugs.
• Creates new penalties for false or misleading marketing or enrollment of individuals in Part D plans.

Improves preventive health care services for seniors

• Eliminates cost-sharing for proven preventive services.
Provides a comprehensive annual wellness visit and personalized prevention plan.

Improves overall health care services for seniors

• Improves seniors’ access to primary care by providing bonus payments to primary care providers.
• Establishes initiatives to encourage the development of a more efficient health care delivery, especially for seniors with multiple chronic conditions.
• Provides transition services to high-risk Medicare beneficiaries when they are discharged from the hospital.
• Encourages hospitals to reduce avoidable readmissions and hospital-acquired infections.
• Increases funds for Community Health Centers (especially critical to minorities) to allow for nearly a doubling of the number of patients seen over the next 5 years.
• Establishes a new Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to test new ways of reducing costs while improving the quality of health care.
Helps seniors living in rural areas by making sure their physicians are adequately paid.

Makes necessary changes to Medicare Advantage plans

• Phases down subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans over time so that, on average, plans will ultimately receive payments comparable to what it would cost traditional Medicare to cover the same seniors.
 • Applies savings to improve Medicare for all seniors.
• Reduces Part B premiums for all beneficiaries.
• Provides bonus payments to Medicare Advantage plans providing high-quality care.
• Prohibits Medicare Advantage plans from charging seniors more than traditional Medicare for services such as chemotherapy administration, skilled nursing home care, and other specialized services.
• Requires all Medicare Advantage plans to spend at least 85 percent of revenue on senior care rather than profits or overhead, beginning in 2014.

Expands protections for vulnerable seniors

• Requires disclosure of information about nursing facilities ownership, accountability requirements and expenditures.
• Requires publishing standardized information on a website so Medicare enrollees can compare facilities.
• Provides for background checks of employees with direct access to patients of long-term care facilities or providers.
• Enacts the Elder Justice Act to help prevent and eliminate elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Cracks down on Medicare fraud

• Includes new resources and tools to protect taxpayer dollars by preventing fraud in Medicare and Medicaid.
• Allows the Department of Health and Human Services to share IRS data to help screen and identify fraudulent providers.
Strengthens oversight of Durable Medical Equipment providers.
• Increases overall funding for the Health Care Fraud & Abuse Control Fund to $700 million over the next decade.

Creates Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB)

• Establishes IPAB and requires the Board to propose recommendations for reducing Medicare spending, while maintaining quality and access, if Medicare per capita growth rates exceed targets, beginning in January 2014.
• Requires IPAB to submit an advisory report for years it does not submit a proposal.
• Requires proposals to be automatically implemented unless Congress enacts alternative proposals that achieve the same savings, or unless the Secretary implemented recommendations in the prior year.
• Prohibits IPAB from recommending changes that would ration care or modify benefits, eligibility, premiums, or taxes.
• Exempts certain providers, such as hospitals, from recommendations prior to 2019.
• Requires IPAB to submit recommendations every two years on slowing the growth in national health expenditures, beginning 2015.
• Requires the Board to submit an annual report on system-wide health care costs, access, utilization, and quality of care, beginning July 1, 2014.

Improves health coverage for those ages 50 - 64

• Creates a temporary reinsurance pool (until the State Exchanges are available in 2014) to help offset the costs of expensive health claims for employers providing health benefits for retirees aged 55-64.
 • Postpones elimination of deduction for employers receiving a subsidy for maintaining a prescription drug plan for their Medicare Part D eligible retirees until 2013.
• Limits age rating of premiums to no more than 3:1.
• Provides higher thresholds for the excise tax applying to high cost employer provided plans for retirees (e.g. limits of $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage before tax applies are increased to $11,850 and $30,950 respectively for retirees.) The dollar thresholds are indexed with inflation, and employers with higher costs due to the age demographics of their employees may use national data to value their coverage

Expands benefits for Long-Term Care

• Creates a new, voluntary self-funded long-term care insurance program, provided through the workplace, to help people with severe disabilities remain in their homes and communities (CLASS Act). Implementation of this program is on hold.

