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Social Security Issues

Archives: 2003

Path-Breaking Research on Social Security Wins Samuelson Award
Peter A. Diamond, an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the winner of the 2003 Paul A. Samuelson Award for Outstanding Scholarly Writing on Lifelong Financial Security for his book, Taxation, Incomplete Markets, and Social Security. His research is a unique work on critical issues surrounding Social Security and its implications for all American households. According to Professor Diamond’s findings, without Social Security, many workers would not save enough for retirement. The book also discusses optimal retirement incentives for people with different life expectancies and diverse preferences for leisure.

Analysts: Future Budget Outlook Gloomy (December 22, 2003)
2004 promises to be a challenging one in the US, due to the upcoming elections. The Congressional Budget Office admits that the large deficits pose many problems. The CBO focused on the costs associated with the Social Security and Medicare but largely ignored the need to cancel the President’s tax cuts or reduce the costs of the military and its operation.   Stay tuned! 

Elderly Refugees Losing Federal Payments Without Citizenship, Benefit Ends After 7 Years (December 15, 2003)

A 1996 US law requires older immigrants to become US citizens after seven years in order to keep receiving the Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. Thousands of elderly refugees are being cut off today from federal benefits since many of them are not yet US citizens. Supporters of the law argue that the refugees were given enough time and support to naturalize but refugee advocates say the citizenship tests are nearly impossible for some to pass. Some elderly refugees are too ill or traumatized to learn English and others struggle because they had little schooling in their homelands. Many of those losing the payment face cancellation of other benefits like Medicaid.

Restructuring Social Security is next target for president (December 1, 2003
After Medicare, the next “reform” considered by President Bush will be Social Security.  Conservatives claim the social insurance system will be “insolvent” by 2042.  In fact, the payments will simply exceed the income during the closing years of the Baby Boom generation.  Bush wants to divert some payroll taxes into private investment accounts that would be a speculative coup for Wall Street. However, many Democrats in Congress strongly oppose the creation of such accounts, saying that such a move toward "privatization" would lead to financial ruin for seniors.

Sen. Graham proposes Social Security personal accounts, AARP says no (November 18, 2003 )
South Carolina Senator, Lindsey Graham, introduced a new Social Security reform measure allowing people 54 and under to shift some of their Social Security contributions into a personal retirement account. No group representing older Americans supports this measure because it would reduce benefits and push the system into insolvency.  But Bush plans to make privatization of Social Security a legislative goal in a second term, if elected. 

Medicaid Continues To Bedevil State, Local Budget Writers (November 13, 2003)
George Pataki, in his first State of the State address to the Legislature as governor in 1995, called the cost of the Medicaid program in New York state “staggering”. Pataki declared that Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey and state Health Commissioner Dr. Barbara DeBuono would work to revamp the $22.5 billion program and rein in costs to help state and local taxpayers. "Today, New York's Medicaid system costs three times as much per recipient and often delivers a quality of care inferior to the programs run by other states," the new governor said. Nearly nine years later, McCaughey and DeBuono are long gone from Pataki's administration, New York still spends three times more on Medicaid per recipient than some other states and the program costs federal, state and local taxpayers an even more staggering $26 billion.

Social Security lag saps seniors (November 9, 2003)
Like many seniors who rely on Social Security and Medicare, retired bookkeeper Lucille Price was insulted when she learned her small increase in retirement benefits would be offset by a sharp rise in insurance costs. Social Security's cost-of-living increase for 2004 will be 2.1 percent, or roughly $19 a month for the typical retiree. At the same time, Medicare premiums next year will jump 13.5 percent, or about $7.90 for the average recipient. Medicare premiums are deducted from Social Security checks, leaving a net increase of $11 a month. "It's really a disgrace," Price, 83, said recently while visiting with friends at the Mid-County Senior Citizens Center. "Most of us live on this." "They're going to give us 2 percent (for Social Security), then they're going to take it back with Medicare," retired teacher Roslyn Kalkstein said. "They give it to you with one hand, and take it away with the other."

Free-market Medicare idea is planned (November 4, 2003)
A new study concludes that forcing traditional Medicare to compete with private insurance plans could make it unaffordable to lower-income seniors, highlighting the thorniest issue facing lawmakers who are trying to craft a Medicare prescription drug benefit. Price competition in some parts of the country "could sink the traditional fee-for-service plan" that is the bulwark of the 38-year-old government health care program for older and disabled Americans, said Mark Schlesinger, co-author of the report released Monday by the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Science.

Aging Frugally: Social Security straps recipients (November 3, 2003)
Next year’s 2.1 percent increase in Social Security benefits will raise the income of retirees, but not enough to help those struggling to make ends meet. Growing daily costs, savings rates that fail to keep up with inflation, and a 13.5 percent rise in Medicare premiums will more than cancel out the Social Security gains, leaving many fixed-income seniors worse off than before.

Early Retirees Pay Later, Broad Study Discovery (November 2, 2003)
Retirees often debate whether it makes more sense to start taking reduced Social Security payments as early as age 62 or wait until Social Security's "full retirement" age to get a bigger monthly check. Here's a reason to consider the latter: For low-wage workers, retiring early with lower benefits can raise the risk of poverty over time.

Medicare drug benefit would not help all older Americans (November 2, 2003)
For older Americans wondering how much help they would get from a Medicare prescription drug benefit, the answer depends on their income and annual pharmacy bills. And, it seems, on who's asked. President Bush says the proposal being negotiated in Congress would cut those bills in half. But some Democrats and other health care analysts say the plan that congressional negotiators have tentatively agreed to offers little to people whose income barely exceeds the limit to receive government subsidies. "It's a crummy deal and they're pretty needy, too," said Marilyn Moon, a health care analyst with the American Institutes for Research.

Some get boost in benefits (October 29, 2003)
About 500 Thurston County residents are among the 24,000 blind and over-65 people receiving federal Supplemental Security Income who will get a $1,174 check from the state next month.
The payments make up for monthly state cash supplements eliminated by the Legislature for the 2002-03 fiscal year through December. In January, the state expects to implement supplemental SSI payments of about $50 per month for the blind and elderly who are receiving federal SSI benefits. In 2001, state supplements ranged from $3 to $166 per month. But all SSI recipients on the books in November will receive a one-time payment of $1,174 in addition to their federal SSI check.

