Dems Listening to Calls to Strengthen and Expand Social Security, Medicare

Published in the Woonsocket Call on September 23, 2018

The political clock is ticking…The midterm elections are less than 50 days away and just days ago, the Washington, D.C.-based AARP released a poll of age 50 and older Ohio voters who say they are especially concerned about their health care and personal financial issues.

The Politico-AARP poll, conducted by Morning Consult, surveyed 1,592 registered voters in Ohio from September 2 to 11, 2018 with a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points. For voters 50 and older, the poll surveyed 841 registered voters and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

Don’t Touch Our Social Security, Medicare”

According to the newly released AARP-Politico poll findings, the older voters identified key issues that will influence how they will cast their vote in November at the polls. The respondents viewed health care (81 percent) the most important campaign issue followed by Social Security (80 percent) and Medicare (76 percent) and prescription drugs (65 percent). But, a strong majority (74 percent) support preserving the state’s Medicaid expansion, says the pollsters. .

“With less than 50 days to go before Election Day, candidates in Ohio would be wise to listen to the state’s most powerful voting group: 50-plus voters,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer in a statement releasing the polls findings. “History shows older voters turn out in force in every election, and AARP is making sure they are energized and know where candidates stand on the issues.”

AARP is partnering with Politico to create a series titled “The Deciders,” (www.politico.com/magazine/thedeciders) that integrates original polling focused on 50-plus voters, reporting, data analysis and cutting-edge data visualization tools built by Politico’s specialized interactive team. The third edition in the series is focused on Ohio, a key election battleground state. Other recent polls surveyed voters in Arizona and Florida.

The AARP-Political Ohio poll findings say that 74 percent of age 50-plus voters “strongly support” (42 percent) or “somewhat support” (32 percent) preserving Ohio’s Medicaid expansion which extended Medicaid eligibility for low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act.

Ninety one percent of the older voter respondents say they are “very concerned” (55 percent) or “somewhat concerned” (36 percent) about their utility bills increasing. In addition, 69 percent of these respondents “strongly support” (27 percent) or “somewhat support” (42 percent) creating an Ohio retirement savings plan.

The AARP-Political poll also noted that 74 percent of 50-plus voters say opioid addiction is “a very serious problem” in the state right now, and 61 percent say the government is not doing enough to address it. And, 70 percent of the older voters “strongly agree” that jobs and the economy are major issues this election season. Only one in five (23 percent) feel “well-prepared” to get and keep a job, says the researchers.

Finally, nearly half (46 percent) of 50-plus voters think government is unprepared to prevent a cyber-attack on public infrastructure.

Democrats Zero in on Senior Issues

While poll after poll of older voters sends the message “Don’t touch my Social Security or Medicare” the GOP turns a deaf ear, but the Democrats listen. Following President Donald Trump’s claim that Democrats are trying to cut Social Security at a campaign rally in Montana, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.), Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) on September 13, announced the bicameral Expand Social Security Caucus, over 150 members, including 18 Senators.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) David Cicilline (D-RI) James Langevin (D-RI) are members of the newly formed Expand Social Security Caucus.

Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works, an advocacy nonprofit group pushing for expanding Social Security, emceed the press conference and co-authored an opinion piece in The Hill celebrating the caucus launch.

Lawson noted, “We have members in the caucus from all corners of the country, from all parts of the Democratic Party. We’re waiting on some Republicans who might join, but they’ll be welcome when they realize that the American people are united in calling for an expansion of Social Security.”

The mission of this new congressional caucus is to push for the expansion of Social Security, one of the most popular and successful government programs. Last year alone, Social Security lifted 22 million Americans, including more than 15 million seniors, out of poverty. Before Social Security, nearly half of the nation’s seniors were living in poverty, says a caucus press release.

The caucus will ensure that expanding Social Security is a key part of the Democratic agenda before the midterm elections and next year and beyond. Over a dozen bills have already been introduced in the Senate and House to expand Social Security. With the caucus now playing a key role in expanding and strengthening Social Security, look for more bills to be introduced next Congress.

At the official unveiling of the new Congressional caucus, Sanders said, “We are here today to say very loudly and very clearly that at a time when millions of seniors are trying to survive on $12,000 or $13,000 a year, our job is not to cut Social Security. Our job is to expand Social Security so that everyone in America can retire with dignity and respect.” T

“Social Security is a lifeline for seniors and Americans with disabilities. We won’t let it be cut by one cent – and instead we will fight to expand it,” Co-chair Warren said. “The rich and powerful have rigged our economy to make themselves richer, while working families face a massive retirement crisis. If this government really works for the people, it should protect and expand Social Security.”

“A number of bills have been introduced in the Senate and House to expand Social Security, including legislation written by Sanders last year to lift the cap on taxable income that goes into Social Security, requiring the wealthiest Americans – those who make over $250,000 a year – to pay their fair share of Social Security taxes. That bill would increase Social Security benefits and extend the program’s solvency for the next 60 years.