Provides incentives to expand the health care workforce

• Invests in training programs to increase the number of primary care doctors, nurses, and public health professionals.
• Expands funding for scholarships, loan repayments, and tax incentives for primary care practitioners working in underserved areas.

Expands income-related provisions in Medicare

• Freezes the threshold for “means tested” (i.e. based on income) Medicare Part B premiums through 2019; the threshold will no longer move up with inflation.

• Requires higher Medicare Part D premiums for beneficiaries with incomes above $85,000 for individuals and $170,000 for couples, similar to Part B.

Increases Medicare taxes for high-income individuals

• Increases the Medicare payroll tax by 0.9 percent for individuals earning over $200,000 ($250,000 for those who are married and file a joint return) beginning in 2013. The law also applies the Medicare tax to  some investment income for the first time. (Income from retirement plans, such as pensions, 401(K), and IRAs, is not included.) The money raised by the additional tax on wages will be credited to the Medicare Part A Trust Fund that pays hospital costs.


• Allows individuals over age 65 to continue claiming the itemized deduction for medical expenses at 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income through 2016. The floor then rises to 10 percent thereafter (floor rises to 10 percent for those under age 65 beginning in 2013).

                                     Get the Word Out

Please share this important benefit information with a friend.
For additional copies of our handouts, please call 1-800-966-1935, or go online to to forward this to a friend electronically.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Health Care Reform Timeline

• $250 to every senior entering the donut hole (2010 only)
• Temporary high-risk insurance pool for early retirees
• Background checks on long-term care employees
• Nursing homes required to disclose ownership information
• Student loan programs to boost primary care workforce
Initiatives to root out waste, fraud, and abuse

• Part D prescription drug discounts for seniors in donut hole (50 percent for brand-name drugs and 7 percent for generics)
• Free annual wellness visits and personalized prevention plans
• Preventive care deductibles and copayments eliminated
• Medicare Advantage plan reimbursements frozen
• Medicare Advantage plans prohibited from charging enrollees more than traditional Medicare for chemotherapy administration, skilled nursing home care, and other specialized services
• Creation of new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center
• Means-tested Part D premiums begin; Part B means-tested income thresholds frozen for 10 years
• 10% bonus payments to Medicare primary care practitioners
• New, voluntary long-term care insurance program (CLASS ACT). Implementation of this program is on hold.

• Phase-down of Medicare Advantage plan subsidies
• Bonus payments to high-quality Medicare Advantage plans
• Incentives for hospitals to reduce preventable readmissions
• Data collection and reporting improvements to CMS’ Nursing Home Compare (NHC) Website

Elder Justice Coordinating Council required to make recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services on the coordination of federal, state, local and private agencies’/entities’ activities relating to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation

• Pilot program to test bundled payments for a single episode of care
• Double-deduction for employer Part D subsidies eliminated
• Additional hospital insurance tax for high-income workers
• Nursing homes required to have effective compliance and ethics programs

2014 and beyond
• Part D donut hole phases down to complete closure by 2020
• Medicare Advantage plans must limit profits and expenses to 15 percent of Medicare payments
• Independent Payment Advisory Board established

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Health Care Improvements for 50-64 Year Olds

The new health care reform law includes provisions that will help older Americans who are not yet eligible for Medicare have access to affordable health insurance coverage. In addition, it includes provisions to help employers with the costs of providing coverage to early-retirees and older workers.

Limiting Aging Rating of Health Insurance Premiums

The health care reform law establishes a 3:1 ratio for setting health insurance premiums based on age. Currently, older Americans buying health insurance in the individual or small group markets are likely to be charged much more than three times the cost for a younger person.

Reforming Private Insurance for All

The health care reform law includes many reforms to private health insurance that are benefiting Americans of all ages, including older Americans. These reforms include prohibiting coverage denials for preexisting conditions, banning caps on lifetime coverage, ending annual limits on coverage, and prohibiting insurers from dropping coverage when someone is sick. In addition, the law requires that parents be allowed to keep their unmarried adult children on their family health insurance plan until age 26.

Providing Immediate Assistance through a High-Risk Pool

The law establishes a temporary national high-risk pool to provide health coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months. Premiums are subsidized and cost-sharing is limited.

