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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 “If any part of the law is repealed, seniors could lose a great deal of their health care protection and security,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.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 http://www.retiredamericans.org/issues/congressional-voting-record.

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 http://1.usa.gov/GW8kpD. 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 http://bit.ly/GSiFHU 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 http://1.usa.gov/H24r4f). 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 http://1.usa.gov/H2uyLk.

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 http://bit.ly/H73qng. For more information on an upcoming meeting, or to register, go to http://bit.ly/yiqB8n.

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