U.S.weighs Social Security benefits for Mexicans (October 29, 2003) Hundreds of millions of dollars in Social Security payments may someday be headed south of the border. A Social Security Administration spokesman said U.S. and Mexican officials are continuing "informal discussions" about a potential agreement that would allow millions of Mexicans working here to collect U.S. Social Security benefits in Mexico. The proposal has riled some Republican lawmakers. They worry that it could reward scores of undocumented Mexican immigrants with a U.S. pension, draining the country's Social Security trust fund at a time when its future solvency is in doubt. Supporters of the proposal argue that Mexican immigrants -- legal and illegal -- pay millions, if not billions, of dollars in payroll taxes and have the right to claim Social Security benefits. 

New Jersey: State agency says hiring outside pension fund managers would be illegal (October 29, 2003)
A proposal to have private advisers manage some of New Jersey's pension funds is illegal, according to a review performed by a nonpartisan state agency. The opinion issued Tuesday, October 28, by the Office of Legislative Services said state law prohibits the Treasury Department from delegating investment decisions to any outside party. It comes weeks a consultant recommended that private managers be hired to take over some investment decisions.

New Medicare Premium and Deductible Rates for 2004 (October 28, 2003)
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced the new Medicare premium, deductible and coinsurance amounts to be paid by Medicare beneficiaries in 2004. For Medicare Part A, which pays for inpatient hospital, skilled nursing facility and some home health care, the deductible paid by the beneficiary will be $876 in 2003, up 4.3 percent from this year's $840 deductible. The monthly premium paid by beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Part B, which covers physician services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, durable medical equipment and other items, will be $66.60, an increase of 13.5 percent over the $58.70 premium for 2003.

Medicare first, then Medicaid (October 27, 2003)
If you think four years of bitter partisan fighting over Medicare prescription drug coverage has been the mother of all healthcare reform battles -- and as of Monday, it still was not quite a done deal -- you need to hold on, because big sister Medicaid is waiting in the wings. Medicaid often is overshadowed by Medicare in the public's eye and its growth has taken many by surprise. Medicaid is expected to spend $304 billion in 2004, a five-fold increase since 1989. For the first time, it will be bigger than Medicare -- which accounts for $289 billion in 2004 spending -- and sits atop the list of public healthcare programs.

Social Security boost makes little difference to retirees (October 23, 2003)
For seniors like Harry Thaw, the planned 2.1 percent increase in Social Security benefits next year holds little promise of making life much easier. Federal Reserve policies to keep interest rates low have meant seniors are earning very little on savings in the bank accounts and money market funds they tend to favor. And while inflation has been moderate for the past couple of years, the prices of goods and services important to the elderly -- including medical care and fuel for home heating and cooling -- have risen rapidly.

The Approach on Drug Coverage Grows More Conservative, Counters Senate's Plan (October 22, 2003)
Low-income Medicare beneficiaries would receive smaller subsidies for prescription drugs and face tougher asset tests under the plan emerging from negotiations in Congress than under the bill the Senate adopted. As many as three million low-income people could be affected; $10,000 or more in savings would disqualify a low-income person from receiving extra aid intended to help poor beneficiaries meet their drug co-payments.

Medicaid, Medicare users can face 6- to 8-month waits (October 22, 2003)

Doctors referring people to University of Colorado Hospital's specialty clinics say Medicare and Medicaid patients are turned away or made to wait months for appointments, sparking concern that University is screening out government-pay patients in favor of those with private insurance. Referring doctors said that in the past year, they have collected refusal notices from University stating that patients won't be seen because clinic doctors are not accepting new Medicaid or Medicare patients. Others said their patients face six- to eight-month waits for appointments.

Medicare hot line informs, comforts Medicare hot line benefits elderly (October 21, 2003)

The government announced last week that 2004 monthly payments for doctors' care would rise 13.5 percent to $66.60, one of the largest increases in Medicare's history. The deductible for hospital care is going up as well. Also last week, lawmakers failed to agree on compromise legislation, missing one of the many deadlines Congress has set to reform Medicare before next year's elections. It's extraordinarily hard to agree on what to do about this vast government program for 40 million elderly and disabled Americans. But here, on the front lines of the health-care crisis, there is a sense of urgency. Many people who call this hot line--the official Medicare line in New York --are sick and vulnerable.

Compromise Calls for U.S. to Guarantee Medicare Drug Benefit (October 21, 2003)

In order to guarantee prescription drug benefits for the elderly, Congress has reached a tentative agreement to provide a “federal backup plan” for drug benefits in markets where private insurance companies do not cover prescription medicines. Democrats had argued that the Republican plan to rely solely on private insurance companies to provide prescription drug benefits would leave many people, especially in rural areas, without drug coverage.

Social Security Payout to Rise in January (October 17, 2003)
Monthly payments to the nation's 47 million recipients of Social Security benefits will rise 2.1 percent in January, with the average benefit for retired workers rising $19, to $922, the government announced on October 16, 2003 . Most retired federal civilian, military and Foreign Service workers will get the same 2.1 percent increase in their pension benefits, which is based on the increase in the consumer price index from the third quarter of last year to the same period this year. Retirees covered by the new Federal Employees Retirement System who are 62 or older will receive a 2 percent increase.

Seniors grimly do math of living (October 17, 2003)
On Wednesday, October 15, the government said Medicare premiums were going up 13.5 percent, or about $7.90 for the average recipient, to $66.60 a month. On Thursday, the cost-of-living increase for Social Security benefits was announced: 2.1 percent, or $19 a month more for the average retiree. Net result for the average senior: $11.10 ahead each month. "They give it to you and then they take it away from you," said Helen Howard, 89, of St. Petersburg . The twin announcements about the economics of old age hit the Tampa Bay area particularly hard because of its high concentration of Medicare enrollees and Social Security recipients. About one in five area residents is on Medicare and Social Security, more than half a million people whose household incomes will change Jan. 1.

Medicaid shortfall increases fourfold (October 16, 2003)
A $37 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid program that came to light last month has now grown to about $150 million, thanks to higher-than-expected costs in the first quarter of the fiscal year that began July 1. The problem is now estimated to be about $112 million bigger than previously reported, in part because the number of people covered by Medicaid in July, August and September exceeded projections. In addition, the state's payments to health-care providers during that three-month period exceeded the amount of money that had been set aside for such payments.