Providing Affordable Private Insurance Choices through Exchanges

A major provision of the health care reform law is to create state-based American Health Benefit Exchanges through which individuals can purchase coverage beginning in 2014. Subsidies will be available to help individuals and families with income between 133- 400 percent of the federal poverty level afford insurance. U.S. citizens and legal residents will be required to have qualifying health care coverage individually or through an employer.

Creating a Program to Help Employers Cover Retirees Age 55-64

The health care reform law creates a temporary $5 billion reinsurance program for employers providing health insurance coverage to retirees over age 55 who are not eligible for Medicare. The program, which is designed to encourage former employers to maintain retiree health care coverage, reimburses employers or insurers for 80 percent of retiree claims between $15,000 and $90,000. Payments from the reinsurance program are used to lower the costs for enrollees in the employer plan.

Increasing the Thresholds for the Excise Tax Based on Age

The health care reform law imposes an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans beginning in 2018. However, the threshold amounts for imposing the tax will be increased for retired individuals age 55 and older who are not eligible for Medicare, and they will also be increased for employers who may have higher health care costs because of the age or gender of their workers. This will make it less expensive for employers with an older workforce to continue providing health insurance.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert March 9, 2012 edition

Romney Wins Six States on Super Tuesday, but Questions Remain

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won six of the ten states that voted on Tuesday in the race to become the Republican nominee for President. Romney won Ohio, Virginia, Alaska, Massachusetts, Vermont and Idaho, but political analysts focused sharply on his slim margin of victory, 38% - 37%, over the second-place finisher in Ohio, former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA). Santorum won Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) did not win in any of the states.

Romney still faces heat over his health care stance during a campaign stop in Ohio on Monday. Supporters and critics alike slam Romney for his muddy explanations on the differences between his 2006 state-mandated health care reform as governor of Massachusetts and President Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul. A resurfacing of his 2009 op-ed article in USA Today highlighted many key benefits of his state plan that would benefit citizens at the federal level. To access the 2009 op-ed, go to

According to Reuters (, labor concerns in Ohio have created a hostile political climate in a state that could lead to a small advantage for President Obama and the Democrats going into the 2012 campaign season. After voters overturned Republican Gov. John Kasich’s law attempting to limit collective bargaining rights for unions, Ohio Democrats have seen increased support from party supporters as well as from some Republicans who disagree with some of the proposed social and economic policies, similar to the “Reagan Democrats” of the 1980s.

Midwest RegionalMeeting FocusesonThreat to Voting, Collective Bargaining Rights

Threats to voting rights, collective bargaining rights and retiree benefits in Wisconsin and across the Midwest were a major topic of a 3-day training session for 150 Alliance members in Milwaukee this week. Guest speakers and workshops educated retirees on the latest developments - as well as media relations and organizing - needed for success in the 2012 elections that are now eight months away.

The AFL-CIO’s Julie Greene gave everyone state-specific fact sheets on voter changes. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said that Wisconsin's collective bargaining law and voter law changes are bad for democracy, which he said should be “the ultimate participatory sport.”

Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt gave a fiery report of Wisconsin protests and the upcoming recall elections of Governor Scott Walker and four Republican state senators. He praised retirees for standing side-by-side with workers and students. Matt Rothschild, editor & publisher of Progressive magazine, said Walker badly misjudged the power and popularity of labor in Wisconsin, as well as the state's long progressive tradition. Bruce Colburn, Director of the Health Care Reform Campaign at SEIU, said that labor has been succeeding in making the statewide debate about the future of the middle class. Other speakers, including Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance; Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer; and Richard Fiesta, Director of the Department of Government and Political Affairs, who gave an overview of the 2012 Congressional races in the Midwest, were also well-received. “I want to thank Wisconsin Alliance President Leon Burzynski for being such a gracious host for this week,” said Ms. Easterling.

Elected to the Regional Board from the Midwest were: Sam Burnett of Ohio; Larry Malone of Missouri; Tim Foley of Michigan; and Don Brown of Iowa. Photos from the Midwestern conference are available at

Photos of the Western Regional conference are available at Also, last week’s Friday Alert inadvertently listed Mark Goodman of Colorado as having been elected to the Western Regional board. It was Mack Goodman of Colorado who was elected.

