Senate Keeps Health Care Plan Out of Public View;
Join the National Call-in Day to Save Senior Health Care;
Supreme Court Likely to Hear a Key AFSCME Case, with Extremely High Stakes for Unions;
Idaho Alliance Holds State Convention
Senate Keeps Health Care Plan Out of Public View
Senate Republican leaders are pushing ahead with plans to pass a revised version of the House GOP health care bill despite public opposition. Polling released this week showed that a majority opposes the plan in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Last week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked “Rule 14” on the bill. This puts the Republican plan, named the American Health Care Act (AHCA), on a fast track to passage, and there will be no public hearings. Senate leadership have also said they will not release a draft of the bill to the public until the Congressional Budget Office scores it. The bill is expected to be introduced as soon as June 26, with a vote on it occurring only two days later.
With health care experts, providers, and the general public having no insight into the bill, it can be assumed that the bill will closely follow the House-passed bill, which even President Trump himself called “too mean,” despite the fact that he celebrated its passage only 6 weeks ago with Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican members at the White House.
Senators Rob Portman (OH) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV) have proposed a 7-year phase-out of Medicaid expansion to try to win over support from Republican moderates in the Senate. Both Senators’ states have benefitted immensely from the expansion program, with over 863,000 individuals gaining coverage in those two states alone. Their proposal will still result in millions of Americans losing health care coverage, only at a somewhat slower rate.
“The AHCA represents a fundamental danger to working people and retirees,” said Robert Roach, Jr., President of the Alliance. “Senate leaders may want to keep it a secret, but that means we must be twice as loud in our opposition.”
The Alliance will be holding a national call-in day on June 22, and local Alliances are planning events to demonstrate grass roots opposition.
“We encourage all of our members and all those concerned with health care to call their Senators, write to their local newspapers, and encourage their friends and neighbors to do the same,” said Joseph Peters, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.
Join the National Call-in Day to Save Senior Health Care
Thousands of seniors will call their senators on Thursday, June 22 as part of a day of unified resistance and opposition to the GOP’s plan to decimate our health care system.
Click here to RSVP for the National Call-in Day. We will send you a reminder message on the day of action with talking points.
Americans over the age of 50 will be hurt the most if this bill passes. Insurance companies will be able to charge older customers more than five times more in premiums for the same policies. It decimates Medicaid, the program that pays for the nursing home care of millions of seniors and provides health insurance for people with disabilities, with more than $800 billion in cuts. It shortens the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by two years to provide tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
“Please make the call – 1-866-828-4162 – and share this message with your family and friends and ask them to do the same,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance.
Supreme Court Likely to Hear a Key AFSCME Case, with Extremely High Stakes for Unions
Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 on a legal challenge to public service workers’ ability to organize and negotiate for their wages and benefits. The split affirmed the previous unanimous decision by the Supreme Court and a lower-court ruling that allows public service unions to collect agency fees or fair share fees from non-members for their work on their behalf.
Last week, a new case raising the same legal question reached the court, which is now back at nine justices following the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Since it only takes four justices to grant cases a hearing, the pro-corporate justices will probably agree to hear it, according to The New York Times.
The new case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), will shine a spotlight on Justice Gorsuch, who now holds the decisive vote on this momentous question about the future of public service working people’s freedom to negotiate for a fair return on their work.
The case concerns Mark Janus, a state government worker in Illinois who is represented by AFSCME. He sued the union, saying he should not pay fair share fees to support its work representing him.
Should Justice Gorsuch vote with the court’s conservative members, millions of public service workers such as teachers, firefighters and police in more than 20 states could be allowed to opt out of paying for collective bargaining, weakening workers’ voice in the workplace. To do so, the Court would have to overrule a 40-year-old precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders describes the Janus case as an assault on the labor movement.
“The corporate C.E.O.s behind this case want to take away the freedom of working people to join together in a strong union and negotiate a fair return on their work,” said President Saunders. “The rich and powerful interests behind this case are asking the Supreme Court to further rig the rules against working people and deny them the freedom to join together in a strong union to provide for their families, protect their communities and lift up the concerns of all working families.”