Medicare Premium to Increase by 13.5 Percent Next Year (October 16, 2003)
The Medicare premium will shoot up next year to $66.60 a month, an increase of 13.5 percent, or $7.90 a month, the Bush administration said on Wednesday. That is one of the largest increases in the history of the program. Federal officials said the rise resulted from increases in Medicare spending for doctors' services, outpatient hospital care and medical equipment used at home by beneficiaries. Earlier this year, they noted, Congress increased payments to doctors. The new premium does not include the cost of new prescription drug benefits, which would begin in 2006 under legislation that Congress is working on.

U.S. Pension Agency Says It May Need a Bailout (October 15, 2003)
The troubled government agency that stands behind the nation's corporate pension plans is suffering mounting losses and could be forced to seek a taxpayer bailout, the agency's director said Tuesday. Likening the situation to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, the director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. told Congress that without structural changes the system would collapse. The agency, which insures retirement plans for 44 million American workers and retirees, is running a record deficit of $8.8 billion — a dramatic jump from the $5.7-billion shortfall the agency forecast earlier this year. The prime culprit: a series of major bankruptcies, mainly involving airlines and steel companies that required the agency to step in and assume the costs of funding the companies' pensions. Why does the public pick up the tab for “risk-taking” companies’ failures?  

Report Faults Medicaid Managed Care Plan (October 14, 2003)
People are dropped from the Medicaid rolls in New York too frequently, only to re-enroll later, hindering the program's ability to cut costs and provide high-quality health care to millions of poor people, a report says. For 12 years, the state has tried to get Medicaid recipients out of fee-for-service programs and into health maintenance organizations, a transition that officials predicted would improve care and save money. But there has been little success in either area, and the main problem is "churning," in which recipients move in and out of the Medicaid program, according to the report by the United Hospital Fund, a policy group that receives financial support from hospitals.

Vermonters to be billed for Medicaid (October 14, 2003)
Nearly 36,600 Vermonters will begin receiving monthly premium bills soon for their state-subsidized health care. The bills, from $5 to $75, will replace the co-payments that participants in Vermont 's Medicaid-related health and pharmacy programs paid for their services. "We've gotten a clear mandate to switch to this system, and our job is to make sure that it is deployed on time," said John Michael Hall, commissioner of the department of Prevention, Assistance, Transition and Health Access. Bills will start going out at the end of next month for premiums due at the end of December. Participants could lose their health insurance if they fail to pay on time.

Prescription bills not right medicine for seniors (October 12, 2003)
Bills recently passed by the U.S. House and Senate to provide a Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors, although well-intended and aimed at providing a much-needed benefit for many on Medicare, have serious flaws. If you are among the more than 12 million retirees who receive Medigap and/or prescription drug coverage from your former employer, these benefits are in serious jeopardy. Not only would you receive less coverage under the current proposals, but the cost would be higher than that of your employer-sponsored plans.

Medicare Drug Bills Assailed by Clinton (October 11, 2003)
The bills in Congress to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare would actually raise costs for millions of New Yorkers and result in poorer coverage for many of them, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Friday. Though to many Americans Mrs. Clinton embodies the efforts to expand government-sponsored health coverage, she was one of just 11 Democrats to vote against the Medicare drug bill that the Senate passed in June. She said on Friday that she would oppose any bill that emerged from a House-Senate conference committee, unless the committee came up with a bill more generous than the ones already passed. "Either version, the Senate or the House, would represent a net loss for most retirees," Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference with union leaders, local officials and Representative Timothy Bishop, Democrat of Suffolk County.

New Law Helps With Retirement Benefits for Workers Hurt on the Job (October 10, 2003)
The US Congress passed new legislation that will help make up for any shortfall in retirement benefits for federal employees who are disabled or injured while working. The legislation, which grew out of the case of a Pentagon employee injured in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, will ensure that workers receive full pension benefits no matter how long their recovery period.

Drug Dealbreaker (October 10, 2003)
For more than a decade, a unified electorate has demanded that Congress update Medicare—the Great Society health insurance program for older and disabled Americans—to cover the cost of prescription drugs. Medicare is a great social success: it has extended and improved dramatically the quality of life for older Americans. But well into its fourth decade the program is getting rusty. For starters, Medicare does not cover most home or long-term care and it has imposed harsh limits on the mental health care that is covered. For years, however, politicians have focused nearly all their attention on one great coverage gap: the cost of the medicines that doctors prescribe to their patients. Nearly everyone agrees that it makes no sense to pay a physician to prescribe a drug that is unaffordable or to pay for surgeries and hospitalizations that would be avoidable if patients had access to necessary medications. 

Social Security raises to be thin (October 9, 2003)
Steward Sparks and 47 million other older Americans are bracing for news on the latest annual increase in Social Security benefits, starting in January. AARP, the Washington-based organization that represents the 50-and-up crowd, expects an increase of about 2 percent when the annual cost-of-living hike is announced next Thursday. If that is accurate, it would be the third-lowest boost in 15 years.  

Medicare Bill Hits New York Hospitals the Hardest (October 9, 2003)
The debate in Congress on adding drug coverage to Medicare has largely obscured a parallel fight over whether the bill should cut or add billions of dollars in Medicare payments to hospitals, particularly teaching hospitals. New York has far more money at stake in that struggle than any other state. Depending on how various House and Senate proposals are resolved, hospitals nationwide could see a net loss of up to $5.4 billion in Medicare payments over 10 years, compared with 2002 levels, $2.1 billion of that in New York , according to an analysis by the Healthcare Association of New York State, a hospital lobbying group. Part of that reduction would come from a cut of roughly 15 percent in payments made only to teaching hospitals, which are most heavily concentrated in New York .

Ohio: Bipartisan deal to extend Medicare drug benefit ( October 7, 2003 )
A tentative agreement between congressional Republicans and Democrats would save Ohio $275 million annually on medicine for seniors enrolled in Medicaid. The agreement would extend the Medicare drug benefit Congress passed in June. The nation's governors have lobbied for it over the objections of the Bush administration. Prescription-drug benefits are the fastest growing part of the state's overburdened Medicaid budget, rising an average of 18 percent annually. In 2001, the 222,339 seniors in Medicaid - who made up only 13 percent of Medicaid enrollees - accounted for almost half of Ohio 's Medicaid drug costs, according to the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services.