Affordable Senior Health Insurance to Supplement Medicare

Affordable insurance supplemental to Medicare is available through the Retiree Health Plan endorsed by the Alliance for union retirees. The Open Enrollment period is currently in effect through April 30, 2012! During this period, these Medicare-eligible retirees and their spouses are guaranteed acceptance with no waiting periods, regardless of preexisting health conditions. If you have questions or would like to enroll in the program, please call 1-866-298-9117. You can also visit to get more information.

State Chapter Report: California and Pennsylvania

California Alliance members held an informational picket and rally in Oakland on Tuesday to challenge the proposals that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson were presenting later that evening regarding the country’s deficit and their plans to address it. Bowles and Simpson were the two co-chairs of the President’s Deficit Commission, which was unable to get the votes they needed to send their recommendations to Congress at the end of 2010. Now they are conducting a national speaking tour to promote their proposals and encourage their adoption by Congress – proposals that include deep changes to Social Security, such as raising the retirement age, taxing benefits, and privatizing the program. They are also proposing massive cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

In Harrisburg on Monday, Pennsylvania Alliance members attended their third “Protect Our Vote Coalition” press conference to stop severe Voter Identification rules from becoming law in the state. Such changes would affect seniors and the disabled disproportionately, by making it more difficult to cast a ballot.

White House Details How Health Care Reform Helps Every State

The White House has released data detailing how the Affordable Care Act – health care reform - helps residents of every state. To see how your state benefits, go to

Rep. Donald Payne Dies; Was a Strong Advocate for Seniors

Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) has died following a months-long fight with colon cancer, his family announced on Tuesday. The first African-American to represent New Jersey in Congress, he was 77. “Rep. Payne will be missed in Congress for both his leadership and his pro-retiree voting record,” said Mr. Burks. Rep. Payne had a 99% lifetime voting record with the Alliance.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

The Medicare Advantage Makeover

The new health care law includes important provisions to reduce wasteful Medicare spending. This will strengthen the solvency of the Medicare program and reduce the rate of increase in Part B premiums for all Medicare beneficiaries. The law also seeks to improve the care provided to Medicare Advantage enrollees and to limit their out-of- pocket costs.

Private Medicare Advantage (MA) plans were being paid on average 13 percent more per enrollee than it cost to provide comparable care in traditional Medicare. These subsidies —which cost over $11 billion in 2009 — are paid for by taxpayers and by all beneficiaries, whether or not they are enrolled in a private plan.

Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, it is estimated that every couple receiving Medicare, including the 75 percent in traditional Medicare, was paying about $90 in additional Part B premiums this year to subsidize those in the private MA plans.

The health care reform law phases down subsidies for MA plans over time so that on average plans will ultimately receive payments comparable to what it would cost traditional Medicare to cover the same seniors. These savings will be used to improve Medicare for everyone by improving prescription drug coverage — i.e., closing the donut hole — and covering preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.

Limiting Out-of-Pocket Costs for Medicare Advantage Enrollees

Health care reform does not eliminate Medicare Advantage plans or reduce the extra benefits they provide.

It is up to each private insurer to decide what extra benefits to offer; they are required to offer all benefits covered by traditional Medicare.

The health care reform law prohibits Medicare Advantage plans from charging seniors more than traditional Medicare for services such as chemotherapy administration, skilled nursing home care, and other specialized services.

Often beneficiaries do not realize what their costs will be for these services until they need them.

Care vs. Profits

Health care reform requires Medicare Advantage plans to spend at least 85 percent of their revenue on senior care rather than profits or overhead, beginning in 2014.

Plans that do not spend at least 85 percent of their revenue on patient care will be required to return money to the government and could be suspended or terminated from the program if their spending on patient care remains below 85 percent for two or more years.

Bonus Payments for
Improving Care

Health care reform creates an incentive system to increase payments by at least five percent to plans that provide high quality care.

