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Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert 8-15-14

Headlines:
Alliance Members Honor 79th Birthday of Social Security
Reports Detail Critical Importance of Social Security
Great Recession May Have Forced Americans into Retirement
Medicare Advantage Insurers Systematically Overbilling Government
States Refusing Medicaid Expansion Losing Billions in Funding
President Obama Signs VA Reform Bill into Law


Alliance Members Honor 79th Birthday of Social Security
Our nation’s Social Security system celebrated its 79th anniversary on Thursday, and Alliance members commemorated the important event by throwing more than 30 birthday parties across the country with cake and balloons. Celebrations focused on the long term success of the Social Security system and the need to expand the program in order to meet the needs of current and future retirees. The landmark program was signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14th, 1935. “Social Security is one of the most successful programs in America’s history,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance. “With pensions disappearing, it’s harder than ever for workers to save for retirement. We need to strengthen and expand Social Security, not cut it.”

Several celebrations featured members of Congress with track records of working to protect and defend Social Security, including Reps. Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Patrick Murphy (FL), Cheri Bustos (IL), Marc Veasey (TX), Nick Rahall (WV), and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH). Mr. Fiesta spoke at the Shaheen event in Manchester, New Hampshire. Both he and Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling spoke at the Rahall event in Beckley, WV. To view a sampling of pictures from the birthday events, go to http://tinyurl.com/pb6n36w. To mark Social Security’s birthday and pledge to redouble efforts to strengthen and expand the program, sign a birthday card to Social Security at http://bit.ly/1lYsDq6.

Reports Detail Critical Importance of Social Security
In honor of Social Security’s anniversary, the Alliance released a series of reports assembled by coalition partner Social Security Works that examine the critical role Social Security plays in states across the country. The reports, available at http://bit.ly/1t3TDJR, provide background information on the Social Security System as well as details about the vital role Social Security serves in the lives of individuals and families in each state. The reports also highlight the economic impact of Social Security benefits, with data carefully broken down by demographic category.

“Our Social Security system is the foundation of retirement security in this country and keeps nearly 22 million Americans out of poverty,” said Ms. Easterling. “Almost 65% of elderly couples and unmarried beneficiaries relied on Social Security for half or more of their income in 2012.”

Great Recession May Have Forced Americans into Retirement
New data from the Federal Reserve suggests that since 2008, a significant number of Americans have been retiring earlier than they expected. This trend comes despite polling suggesting that an increasing number of workers approaching retirement age intend to delay retirement and stay on the job longer in order to make ends meet. The conflicting data suggests that thousands of older workers who lost jobs in the Great Recession may have simply retired instead of continuing to look for work or settle for low paying jobs. Coupled with recent polling in which nearly 1 in 5 workers between the ages of 55 and 64 said they had nothing saved for retirement, the new Fed data points to an increasingly difficult environment for American retirees. Read more on the Great Recession’s impact on retirement at http://ti.me/1sYuYpc.

Medicare Advantage Insurers Systematically Overbilling Government
According to a study from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Medicare Advantage health plans have been overbilling the government by exaggerating how sick patients are and how much these patients cost to treat. Under the program, Medicare pays private insurance (Advantage) plans higher rates for covering sicker patients, with rates tied to “risk scores” based on patient medical histories. According to HHS officials, insurers have been exaggerating the rates of certain medical conditions in order to artificially raise these scores and inflate Medicare payments. The Medicare Advantage program currently insures around 16 million older and disabled Americans.

The HHS study follows a previous report in June that revealed $70 billion in “improper” payments made to Medicare Advantage plans between 2008 and 2013 – primarily a result of overbillings. For more information, read the article from the Center for Public Integrity at http://bit.ly/1paYCI6.

States Refusing Medicaid Expansion Losing Billions in Funding
According to a new report, the 24 states that have refused to expand the Medicaid program under the terms of the Affordable Care Act may be missing out on a staggering amount of federal dollars. A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute suggests that over the next 10 years, these states will lose a total of $423.6 billion in potential federal funding, along with $167.8 billion in increased hospital reimbursement payments. The Medicaid expansion is fully funded by the federal government for the first three years of the program, with states picking up 10% of the tab after that.

Some politicians opposed to the expansion have argued that taking on the task would be a drain on state finances. The study suggests that while it would cost non-expansion states around $31 billion to participate, associated cost savings and enhanced tax revenues resulting from federal financed hospital spending will actually lead to improved finances for state budgets. “Millions of American workers and their families are being denied health coverage under the false claim that these states can’t afford to expand Medicaid. By refusing to expand the program, all these politicians are doing is hurting their constituents and their state economies,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary Treasurer for the Alliance. Read more on the Medicaid studies at http://slate.me/1pur9Zq.

President Obama Signs VA Reform Bill into Law
Late last week, President Obama signed into law a $16.3 billion overhaul of our nation’s Veterans Affairs (VA) health system. Thousands of veterans who have faced extended waits for medical care at VA facilities are now almost immediately eligible to seek government funded treatment from private physicians. Implementing other changes, including the expansion of VA staff through the hiring of thousands of health care providers, and the opening of 27 new VA clinics across the country, is expected to take at least 2 years. The new law also includes new rules making it easier to fire senior VA officials for poor performance. The reforms come in response to revelations of long wait times at VA facilities and attempts by administrators to cover up the problems. To read more on the law from the The Washington Post, go to http://wapo.st/1nTFLg2.

For a printable version of this document, go to http://bit.ly/1uBIBi1.

For the Alliance's Spanish language page, which includes last week's Friday Alert in Spanish, go to www.alianzadejubilados.org

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