Medicare Plan Lifts Premiums for the Affluent (October 6, 2003)
With unexpected support from some Democrats, Republican negotiators from the House and the Senate say they are seriously considering a change in Medicare that would require elderly people with high incomes to pay higher premiums than other beneficiaries. The discussions come as the negotiators step up their efforts to reach agreement by Oct. 17 on a bill to overhaul Medicare and add prescription drug benefits. The proposal to link premiums to income raises a philosophical and political question: Should wealthy people pay more for Medicare?  

Western Pennsylvania's seniors could see HMO bills soar (October 2, 2003)
Retirees and disabled people who belong to the region's largest Medicare HMO can expect double-digit premium increases in 2004, the seventh consecutive annual jump for many of them since Highmark Inc. began marketing the Security Blue plans nearly nine years ago. Highmark said it plans to raise premiums for the HMO's members in Allegheny and 10 surrounding counties by 31 percent to 55 percent, depending on what version of the health plan they choose. Premiums in counties outside the 11-county area, which are higher now, increased by smaller amounts.  

Dean Struggles With a Stance Over Medicare ( October 1, 2003 )
Back in 1995, when a new Republican-controlled Congress was in a pitched ideological battle with the Democrats over the budget, Howard Dean was an iconoclastic, budget-balancing governor of Vermont and chairman of the National Governors Association, willing — even eager — to challenge party orthodoxy on spending. Dr. Dean said, according to news reports at the time, that he "fully subscribed" to the idea of substantially reducing the growth rate in Medicare spending and he praised that element of a Senate Republican budget plan that was vehemently opposed by Democrats on Capitol Hill. He argued that "we ought to put Social Security back on the table" in an effort to balance the federal budget, and he suggested that Congress consider raising the retirement age.

Medicare cap on therapies OK'd ( September 30, 2003 )
Seniors on Medicare increasingly are forced to make tough decisions as their out-of-pocket medical expenses continue to rise. Now they'll face one more: whether to drive to the nearest hospital for rehabilitative therapies they might need, pay for it themselves or do without. On Monday, a federal district court judge in Washington , D.C. , turned back a legal attempt by consumer advocates to block a cap on Medicare reimbursements for speech, occupational and physical therapies. The federal government now can place a $1,590 annual limit on physical and speech therapies, with a separate $1,590 annual limit for occupational therapy, beginning with care received Sept. 1.

Bush Prods Lawmakers to Step Up Pace of Medicare Talks ( September 26, 2003 )
President Bush intervened in talks on a Medicare drug bill today (September 26), trying to galvanize negotiations that have been slowed by deep disagreements between Republicans from the House and those from the Senate. After a meeting with lawmakers working on the legislation, Mr. Bush said, "The sentiment was optimistic." He said he believed that they could reach agreement on a comprehensive Medicare bill before Congress adjourns this year. House and Senate negotiators have set an ambitious schedule, which calls for them to complete work on the bill by Oct. 17. But some lawmakers say the goal is unrealistic, since the conferees have scarcely begun to tackle the hardest issues.  

US: $400 billion deficit in pension plan funding ( September 25, 2003 ) The head of the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) raised the specter of a crisis in the government-insured pension system that could make the savings and loan bailout of the 1980s pale in comparison. In testimony before Congress earlier this month (September 4), Steven Kandarian, the federal pension insurance agency’s executive director, estimated the total underfunding of pension obligations at a whopping $400 billion at the end of 2002, up from a previous record $150 billion in 2001. These huge shortfalls result in large measure from losses on pension funds invested in the stock market along with record low interest rates. With their focus on the bottom line, companies have held back making payments to restore depleted pension funds.

California: 2 Health Plans Cut Back on Coverage (September 24, 2003)
Blue Cross of California
and Kaiser Permanente will drop Medicare Plus Choice plan coverage for more than 7,500 people in Ventura and Santa Clara counties next year in what the companies described as regrettable but unavoidable decisions. The change will affect 2,937 Blue Cross members and 3,500 Kaiser members in Ventura County, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Bush Holds the Nation's Health in His Hands (September 22, 2003) 
The author reflects his vision on the role of President in the nation’s health issues. He says that the leadership function of a president is critically important when it comes to sensitive and complex domestic policy, just as it is in foreign affairs and national security. The author also says that it's up to President to crystallize national issues, especially when deeply held values are involved and when today's needs must be weighed against future costs. He thinks that if the president fails to clarify the national agenda, he leaves the door open to political grandstanding and a special-interest free-for-all — as we're now experiencing with Medicare.

Senators Debate About Social Security (September 22, 2003)
Lawmakers are trying to bring debate back to the Senate floor, tackling the nation's most urgent issues with good, old-fashioned oratory. Four senators faced off Monday night over Social Security. The program's projected shortfall didn't get funded, the arguments weren't new and neither side budged. All the senators decided was that the country faces tough choices in restoring the system's financial health. 

Younger, Older Adults at Risk (September 16, 2003)
Americans too old to be considered children and too young for Medicare are particularly vulnerable to gaps in the health insurance system. For young adults just starting to work and still unsettled in a career, finding stable -- and affordable -- coverage is the problem. For those between middle age and retirement, finding any coverage at a time when they are more likely to suffer from chronic illness and require complex and expensive care is the challenge.

Retirees Alarmed at Threat of Cuts in Drug Benefits (September 15, 2003)

As Congress works on legislation to cover prescription drugs under Medicare, lawmakers have been deluged with complaints from retirees who fear losing drug benefits they already have from former employers. Some lawmakers say this issue is emerging as the most immediate threat to the legislation. Congress is frantically seeking ways to address the concern, by offering tax credits, subsidies or other incentives for employers to continue providing drug benefits to retirees. The tax credits would be available to employers who maintain drug coverage or supplement what Medicare provides.

Texas: HealthSouth Faces Medicare Fraud Investigation (September 11, 2003)
Federal law enforcement officials are investigating possible Medicare fraud at HealthSouth, the troubled chain of rehabilitation and surgery centers, after a Texas jury awarded $1.5 million in damages to the former medical director of a Houston hospital, officials said yesterday. Violations of federal Medicare regulations, if proved, could be punished by fines and even loss of Medicare accreditation. Government investigators said they were looking for patterns of wrongdoing in the extensive system of HealthSouth hospitals and centers after obtaining admissions of fraudulent behavior by former executives at the company's headquarters in Birmingham, Ala.