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

USW Endorses Barack Obama for Re-election as President

(Pittsburgh, Pa.) – The United Steelworkers (USW) International Executive Board today voted unanimously to support President Barack Obama for re-election in November.

“This is the right time to do the right thing for a man who has proved he is right for the job,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “The President has turned around an economy he inherited that was nose-diving towards a depression by focusing on jobs, manufacturing and enforcing U.S. trade laws.

“All of his accomplishments come despite obstructionist right-wingers in Congress beholden to the one percent at the expense of everybody else.”

Beyond fulfilling his commitments to manufacturing and job creation, President Obama succeeded in regulating Wall Street and passing health care reform, Gerard pointed out, noting: “Because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies no longer can deny care to those with pre-existing conditions, no longer can drop people when they get sick, and no longer can place lifetime limits on care.”

The USW plans to support the President’s re-election efforts on the ground by mobilizing its members. “We plan to talk directly to our membership about the President’s policies that benefit working American families,” said USW International Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson.  “USW activists will also work hard in the fight against right-wing voter suppression campaigns as well as continue to advocate that all workers have a voice in their workplace and the right to bargain collectively,” added Johnson.

President Obama’s achievements in his first term have benefitted USW members who work in a wide range of industries including, steel, aluminum, glass and paper making; auto parts and wind turbine manufacturing; copper mining, tire building, and oil refining. As a result, the leaders of USW local unions across the country have expressed strong support for the President’s re-election.

For example, Rod Nelson, president of USW Local 207L at Cooper Tire in Findlay, Ohio, said he was eager to help the re-election efforts because he strongly believed  President  Obama’s enforcement of  laws against unfair trade has been key in getting many Americans back to work. “The President halted the illegal flood of tire imports from China that was decimating American jobs and American production,” said Nelson. “Our members work hard and play by the rules and with the President leading the way, we have a government willing to stand up to unfair trade practices by foreign countries.”

Similarly, Kevin Jaskie, president of Local 1343 at the Caterpillar plant in South Milwaukee, Wis., said he particularly appreciated the President’s efforts to create an economy built to last. “President Obama is listening to American workers and has defined a vision for an economy that creates jobs and prosperity for the majority, not the 1 percent who have looted the economy,” Brown said. “Strengthening American manufacturing by working to maintain good jobs and creating sustainable, clean-energy jobs for the future is something we all can endorse.”

Rick Galiano, president of USW Local 9305 in Beaver Falls, Pa., agreed with Brown and Nelson that the President’s policies from the stimulus to the auto industry rescue have preserved and created good-paying American jobs. Galiano said of particular note was the Obama administration’s pursuit of a case all the way to the World Trade Organization to end China’s illegal export restrictions on nine raw materials widely used in the steel, aluminum and chemical industries. “To protect its domestic producers while handicapping American manufacturers, the government of China unfairly limited export of these key materials. The Obama administration aggressively pursued a case to stop that. And Obama won.” Galiano said.

Gerard noted that Steelworkers, feeling a debt of gratitude to the President for his policies supporting workers and American manufacturing, will return the favor by helping him secure another four years in office. “He worked for us,” Gerard said, “now we will work to re-elect him.”

The USW represents 850,000 working men and women in the United States and Canada who work mostly in manufacturing, but also in the public sector and in health care and pharmaceuticals. For more, go to:

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Q&A on Health Care Reform

Q My out-of-pocket costs are expensive enough as it is. Why should I support cutting Medicare as a part of health care reform?

A Despite the rumors you may have heard, health care reform does not cut Medicare’s traditional, guaranteed benefits. Quite the opposite: the new law explicitly prohibits such benefit cuts. There are significant Medicare savings in the bill, but the money does not go to pay for covering the uninsured — it just looks that way because of our government’s budget and accounting rules.

In fact, the Medicare savings stay in the Medicare program — which is why the Part A Trust Fund will stay solvent at least seven years beyond what we expected before health care reform, and premiums and other out-of-pocket costs will grow more slowly in the future. Most of the savings were voluntarily agreed to by hospitals and other affected provider groups because they believe the additional insured patients and efficiencies included in the law will save them money. They contributed part of these savings back to the Medicare program by agreeing to slower rates of growth in future payments. It also phases down subsidies for private Medicare Advantage plans over time so that, on average, plans will receive payments comparable to what it would cost traditional Medicare to cover the same seniors.