“Last year's decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association left standing the sound, settled labor law that protects working people,” added President Roach. “And seniors know that when you are compensated more fairly during your working years, you can earn better retirement security.”
Idaho Alliance Holds State Convention
The Idaho Alliance for Retired Americans held its convention this past week. Julie Wilhelm from the Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisers gave a presentation on the complexities of Medicare to attendees. Alliance Regional Vice President Steve Kofahl gave the keynote speech at the conference, detailing the threats that the AHCA poses to seniors, including block-granting Medicaid and weakening funding for Medicare. Steve also spoke of the growing number of Alliance members, and the need for all 4.4 million members to stand up for seniors’ rights.
Senate Republican Health Care Repeal Bill is Horrendous for Older Americans;
Alliance Members Take Action on Health Care in D.C., across the Country;
President Trump’s Prescription Drug Ideas Designed to Help Pharmaceutical Companies;
Iowa Alliance Holds Statewide Convention
Senate Republican Health Care Repeal Bill is Horrendous for Older Americans
The Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was finally released Thursday. It includes an Age Tax which allows insurance companies to charge older customers five times more for the same policies as younger adults and makes even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the House-passed repeal bill. The Senate version also robs the Medicare Trust Fund to pay for tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
If the Senate bill becomes law, starting in 2020, Medicaid funding would be changed from an open-ended entitlement to a per-capita system. This would end Medicaid’s guaranteed coverage, and would force states to either reduce care for each enrollee or pay for fewer people’s care. Medicaid is the largest funder of nursing home care, and also provides health coverage for millions of people with disabilities and for children.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) is pushing for a vote before the 4th of July. In addition to the public having little knowledge of the health care bill, most Senators also have a very limited understanding of the proposed plan. Multiple GOP Senators were unable or refused to answer questions on the basic aspects of the bill or what its impact would be.
“They hid the bill and are rushing to vote on it, because they know it will harm millions of Americans,” said Robert Roach, Jr., President of the Alliance. “Even the President said the House version was mean, and the Senate version would inflict even more severe long-term cuts to Medicaid.”
"President Trump promised on the campaign trail that he would not cut Medicaid. If he meant it, he would veto this bill since it does not keep that promise," said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance.
Alliance Members Take Action on Health Care in D.C., across the Country
On Tuesday Senators Bob Casey, Jr. (PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Maggie Hassan (NH), and Chris Van Hollen (MD), were joined by Susan Flashman, a Maryland/DC Alliance member and national board member, at the U.S. Capitol to draw attention to the effects of the Republican health care bill on seniors. Sen. Casey, the ranking member on the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, and the other Senators outlined the expensive premiums older Americans would have to pay due to the “Age Tax.” The senators also focused on the effects that Medicaid cuts would have on the millions of seniors who rely on the program for long-term care and for help with Medicare co-pays. They stressed the importance of action by groups like the Alliance in showing opposition to the Republican health care plan.
Ms. Flashman, a retired International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) electrician, illustrated the problems with the Senate bill by sharing her own story, which includes being diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 57 that left her disabled and required expensive medical treatment.
“In a way I am lucky. I had private health insurance through my union,” said Ms. Flashman. “If I had been left trying to get a new policy in the insurance marketplace with this new legislation, I would have been financially ruined.”
Outside the nation’s capital, Alliance members took part in events across the country to urge their senators to reject the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Alliance members contacted their Senators in droves during the Alliance’s national call-in day Thursday, placing thousands of calls.
In Nevada, Alliance members in Las Vegas and Reno gathered at Senator Dean Heller’s regional
offices to urge him to meet with his constituents to review the contents of the proposed bill. At the Las Vegas office, members delivered petitions in opposition to the AHCA and its Medicaid cuts. Nevada President Thomas Bird also wrote an op-ed on the dangers of Medicaid cuts to seniors that was published in the Reno Gazette-Journal. Arizona Alliance members visited the Phoenix offices of Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain in 109 degree heat to demand they reject the cuts to Medicaid and also met with Sen. Flake’s staff in Tucson.
