A large number of mobilizations, actions, and educational programs have been planned and organized recently in response to attacks on many of our cherished government programs. One such event, entitled “Saving the Social Safety Net,” took place at Channing-Murray Foundation in early March. As the description of the program stated, “A massive assault is underway on social safety net programs like the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.” The program’s focus was to inform the audience about these programs, the myths behind current attacks on them, and what can be done to save them, and featured Claudia Lennhoff, Executive Director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, speaking about the ACA; Patricia Simpson, Emerita Professor, Loyola University Chicago, speaking about Social Security; and Belden Fields, a member of Champaign County Care, who discussed the upcoming local referenda on the April 4th ballot concerning the future of the Champaign County Nursing Home.
The Affordable Care Act
Claudia Lennhoff explained what the ACA has done and what it was intended to do. Many insurance benefits and protections enacted by the ACA benefitted those who already had insurance, including those with employer-based health plans. Some of these important (and popular) benefits and protections include:
– Allowing adult children to remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26
– No annual or lifetime caps or limits on coverage
– Insurance companies cannot drop coverage because of illness
– People with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied insurance or charged more
– Medical loss ratio (80% or more of your premium dollars must be used to pay for care you receive)
– Out-of-pocket maximum limits for consumers.
According to Lennhoff, the plan put forward by the House Republicans—the American Health Care Act (AHCA)—on March 5, 2017, would cut coverage for millions and make it more expensive for millions more. She explained that, in a nutshell, this plan would repeal vital parts of the ACA with no replacement, end Medicaid as we know it by radically altering the Medicaid funding structure, harm the Medicare program, defund Planned Parenthood, and give massive tax cuts to the very wealthy, including pharmaceutical and insurance companies. It would also end the ACA’s tax credits, which are progressive based on income, starting in 2020 and replace them with tax credits that only go up with age.
Lennhoff wants consumers to know, “The AHCA is not just a repeal of the ACA but a ‘bait and switch’ that would end Medicaid as we know it. The AHCA would radically restructure Medicaid funding to turn it into a per capita cap program, and this would result in billions of dollars lost. The Medicaid program pays for half to two-thirds of all long-term care (i.e., nursing home care), half of all births in our nation, and health care for low-income children, elderly folks, and people with disabilities.”
What can consumers do? According to Lennhoff, make phone calls to your Representatives and Senators, write letters, and make in-office visits. There is hope. Millions of Americans are getting involved in the efforts to #ProtectOurCare! Republicans have already changed their message from “repeal” to “repeal and replace,” and now to “repeal and repair”—they know that Americans don’t want to lose their coverage. In addition, people with Medicare and employer-based health insurance are beginning to understand that they, too, will be affected, and are joining these efforts.
The Champaign County Nursing Home
Belden Fields talked about the Champaign County Nursing Home, specifically the two questions that will be on the April 4 election ballot. Question 1 will ask voters whether or not to raise the property tax levy to support the nursing home, and question 2 asks whether the county board should sell or otherwise dispose of the nursing home.
Fields made the case for voting “Yes” on question 1 and “No” on question 2. He stated that one of the main reasons the nursing home is having financial difficulties is that the state of Illinois has been behind on Medicaid payments to the home, not because of any financial mismanagement by the home administration itself. In fact, he stated that the nursing home was breaking even until the state budget crisis resulted in delays in downstate Medicaid processing and payments by the state.
Another reason Fields stated for supporting the county home is the quality of care residents receive there compared with the local for-profit homes. Claudia Lennhoff mentioned that studies show care is generally better at public institutions than at private ones that have to focus on making a profit for their shareholders, potentially resulting in cuts to staffing and other needed services.
Other reasons: one-third of all people in nursing homes in Champaign County are in the Champaign County Nursing Home, and local private homes would not be able to absorb that number of people if the county home was closed; and the physical and psychological cost to residents of having to move from a home they are familiar with would be great. The financial cost of raising the property tax levy would be approximately $30 on a $150,000 house. More information about saving the county nursing home and how to get involved can be found at champaigncountycare.org or the Champaign County CARE Facebook page.
Social Security at Risk
Patricia Simpson started her presentation by showing a “Bernie Brief,” a video of Bernie Sanders making the case for not just strengthening, but expanding Social Security (https://berniesanders.com/issues/strengthen-and-expand-social-security/).
With half of workers aged 55-64 having no retirement savings at all, and one-third of senior citizens currently relying on Social Security for all of their income, he explains in the video that Social Security needs to be expanded, not cut. Sanders has introduced the Social Security Expansion Act, detailed below. After explaining the context of how the current climate, political and otherwise, is creating a situation ripe for concern about Social Security, Simpson explained some of the myths and realities surrounding Social Security.
Myth #1: Social Security is going broke.
Social Security has enough funds to fully cover benefits through the 2030s, and 75% of benefits over the short term thereafter. The Social Security trust fund currently has a $2.8 trillion surplus. So Social Security is not going broke; it simply needs to be shored up to continue providing full benefits after the 2030s.
Myth #2: Social Security contributes to the deficit.
Social Security doesn’t contribute one penny to the federal deficit, because it is taxed separately and held in a fund separate from the general operating funds of the government. Because it is not part of the general operating funds, cutting Social Security would do nothing to help the deficit.
Myth #3: Social Security is inefficient.
Social Security has the lowest administrative costs of any social program at 0.7%.
Simpson outlined the provisions of the Social Security Expansion Act, introduced by Bernie Sanders. The Act would increase cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients and provide a minimum Social Security benefit to significantly reduce the senior poverty rate. It would be paid for by lifting the payroll tax cap on income (currently, income above $127,000 is not taxed). She stated that the Chief Actuary of Social Security estimates that making the changes outlined in this Act would fully fund Social Security until 2077.
Simpson stated that one of the most important things you can do to support Social Security is to call your congressional representatives and tell them you do not support any cuts to Social Security, and, in fact, you support strengthening and expanding this important social program. Check out the Social Security Works website (socialsecurityworks.org) for more information. In addition, monitor AARP to make sure it continues to oppose any cuts, including for future Social Security recipients. And finally, work to protect all social safety programs. We’re all in this together.