Q Is there anything good for seniors in the law? What’s in it for me?

A Over time, the overwhelming majority of seniors in the United States will have lower out- of-pocket costs and better coverage as a result of the enactment of health care reform. The Medicare Part B premium for 2012 rose significantly less than projected to $99.90 per month. In addition, the Part B annual deductible decreased by $22 from $162 to $140.

The biggest immediate improvement for Medicare is in its drug coverage. The law phases out the donut hole in the Part D prescription drug program. The donut hole is the gap in coverage where seniors continue to pay full premiums, but also pay the cost of their drugs — a gap that does not exist in other health insurance programs. As a first step to help seniors struggling with the high cost of prescription drugs today, anyone who fell into the donut hole in 2010 received a $250 payment from the government. Currently, deep discounts in drug prices are being phased in to close the gap for seniors.

The Affordable Care Act also includes significant benefit improvements to keep seniors healthy by eliminating copayments and deductibles for preventive care and providing coverage for an annual wellness visit and personalized plan.

Finally, many of the payment reforms that will save money for Medicare are also designed to provide better quality health care for seniors. For example, hospitals will be encouraged to implement programs that prevent hospital-acquired infections and unnecessary readmissions, while doctors will receive bonus payments to improve access for seniors. In future years, the entire health care system will be redirected away from a model that pays based on the number of procedures and tests that are ordered and focuses more on rewarding providers based on the quality of the health care they provide.

Q I still don’t understand how you can cut Medicare by over $400 billion and not hurt seniors. Where does the money come from?

A Most of the savings come from reducing the annual increase in Medicare payments to hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and home health agencies. They will continue to get larger payments every year; those payments will simply get smaller inflation increases in the future. Hospitals will also see gradual reductions in the payments they receive to help cover the cost of uncompensated care because they will have fewer uninsured patients to treat.

Additional savings come from bringing Medicare Advantage payments in line with traditional Medicare. Medicare Advantage is the privatized portion of Medicare. In order to entice private insurers to cover seniors, Congress has been subsidizing these plans — at a cost of $11 billion in 2009 alone. This raises the government’s costs and shortens the solvency of the Part A Trust Fund. Seniors are also subsidizing these plans through higher Part B premiums whether they are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan or not.

The new law does not cut the benefits Medicare Advantage plans offer — it slowly reduces reimbursements to the private insurance plans over time so they are closer to the amounts traditional Medicare would pay to cover the same seniors. The new law also includes significant new protections for those enrolled in the plans.

Finally, the new law strengthens efforts to reduce waste and fraud in the Medicare program, and puts in place the building blocks for significant new cost savings in the future through changes in our health care delivery system.

While the dollar value of these savings is a lot of money, it’s important to remember it represents just a small percentage of Medicare spending. The government is projected to spend about $6 trillion on Medicare during the next decade. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the savings in the new law will trim the growth of Medicare spending by about 2 percent a year.

Q So how does all this get paid for? I don’t want to leave the bill to my grandchildren.

A The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the combination of Medicare savings and increased revenues in the bill reduces the deficit, both over the first ten years as well as over the longer term. And this estimate uses extremely conservative cost estimates, as CBO economists refused to “score” as savings any part of the bill that could not be verified through their economic models. Many of the savings health experts expect from changes such as payment reforms and coordination of care models were not counted because CBO considered them “too speculative.” For this reason, many experts believe much greater savings will result from enactment of health care reform than is currently estimated.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Closing the Donut Hole

The health care overhaul has added important improvements to Medicare prescription drug coverage for seniors. In 2010, the new health care reform law helped cover expenses for seniors falling into the donut hole coverage gap, and the hole in coverage is eliminated altogether by 2020. The law also provides for additional assistance for low-income beneficiaries.