Ohio Alliance President Norm Wernet took part in a telephone press conference to speak about the AHCA’s impact on the stability of Medicare and Medicaid. In Connecticut, state President Bette Marafino spoke at a public hearing organized and attended by Senator Richard Blumenthal in Hartford on the AHCA’s harmful impacts. In San Francisco, members of the California Alliance (CARA) laid down in the streets to show their disapproval for the upcoming Senate vote on health care.
President Trump’s Prescription Drug Ideas Designed to Help Pharmaceutical Companies
President Trump convened a working group of administration officials to examine policies he can implement with a new executive order. The Drug Pricing and Innovation Working Group met last Friday, and documents from the meeting shine a light into the policies they are considering.
The ideas include creating monopoly protections on drug sales overseas; deregulating the industry in the United States; and allowing tax credits for companies which engage in generic drug research. Most concerning is the fact that the text of the White House documents was taken directly from policy papers written by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA), the industry’s powerful lobbying group.
The group is led by Joe Grogan, associate director of health programs for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Until March, Grogan served as a lobbyist for Gilead Sciences, the pharmaceutical company that priced its hepatitis C drugs at $1,000 per pill. According to a number of health policy experts, the ideas outlined by the working groups would do little to lower prescription drug prices, and they represent the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.
“President Trump is right that the cost of prescription drugs has grown out of control, especially for seniors,” said Joseph Peters, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “But the policies that his administration is considering will not help seniors. Rather than holding pharmaceutical corporations and executives accountable, he is letting the fox guard the hen house. The result is even higher corporate profits.”
It is unclear if and when President Trump will make his final decision on an executive order regarding prescription drugs, as there has been no official timeline given. However, if the policies in the order match those that his working group have discussed, experts say, the problem won’t be solved any time soon.
Iowa Alliance Holds Statewide Convention
The Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans held their annual statewide convention on Wednesday. The theme of the conference was “Safety for Savvy Seniors,” with presentations focused on staying safe in your home and community and on recognizing elder abuse. Speakers at the conference included Mark Smith, Iowa House Minority Leader; Ken Sagar, President and of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Charlie Wishman, Secretary-Treasurer of the Iowa Federation of Labor; United Way Advocacy Officer Dave Stone; and Alliance Field Manager Maureen Dunn. The Alliance congratulates Midge Slater and Bob Connett for their re-election as President and Treasurer, and welcomes Greg Lewis and Christie Sherrard in their new positions as Vice President and Secretary.
Governors Lead Bipartisan Backlash against Senate Health Care Bill;
Activists Mobilize During Senate Recess;
Alliance Works with PBGC to Address Pension Funding Issues;
Hearing Benefit for Alliance Members & Families
Governors Lead Bipartisan Backlash against Senate Health Care Bill
Last week the Alliance contacted the National Governors Association (NGA) to see what America's governors can do to stop the Senate health care bill from moving forward, since the changes to Medicaid in the bill would drastically affect citizens and state budgets. From coast to coast criticism from governors on both sides of the aisle has been mounting on the Senate’s proposed “Better Care Reconciliation Act” (BCRA). Bipartisan condemnation from governors has focused on the health care bill’s provisions that slash Medicaid, strip away care, and give tax breaks to the wealthy.
“Make no mistake, people will needlessly die under this plan," said Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. “It should come as no surprise that Republicans preferred to hash out the details of this bill behind closed doors, rather than give the American people the opportunity to understand what is going to happen to their families.”
In Ohio, a baffled Republican governor John Kasich said of the bill, “They think that’s great? That’s good public policy? What, are you kidding me?” Kasich called the bill “unacceptable” and was vocal in his criticism after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirmed that the Senate’s proposed legislation would leave 22 million individuals uninsured. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada is also opposed to the bill, stating that Medicaid expansion has allowed over 200,000 Nevadans to “live happier and healthier lives.” The Senate’s bill would phase out the Medicaid expansion enacted under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
A group of governors from all corners of the country recently wrote a letter to Senate leadership imploring them to take a bipartisan approach in reforming health care. The bill’s signers included Kasich, Sandoval, and fellow Republican Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, as well as Democratic governors Steve Bullock of Montana, John bel Edwards of Louisiana, John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.