Medicare: A political battle, then and now (September 9, 2003)
Medicare, which covers some 40 million Americans, was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson and culminated decades of partisan battles over whether there should be a national health insurance program. Not only are the program's basic guarantees and structure very similar today to what was passed 38 years ago, the current debate over how to reform and update what many consider an obsolete social program to prepare for the retirement of millions of baby boomers also calls forth many of the same basic partisan arguments that made its enactment such a difficult and lengthy process. Now, approaching autumn 2003, after years of failed legislation and negotiation, a congressional conference committee is poised to craft a final bill that could partially privatize Medicare a concession to the Republicans and add a prescription drug benefit a long-time goal of Democrats and an expansion some say is the largest in program history.

Fewer People on Medicare Are Dropped by H.M.O.'s, (September 9, 2003)
The exodus of health maintenance organizations from Medicare, a trend that has alarmed elderly people and members of Congress since 1999, will slow to a trickle next year, the industry said today. Karen M. Ignagni, president of the American Association of Health Plans, the lobby for H.M.O.'s and other private plans, said they would drop 39,000 Medicare beneficiaries next year. By contrast, health plans dropped 2.4 million beneficiaries from 1999 to 2003. Some H.M.O.'s have pulled out of Medicare, while others have curtailed their participation by withdrawing from specific counties.

Blue Cross to leave Medicare HMO area (September 9, 2003)
Georgia's largest health insurer is pulling out of the Medicare HMO business, affecting 19,000 metro Atlanta seniors.Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia on Monday blamed inadequate reimbursements from the federal government for its withdrawal from the Medicare program.The 19,000 members will have the option of joining the remaining HMO serving Georgians in Medicare -- Kaiser Permanente -- or joining the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program. Blue Cross said its Medicare services will continue until Jan. 1.

The pension time bomb may explode, or perhaps it's just a dud (September 08, 2003)
There is enough gloom pervading the topic of retirement funding without considering what impact the market's performance over the next few years will have on pension plans, Individual Retirement Accounts and 401(k) portfolios. Recent trends have been encouraging. Through Friday, the Standard & Poor's 500 is up 16 percent this year. But there are market pundits warning of lean years on the horizon. If they are on the money, problems companies already are experiencing funding their pension plans will be compounded. Individuals who curtailed their retirement savings in recent years will be caught in the same squeeze.

Lawmakers woo teachers to shun retirement, stay on job (September 08, 2003)
CORAL SPRINGS - As last school year wound down, Fran Tankovich dreaded the thought that she would no longer be teaching her high school art students, who ranged from natural talents to diamonds in the rough. At 60, she faced mandatory retirement because she had signed up for a deferred retirement program five years ago. At the time she enrolled, it meant more than $100,000 in extra pension money, an offer she called "too good to refuse." But Florida lawmakers this year gave Tankovich and hundreds of other teachers facing the same situation another chance to remain in the classroom and keep their extra retirement benefits.

Debt worsens for teachers’ retirement plan (September 8, 2003)
Legislators learned Sunday that the state Teachers’ Retirement System needs even more money than they thought to meet its obligations. Harry Mandel, actuary for the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board, told a legislative interim committee that the plan’s unfunded liability is actually $253.6 million larger than had been projected.

Underfunding of Pensions Could Exceed $80 Billion (September 5, 2003)
Pension underfunding at troubled U.S. companies has doubled this fiscal year and could exceed $80 billion, with airlines accounting for nearly a third of the shortfall, the government said Thursday. The alarming trend further threatens the health of Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the agency that insures retirement plans for 44 million workers and retirees. After recent mammoth bailouts of pension plans, particularly those of several large retailers and steelmakers, the agency has seen its own deficit balloon by $2 billion in the last year to a record $5.7 billion.

S. Florida retirees gather in D.C. to urge Medicare bills’ defeat (September 5, 2003)
Long-sought legislation to provide prescription drug coverage under Medicare is being attacked from the left and the right as Congress gets back to work this week, jeopardizing tenuous attempts to reach a compromise bill that will satisfy senior citizens.
Hundreds of retired union workers rallied on Capitol Hill in the rain on Thursday and then lobbied members of Congress to reject bills passed by the House and Senate. They strenuously argued that both bills are a bad deal for seniors and worse than nothing.

Tenet Says Its Redding Hospital May Be Barred From Medicare (September 5, 2003)
The government's move comes after the firm settled allegations that doctors there performed unnecessary surgeries. Tenet Healthcare Corp. said Thursday that its Redding Medical Center faced an exclusion from Medicare and other federal health programs, which would result in the loss of nearly half of the hospital's net patient revenue. Redding Medical, where two doctors have been accused of performing unnecessary heart surgeries, could become the first hospital not convicted of a crime to be barred from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Medicare changes could help ailing rural hospitals (September 03, 2003)
Dr. Stephen Richards' smile vanishes after his patients have left and the conversation turns to the realities of running a small, farm-town hospital. Last fiscal year, the 40-bed Kossuth Regional Health Center had a $3 million budget and finished $680,000 in the red -- the biggest deficit in Richards' quarter-century on its staff. "We're able to keep the system running because we've tightened screws, become more efficient and held costs down, but how much more can we keep doing that?" Richards said. 

Some Successful Models Ignored as Congress Works on Drug Bill      "The legislation pending in Congress does more to deform than to reform Medicare," said Dr. Paul M. Ellwood, a noted health policy analyst who was an early proponent of managed care. "Instead of creating a system of readily understandable choices based on cost and quality, Congress is writing legislation that will increase the complexity of Medicare, so it will be more difficult for seniors to navigate."

Golden Years, on $678 a Month (September 3, 2003)                         The well-being of the elderly has been improving steadily for decades. The current generation of older Americans is living longer, feeling better, being more active and earning more money. Recent stock market losses and near-invisible interest rates have darkened the picture for many elderly, even forcing some to return to work. Still, the 2000 census shows that over the last decade, the poverty rate among those 65 and older fell to 10.2 percent from 12.7 percent. But life for New York's elderly population is worsening. International Longevity Center staff, Victor Rodwin, who directs the center's World Cities Project, summed up its findings: "The message is that as the number of older people in the country in poverty has gone down, in New York City it has gone up."