The Donut Hole: Immediate relief for seniors now, completely gone by 2020

Currently, the standard Part D drug benefit contains a donut hole, a gap in coverage where beneficiaries must cover the cost of their medications even while they continue to pay premiums. Before health care reform was implemented, using 2010 as an example, this occurred when the total costs of a beneficiary’s prescription drugs reached $2,830 — requiring the beneficiary to cover the next $3,610 in drug costs.

The new law provides assistance to help seniors bridge this donut hole until it is closed entirely in 2020.

2010 $250 rebate to every senior who fell into the donut hole.
2011 A 50% rebate was applied at the pharmacy for brand name medications, saving the typical senior $600. Part D copayments for generic drugs were reduced by 7% each year until the coverage gap is eliminated for these drugs as well. For brand-name drugs, manufacturers will increase their discounts each year to erase the coverage gap. Medicare beneficiaries in the donut hole will receive a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs and a 14 percent discount on generics.
2014 The dollar amount of the catastrophic threshold, where seniors’ copayments are dropped to 5% of drug costs, will be more slowly increased from year to year at this point.
2020 Co-payments required for brand-name and generic drugs will be phased down to the standard 25% by 2020, thus entirely eliminating the donut hole and saving the typical senior over $3,000.

Assistance for Low-Income Seniors

Eligibility and coverage for low-income Medicare beneficiaries is also improved:
•Co-payments are eliminated for many beneficiaries receiving home and community-based services who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.
• The number of low-income beneficiaries required to change plans each year to maintain zero premiums is reduced.
• Widows and widowers can more easily retain their low-income eligibility.
• Outreach programs are enhanced to ensure more beneficiaries who are eligible for the Low-Income Subsidy know about the benefit and sign up for it.

Senior Co-pays
                                Deductible       Basic Benefit         Donut Hole           Catastrophic
Pre-reform copays       100%                  25%                     100%                       5%

Post-reform copays     100%                  25%                       25%                       5%
(fully phased-in)

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Friday, March 02, 2012

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert March 2, 2012 edition

Citing Polarization, Sen. Olympia Snowe Announces Her Retirement

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) announced on Tuesday that she will not seek re-election and will instead retire after over 30 years in Congress. The announcement came as a surprise to many, especially since she was heavily favored to win re-election. She cited unproductivity and polarization in Washington as the main reasons for her sudden retirement. In a poll released last week by the National Journal, she and her Maine colleague, Sen. Susan Collins, were considered the two most liberal Republicans in the Senate, voting with the Democrats more often than other GOP senators. Snowe’s retirement opens the door for a Democrat to pick up a seat in an expected hotly-contested fall contest. “The retirement of Senator Snowe is yet another reminder of the extreme direction in which the Republican Party is heading,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. “Senator Snowe has been an increasingly rare voice of moderation and openness,” he continued. “While retirees and workers did not agree with Senator Snowe on every issue, her door was always open to listen and engage in meaningful discussion. She regularly met with Alliance members when they visited Washington and spoke at our Maine Alliance meetings.”

“Perhaps Senator Snowe's experience was shaped when her party's leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, announced that his top priority would be to defeat President Obama,” Coyle added. “Senator Snowe, like Arlen Specter, Jim Jeffords and others before her, was a throw-back to a day when legislators of both parties sought to forge common ground. Retirees want to be able to pay their bills and stay healthy. That should not be a Republican goal or a Democratic goal, but something that all Americans want.”

Alliance’s Western Regional Meeting Features Training Sessions, Guest Speakers

The first of four Regional Alliance meetings winds down today in Las Vegas. After Nevada Alliance President Scott Watts welcomed the attendees on Wednesday, Danny Thompson, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, told the more-than-250 attendees that the Alliance is a group that politicians fear. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Shelley Berkley sent videotaped greetings. Herb Schultz, Regional Director of the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, spoke of how the Affordable Care Act helps seniors and answered questions from members. Richard Fiesta, Director of the Department of Government and Political Affairs for the Alliance, gave an overview of the 2012 Congressional races in the West.