To send a letter to your state’s governor so he/she speaks up loudly and forcefully about the importance of Medicaid, click here. Or, simply call 1-866-828-4162 to be connected.
“We stand with those governors who are working to save health care for seniors,” said Robert Roach, Jr., President of the Alliance. “Despite new proposals being discussed, the Senate bill will still force people to pay more for less care, hurting older workers, retirees and people with disabilities especially hard.”
“Republicans, Democrats, Governors, and ordinary citizens are all opposed to the Senate bill. It has no other place than the trash bin,” added Joseph Peters, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.
With Senate Republicans unable to find their way to 50 votes and the Senate now in recess, activists around the country have mobilized to make their voices heard in opposition to the unpopular bill. When Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he would postpone the vote for the bill until after the recess, the Alliance and other like-minded groups began to plan actions where senators would have to face their constituents in person.
Texas Alliance members and their allies protested changes to the Affordable Care Act outside Sen. John Cornyn's office in Austin on Thursday. Austin police arrested 7 protesters, including one Texas Alliance member.
Throughout the year, the number of Republicans hosting town halls has been dropping, perhaps as a way to limit exposure to protests regarding the bill, and few Republican senators made themselves available to the public during the July 4 Recess. Those who did were greeted overwhelmingly by calls to oppose the BCRA. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) appeared at Fourth of July parades in their home states during which they were thanked overwhelmingly for their opposition to the bill. At a town hall in Texas, Ted Cruz (R-TX) was met by vocal protestors who were against the bill’s Medicaid cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy. Sen. McConnell had to walk through a group of protestors to give his speech to a group of Republicans in Kentucky.
“It is essential that all of those who oppose this dangerous bill have their voices heard,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance. “The fact that most Republicans in the Senate are too afraid to show up in public should tell you everything you need to know. The Senate bill is dangerous to all Americans, particularly older Americans, and must be stopped.”
Missouri Alliance members and allies staged a “die-in” at Sen. Roy Blunt's Clayton office on June 28 to represent those who will die if 22 million people lose their health insurance.
Alliance Works with PBGC to Address Pension Funding Issues
Last Friday President Roach and Alliance Legislative Representative Eva Dominguez met with officials from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) as part of a stakeholders meeting. They discussed the Early Warning Program, which was set up to monitor large companies with 5,000 or more participants that are under-funded by at least $50 million and could become a liability for the PBGC. The stakeholders discussed the funding needs in both single- and multi-employer plans. The PBGC will be issuing their FY 2017 Projections Report in the very near future.
“PBGC must be properly funded to deal with the nation’s pension problems,” said President Roach. “They have the expertise but need the money. There is extraordinarily widespread support for such an increase.”
Stakeholders also discussed how to promote defined benefit (DB) plans – a traditional pension that is more secure and provides retirees with a lifelong stream of funding. The discussion focused on providing testimonials that educate the public on the plans’ many benefits and on creating modified DB plans that attract employers.
The talks included an initiative to teach labor representatives and employee activists about corporate bankruptcies that may result in pensions being terminated. The program would be taught through the State University of New York (SUNY), the Pension Rights Center and affiliated unions.
Hearing Benefit for Alliance Members & Families
To help Alliance members and their families who have concerns about hearing loss, the Alliance has teamed with Hear In America to offer a hearing benefit plan.
Registration for the plan is FREE for you and any of your extended family members. Once registered, you will be directed to reputable local providers for a FREE hearing screening and evaluation.
If needed, hearing aids are available through Hear In America at discounts up to 70% off manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), with included follow-up care and loss and damage coverage for three years.
If you think you may have a hearing problem, this is a great way to get the help you need to vastly improve your quality of life. For more information or to register, call 1-800-286-6149 or click here: www.hearinamerica.com/ara.