Joining the caucus leadership Thursday were Social Security Works, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Latinos for a Secure Retirement, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the American Federation of Government Employees, the Arc of the United States, the Center for Responsible Lending and Global Policy Solutions.

With the midterm elections looming, the progressive and centralists of the Democratic party must put aside their differences to work together to support Democratic Congressional candidates who can win. One unifying political issue may well be supporting the expansion and strengthening of Social Security, Medicare and ensuring that Americans can be covered by affordable health insurance. Stay tuned.

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Courtesy of AARP: Long-Term Care Data at Your Finger Tips

Published in the Woonsocket Call on September 2, 2018

Across the States 2018: Profiles of Long-Term Services and Supports, by Ari Houser, Wendy Fox-Grage, Kathleen Ujvari, of AARP’s Public Policy Institute, was released days ago. The jampacked 84-page AARP reference report gives state and federal policy makers comparable state-level and national data culled from a large number of research studies and data sources, some of the data gleaned from original sources.

AARP considers the 10th edition of Across the States, published for the past 24 years, “the flagship publication” to assist policy makers make informed decisions as they create programs, and policies for long-term services and supports (LTSS). State-specific data “is easily found, “at your fingertips,” claims AARP.

Across the States, released August 27, 2018, includes a myriad of aging topics include: age demographics and projections; living arrangements, income, and poverty; disability rates; costs of care; private long-term care insurance; Medicaid long-term services and supports; family caregivers; home- and community-based services (HCBS); and nursing facilities. Each state profile is a four-page, user-friendly, print-ready document that provides each state’s data and rankings.

Looking at Trends

AARP Public Policy Institute researchers have identified four trends in reviewing state data. Of most importance to Congress and state legislatures, Across the States gives a warning that America’s population is aging. The nation’s age 85 and over population, those most in need of aging programs and services, is projected to triple between 2015 and 2050, a whopping 208 percent increase.

But, by comparison, the population younger than age 65 is expected to increase by only 12 percent. The under age 65 population, currently, 85 percent of the total population, is projected to be 78 percent in 2050. Bad news for propping up the Social Security system with the worker-to – beneficiary ratio declining.

Across the States researchers say that the demographic shift of an increasing older population will have an impact on family caregiving. “The caregiver support ratio compares the number of people ages 45–64 (peak caregiver age) to the number ages 80+ (peak care need),” notes the report. Today, there are about 7 people ages 45–64 for every person age 80. By 2050, that ratio will drop to 3 to 1.

America’s older population is also becoming more diverse, reflecting overall trends in the general population. Across the States researchers note that the Hispanic population age 65 and over is projected to quadruple between 2015 and 2050.

Finally, Across the States report notes that State Medicaid LTSS systems are becoming more balanced due to the increase of state dollars going to fund home and community-based services (specifically to care for older people and adults with disabilities). But, this trend varies in level of balance, say the researchers, noting that: “The percentage of LTSS spending for older people and adults with disabilities going to HCBS ranged from 13 percent to 73 percent in 2016. While 40 states became more balanced, 11 states became less balanced for older adults and people with physical disabilities in 2016 compared with 2011.”

Taking a Closer Look

Across the States notes that the age 85 and over population is projected to significantly outpace all other age groups when the aging baby boomers begin turning age 85 in 2031. In 2015, people ages 85 and older made up 2 percent of the US population. By 2050, they are projected to represent 5 percent. By contrast, in the Ocean State the age 85 and over population was 2.7 percent of the state’s population. By 2050, look for the oldest-old population to inch up to 5.4 percent.

Throughout the nation the cost for private pay nursing facility care is well out of reach of most middle-income families. Across the States notes that in 2017 the annual median cost for nursing facilities is $97,455 for a private room and $87,600 for a shared room. But, in Rhode Island the annual cost is higher, with a private room costing $ 104,025 and $ 101,835 for a shared room. The researchers say that for the cost of residing in a nursing facility for one year, a person could pay for three years of home care or five years of adult day services.

Because of the high costs, most people go through their life savings paying for costly care and ultimately have to rely on the state’s Medicaid program. Nationally, the percent of Medicaid as primary payer in 2016 was 62 percent (61 percent in Rhode Island).

According to Across the States, family caregivers provided $470 billion worth of unpaid care in 2013, more than six times the Medicaid spending on home and community-based services. In Rhode Island, 134,000 provided 124 million hours of care annually with an economic value $ 1.78 billion. But, AARP’s report warns federal and state policy makers about the stark demographics in America’s future that will for the nation’s “Oldest Old” to scramble to find a caregiver, due to a shortage. Will state’s have the financial resources to fund programs and services to make up for this demographic reality.

For a copy of Across the States report and Rhode Island specifics, go to: http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2018/08/across-the-states-profiles-of-long-term-services-and-supports-full-report.pdf.