Sanford announces elderly health care initiative (September 3, 2003)  South Carolina senior citizens and disabled residents soon will have more choice in deciding how their Medicaid money can be spent. Gov. Mark Sanford announced the pilot program "S.C. Choice" on a visit to a Spartanburg nursing home Wednesday. Under the program, people getting benefits from the Department of Health and Human Services' Community Long-term Care Program now can use their Medicaid money in alternate ways.

Anger and confusion reign as Congress moves to finalize a historic change to Medicare (September 3, 2003)                                                        Like many of her friends, 71-year-old Claire Krulik has carefully calculated what she spends on prescription medicines and how much help she can expect if Congress agrees to add drug coverage to Medicare. Her stark conclusion: She would be better off without either of the dueling plans facing the House of Representatives and Senate this fall. Both include a complicated array of premiums, deductibles, co-payments and gaps in coverage. Krulik, who takes medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and other ailments, gets her drugs from Canada, where they cost up to 50% less. ''For me, it wouldn't be worthwhile,'' she says of the potentially historic drug-benefit legislation moving through Congress. ''I'd still be better off getting my medications from Canada.''


Elderly worry Medicare prescription drug benefit will not cut costs (September 3, 2003)                                                                          More than three-quarters of the elderly worry they will still pay too much for prescription drugs even if Congress enacts new Medicare benefits, says a poll that shows a majority of seniors want Congress to enact a prescription drug benefit anyway.
The poll, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, showed 76 percent of the elderly are concerned they will pay too much for prescription drugs if the Medicare program is revamped to add the benefit, with 52 percent "very worried" their expenses will remain too high.

Medicare limits on therapy payments set to begin (August 25, 2003)
Despite a lawsuit and four years of reprieves, it appears the cap on Medicare payouts for physical, occupational and speech therapies finally will go into effect on Sept. 1.
From that day forward, seniors will be limited to $1,590 annually for physical and speech therapies combined, with a separate $1,590 cap for occupational therapy. In 2003, the limit would apply only to services received during the last four months of the year, but the limit would be in effect for all 12 months of 2004. Health policy advocates, as well as therapists working with the elderly, say these ceilings will be devastating for patients recovering from strokes and other debilitating illnesses. The new restrictions would allow about 15 visits a year.

Arthritis treatment scrutinized Medicare officials blame Synvisc for overpayments (August 25, 2003)
Synvisc has been a moneymaker for its manufacturer, a subsidiary of Cambridge-based Genzyme Corp. And, it turns out, Synvisc also has been profitable for doctors who prescribe it. Federal Medicare officials have named Synvisc, an arthritis pain treatment that is injected into the joint, as one of nearly three dozen culprits they say contribute to large government overpayments to physicians, which cumulatively amounted to from $1.7 billion to $2 billion in 2002 alone.

Solving the Drug Dilemma (August 22, 2003)
The House and Senate are struggling over what to do about the cost of pharmaceuticals under Medicare. Whatever the outcome -- whether, for example, consumers are allowed to import drugs from Canada or anywhere else, and whether government should negotiate with manufacturers over drug prices -- it will be no more than a short-term solution.

Drug maker touts discount plan (August 22, 2003)
Representatives of the country's largest prescription-drug maker barnstormed Iowa Thursday, urging senior citizens to apply for big discounts on popular medicines. Pfizer's "Share Card" offers most of the company's brands for $15 per month to Medicare recipients with relatively low incomes. Company Vice President Forest Harper said 8,300 Iowans have signed up since the program started last year. The company has given out 60,000 prescriptions worth $4.2 million to those people. "But you know what? It's not enough," Harper said.

Seniors scramble to defray drug costs (August 21, 2003)
The deadline for signing up for Prescription Advantage is the end of August, with a few exceptions for those between ages 65 and 66, and those who have recently moved to Massachusetts, involuntarily lost their health coverage or recently become ineligible for Medicaid. While the state's fiscal crisis, and the tugs of war that went on in the State House over the last few months, almost left without drug coverage, a group of seniors who had switched to less expensive health insurance in hopes of supplementing it with Prescription Advantage, many were never aware of how endangered the program was.

Do more to fix pensions (August 21, 2003)
A rising stock market is improving the health of private pension plans. And though it may seem counterintuitive, a recent rise in interest rates is helping, too. That's a relief, but it doesn't fix everything wrong with the nation's private pension system. Major worries remain for many private-sector employees. So Congress must make sure pension rules protect people who are counting on what they have earned for a secure retirement. And employees must stay informed so they know how proposed changes might affect them.

N.J. seeks adviser on how to invest its pension funds (August 21, 2003)
The state Treasury Department is seeking to hire a consultant for New Jersey's ailing pension funds, a move that drew fire from critics who feared that it would be the first step toward privatizing the fund's management. The request for proposals, issued to 24 firms across the country on Wednesday, calls for a consultant who would offer advice on how to invest the funds' assets.

Teachers' pension fund back on track (August 19, 2003)
The fund, which supports 136,000 retired teachers, still fell short of its performance target, according to information the fund released yesterday. The $42 billion Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) gained 2.7 percent on its investments during the 12 months ended June 30 as rising stock values in the second quarter made up for losses that the fund sustained during the second half of last year.

Gov. Kempthorne Focuses on Long-Term Care (August 18, 2003)
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said Tuesday that as leader of the National Governors Association he will emphasize long-term care - a problem for state budgets, the country's aging population and his own parents. Kempthorne's 86-year-old mother had a stroke five years ago and is being cared for by his 87-year-old father. But macular degeneration has taken his father's sight, so he can't drive or cook and has hired a caretaker to help them live together at home.

Prescription Drugs Now, Day of Reckoning Later (August 18, 2003)
President Bush and Congress have agreed to spend $400 billion on prescription drugs for the elderly over 10 years. But they rarely address a basic question: Where does the money come from? It will be borrowed from the public, officials say. In practice, economists say, workers of the future — children and grandchildren of today's Medicare beneficiaries — will have to pay much of the cost through higher taxes.

Report on Medicare Legislation Raises Concern on Costs (August 11, 2003)

A report released on August 11, raises questions about the ability of private health plans to protect the elderly from the high costs of medical care under Medicare legislation proposed by Congress.The Senate and House are working to overhaul Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly and the disabled, as a way to cover prescription drugs for the 40 million Americans now under the program. The report also examines the experience of people who have chosen to receive Medicare coverage through preferred provider plans, known as P.P.O.'s, which allow them to go outside a fixed provider network to see a doctor or hospital of their choice.