On Thursday, Steve Sebelius, Political columnist with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, spoke about the importance of Nevada politically in 2012. Julie Greene, Assistant Political Director for the AFL-CIO, said that the AFL-CIO is taking a leadership role in voter protection. Hector Sanchez, Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, spoke about Latinos and the 2012 elections, recommending the web site Latinos for a Secure Retirement web site at Democratic National Committee Deputy Political Director Steve Walker, Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling, Mr. Coyle, and other speakers were also well-received. Workshops included: Messaging; a panel discussion on how states use on-line organizing; 2012 Election Facts and Myth-Busting; Grassroots Organizing; and Fundraising. Elected to the Regional Board at the conference were: Luis Duran (California), Jo Etta Brown (Nevada), Mark Goodman (Colorado), and John O'Brien (Washington State).

Mitt Romney Wins GOP Primaries in Arizona, Michigan with Help from the Wealthy

Mitt Romney won two GOP primaries on Tuesday in his quest for the Republican nomination to take on President Obama in November. One of the wins was in Arizona, 47%-27% over Rick Santorum. The other win, a 41%-38% nail-biter over Santorum in Michigan, netted him only the same number of delegates as Santorum. According to ABC News, in Michigan, Romney won among senior citizens, but split voters under age 65 with Santorum. He won among Republican voters making an annual salary of $100,000 or more, but no other income group. His best performance was among GOP voters making $200,000 or more annually.

The results of a new Bank of America Corp. poll at show that many affluent Americans think the age for collecting Social Security benefits should be higher. “Considering that the average 30-year-old man today makes $3,000 less (inflation adjusted) than his father made in 1973, raising the retirement age would make retirement security even more difficult to reach for today’s middle class workers,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “Since Mitt Romney wants to do just that, many affluent voters have apparently found their candidate for 2012.”

New on the Web

Go to to see the Alliance’s new web page about the 2012 Presidential Election. The page includes the stances of Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Santorum, and Romney on Social Security and Medicare, as well as information on voter protection and key debate and party convention dates.  Click on to get to, a site that celebrates the work we all do and how we are all inter-connected. Also, the AFL-CIO website has been re-designed to include extra features that will make it easier for working families to take action and build a vibrant online community. It is available at

Dozens of Meetings Held during Alliance’s Lobby Week

Alliance members held over 75 meetings with Members of Congress during the lobby week that took place during the Presidents’ Day recess. “Thank you to everyone who participated in the lobby meetings,” said Ms. Easterling. “Because of you, we were able to stress our key messages: that Social Security is sound; that we don’t want Medicare privatization or vouchers; and that we do want to keep our new Medicare benefits.”

Robert Kortkamp Honored in St. Louis

On Tuesday in St. Louis, the Missouri Alliance hosted a luncheon to celebrate the life and legacy of Robert Kortkamp. Kortkamp, former President of the Missouri Alliance, had a long history of leading workers in their struggle for justice and continued his activism into retirement. Besides celebrating his life, the Missouri Alliance also announced the new Kortkamp Humanitarian Award.

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Retirees Lament Departure of Senator Snowe

815 16th Street, NW, 4th Floor ¨ Washington, D.C. 20006 ¨ (202) 637-5399 ¨

 For Immediate Release                                                                                                                         Contact: David Blank (202) 637-5275 or
February 29, 2012

“An increasingly rare voice of moderation”

The following statement was issued today by Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

“The retirement of Senator Snowe is yet another reminder of the extreme direction in which the Republican Party is heading.  Senator Snowe has been an increasingly rare voice of moderation and openness.

“While retirees and workers did not agree with Senator Snowe on every issue, her door was always open to listen and engage in meaningful discussion.  She regularly met with Alliance members when they visited Washington and spoke at our Maine Alliance meetings.

“Perhaps Senator Snowe's experience was shaped when her party's leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, announced that his top priority would be to defeat President Obama.  Senator Snowe, like Arlen Specter, Jim Jeffords and others before her, was a throw-back to a day when legislators of both parties sought to forge common ground.

“Retirees want to be able to pay their bills and stay healthy.  That should not be a Republican goal or a Democratic goal, but something that all Americans want.

“The Alliance for Retired Americans congratulates Senator Olympia Snowe on a lifetime of dedication to public service.”
The Alliance for Retired Americans is a national organization that advocates for the rights and well being of over 4 million retirees and their families.