Pensions may hit new snag (August 11, 2003)
First, the stock market slump hit corporate America's pension funds. Next, it could be falling interest rates. Companies were forced to shift big money from earnings into their pension plans last year after falling share prices knocked value from their assets, leaving the plans underfunded. Now there are worries about the profit-crimping that could result from declining interest rates, which inflate companies' pension obligations. What can we expect next?

Flow from pension funds likely to slow (August 11, 2003)
Pension funds are a major source of venture capital, pumping money into private equity through defined-benefit plans, which leave investing to the employer. But such pension plans are on the wane, losing out to 401(k) plans. These plans mean more cash flow to stocks and bonds, rather than venture capital. The reason: 401(k)s and other plans that allow individuals to invest aren't suited to the long-term strategies of venture capital. Stay tuned!

Medicare+Choice enrollees face continued cost increases in 2003, costs have doubled since 1999 (August 11, 2003) 
Providing evidence of eroding benefits in the Medicare+Choice managed care program, a new Commonwealth Fund report finds that enrollees' average annual plan premiums and other out-of-pocket costs rose ten percent in 2003 to $1,964, more than double what they were in 1999.The report, Average Out-of-Pocket Health Care Costs for Medicare+Choice Enrollees Increase Ten Percent in 2003, also reveals that out-of-pocket spending for enrollees in Medicare PPO (preferred provider organization) demonstration plans is nearly 50 percent higher, on average, than costs for Medicare+Choice enrollees.

Protecting Pensions (August 08, 2003)
For 44 million Americans, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation is as important to their retirement as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is to their savings account.
But there's disturbing news: The General Accounting Office, Congress's investigating arm, recently put the PBGC - the agency that insures defined-benefit pensions - on its "high risk" list of government programs. Remember the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s? Congress spent about $124 billion in taxpayer money reimbursing savers whose S&Ls went under, "bankrupting" the federal insurer, the FSLIC.

Progress on Medicare drug card (August 6, 2003)
With the 2004 election just around the corner, the Bush administration is aiming to have a temporary discount drug card program in place by April 1. Medicare won't pick up the tab for medications until 2006 as part of a broader reform effort that's still on the table. Lawmakers are starting to agree on a way to provide seniors with prescription drug cards to bridge the gap until a permanent Medicare drug benefit arrives, Congressional negotiators said.

Cancer Drugs Face Funds Cut in a Bush Plan (August 6, 2003)
The Bush administration will soon propose significant cuts in Medicare payments for cancer drugs, based on new data suggesting that the government pays far more than the market price for such medicines, administration officials said today. They would also propose a modest increase in payments to doctors who give the drugs to patients in their offices. But, government documents show, the increased payments for medical services would be dwarfed by the cuts in payments to doctors for the drugs they buy.

State pensions face loss of billions (August 5, 2003)
State taxpayers are having to spend billions of dollars to prop up public pension plans hit hard by stock-market losses, which squeezes state budgets at a time when tax collections are growing slowly. States will contribute $9.6 billion to the nation's 12 biggest state pension plans this year, a USA TODAY survey found. That's a 35% increase in the past two years, but it is still billions of dollars less than what is needed to fund retirement benefits guaranteed to public employees.

New Rules Urged to Avert Looming Pension Crisis (July 28, 2003)
Top government officials have begun a calibrated campaign to bring attention to corporate pension plans, which they say may be on a road to collapse. But underneath their measured words are proposals that could fundamentally change the $1.6 trillion industry, altering the way pension money is set aside and invested. Treasury officials say they think that this approach would put benefits at risk, particularly at companies with older workers who will be claiming their pensions soon. "The fact of the matter is that more money is needed in those plans, to ensure that older workers receive the benefits they have earned through decades of hard work," said Peter R. Fisher, under secretary for domestic finance, in testimony to a House subcommittee panel earlier this month.

Retirement blues (July 28, 2003)
As fears grow that America’s pensions rescue fund may itself need rescuing, Britain’s main business organisation predicts that pension-fund deficits will damage economic growth for several years. America’s Congress and Treasury are looking at various proposals to ease the pensions crisis, such as raising the limits for tax deductions on pension contributions. This would encourage firms to build bigger pension surpluses while investment returns are good, so they have a bigger cushion when the markets turn bad.

Dingell in middle of Medicare overhaul (July 28, 2003)
Nearly 40 years after he witnessed the creation of Medicare, U.S. Rep. John Dingell is among 17 people who must somehow agree on a plan to expand it -- a plan that will satisfy liberals and conservatives and assist cash-strapped seniors with escalating prescription drug costs. Before the committee are two bills -- one 700 pages long, the other 1,000 pages -- both purporting to offer the best plan for senior citizens seeking prescription drug relief and the ability to shore up Medicare's finances. Will we get a bill?

Push to strip pensions of convicted pols (July 21, 2003)
Lawmakers look for possibilities to secure pensions for public employees who have been convicted of a crime. But some legislative observers remain skeptical of the odds of pension reform success. "This is never going to happen," said one source.

Elderly, infirm fear loss of Medicaid benefits (July 20, 2003)

Since the state began making sweeping changes in April aimed at reducing a projected $450 million Medicaid budget deficit this fiscal year, nearly 1,800 Kentuckians have been denied Medicaid services — based on the presumption they can care for themselves at home. Some of them haven't yet lost services because they have a right to appeal and can't be cut off without a hearing, and a growing backlog of appeals may buy some extra time. But advocates said it would be tough for many clients to win an appeal because of the stricter guidelines. 

Subsidies to Poor Pose a Hurdle to Compromise on Medicare Bill (July 21, 2003)
The House and the Senate have huge differences over how to treat poor people in legislation adding prescription drugs to Medicare. Ronald F. Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer group, said: "The subsidies for low-income seniors are vastly superior in the Senate bill. They truly help make drugs affordable. The House bill provides much less assistance to low-income people."

Law May Add Adult Day Care to Medicare (July 20, 2003)
State Medicaid programs pick up the day-care tab for low-income people in some parts of the country, while others generally pay for the service themselves. But legislation pending in Congress would add Medicare to the mix, allowing beneficiaries eligible for the program's homebound coverage to use that benefit instead for day care.

House Bill Would Boost Retirement Savings (July 18, 2001)

A House committee on Friday approved a $50 billion pension bill that would allow Americans to put more tax-deferred income into personal retirement accounts, but only after the Republican chairman summoned police in the midst of a Democratic boycott and protests over the way the measure was being handled.

Will Congress Let Accounting Fiction Obscure Pension Reality? (July 18, 2003)
What should be done when an important sector of the American economy has severe problems? The easy answer is to avoid admitting the problems and hope that time will make everything better. That is how the government dealt with the early days of the savings and loan crisis two decades ago. Which brings us to the corporate pension system.

States May Benefit, as Well, if Medicare Drug Bill Passes (July 18, 2003)
The states hope to be among the big winners if Congress passes a Medicare drug benefit, allowing them to shift expenses from state-financed programs onto the new federal program. The windfall could be billions of dollars a year, or it could be far less, depending on how differences between the Senate and House versions of the Medicare bill are hashed out in a conference committee. Stay tuned!


Police, firefighters earn those pensions (July 18, 2003)

Most people do not realize that firefighters and police officers in Portland are not covered by the Public Employees Retirement System.    In over a half-century, there has never been a time when the general fund of the city was even close to having to pay retirement and disability costs for Portland's firefighters and police officers. What are the possibilities to change the situation?


Executives Criticize Proposed Pension Rules (July 18, 2003)
As corporate America struggles with rising pension costs and liabilities, a group representing senior corporate executives is lobbying against a plan to force companies to give more information about their pension plans. Current efforts to increase pension disclosure would simply result in further confusion on an already complex subject.


Pension program blasted (July 18, 2003)

The Federal employees launched a new computerized system last month, its 3 million customers were promised quick access to the kind of detailed financial information. Workers at the National Finance Center in New Orleans, which administers the system for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board in Washington, say the program isn't working and they are besieged with complaints. They say they often have to enter data as many as 10 times before the system will accept it. The House Government Reform Committee is investigating and plans hearings on the problem Thursday.


Phase out nursing homes, state board says (July 17, 2003)
The traditional nursing home - where frail, but not necessarily seriously ill residents live for years under the watchful eyes of floor nurses and their assistants - should be phased out, a state board has told Gov. Jim Doyle and state lawmakers. That's because ever-tightening government budgets coupled with an array of market forces make it fiscally untenable to support the traditional nursing home, he and others say.  Who will care for older, frail older persons?


AARP balks at drug plan Stance could derail Medicare benefit (July 17, 2003)

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), America's largest organization of seniors, warned Congress this week that separate versions of the legislation passed by the Senate and the House offer inadequate benefits and could do more harm than good. It threatened to oppose a final version unless improvements are made.


Negotiations Begin on Resolving Differences in House and Senate Drug Benefit Plans (July 16, 2003)

Divided along ideological as well as political lines, senior lawmakers from the House and Senate pledged their best efforts to find common ground on July 15 as they opened talks over Medicare prescription drug and modernization legislation. The hard work of compromise began on July 16, as lawmakers try to mesh different bills passed by the House and Senate, each designed to achieve twin objectives.


Medicare Bills Have Pitfalls For Poor (July 16, 2003)

Since low-income subsidies are less generous in the House Medicare plan, low-income elderly Americans would pay substantially more out of pocket, sometimes even thousands of dollars a year, under the House plan than under the Senate measure. But experts find the Senate version is flawed as well. It would exclude very low-income Medicare beneficiaries from prescription drug coverage under the federal health program for the elderly.


Medicare Drug-Benefit Plan Is Mixed Bag for the Elderly (July 14, 2003)

Many potential beneficiaries of Medicare bill say proposed coverage is too skimpy.  Others find it too confusing. Although many of Medicare's 40 million elderly and disabled beneficiaries would get significant new help paying for medicine, people who don't spend much on drugs would have to decide whether the policies are worth the monthly cost. For some other retirees, their former employers may drop drug coverage once Medicare offers it and they may end up with less coverage than they have today.


Prescription for Politics (July 14, 2003)

Congress's $400 billion Medicare prescription drug bill, advertised as a way to help elderly Americans pay for their medicine, has become a magnet for dozens of unrelated provisions benefiting hospitals, doctors, medical equipment companies and an array of other health care interests. Lobbyists are pursuing special provisions to get a part of the biggest health measure in years. Some provisions would help specific companies, industries and states.


Prescription Drug Coverage for Medicare Beneficiaries: A Side-by-Side Comparison of Selected Proposals (July 10, 2003)

With Members of Congress working to reconcile differences between the Medicare prescription drug proposals recently passed by the House and Senate, the Kaiser Family Foundation released an updated version of Prescription Drug Coverage for Medicare Beneficiaries:  A Side-by-Side Comparison of S. 1 and H.R. 1. This comparison describes the two bills, including information on premiums, deductibles, and cost-sharing, as well as provisions on assistance for low-income enrollees.  This updated version of the document builds on the previous one by including additional information on payments to drug plan sponsors and the specifics of the premium support provisions in H.R. 1.


Industry Using Its Leverage in Medicare Debate (July 9, 2003)

To design a Medicare plan that will work means getting the participation of health insurance companies, managed-care plans and drug-benefit managers. This gives the industry tremendous leverage and lawmakers working for compromise must weigh private sector's demands against the needs of the elderly and disabled.


Medicare Bill Hurdle: Insurance Subsidies (July 8, 2003)

Lawmakers are facing a key obstacle in reconciling the House and the Senate Medicare bills. The House's version of the legislation requires federal subsidies to Medicare recipients who buy private health insurance policies that include drug coverage. The Senate version would provide drug benefits without such benefits. Negotiators must resolve the difference before the bill can be passed to President Bush to be signed into law.


Senate Democrats Release Letter to President Bush (July 8, 2003)

Senate Democrats on July 8 released a letter to President Bush and Senate Conferees on the prescription drug bill laying out the important issues that need to be addressed in the Conference Committee. The letter calls for careful consideration to maintain bipartisan support for the legislation. 37 Senators have signed the letter.


Plans Improve Federal Workers' Drug Benefits (July 8, 2003)

As the House and Senate are trying to reconcile their different versions of Medicare legislation, the House starts to consider a bill to ensure civilian federal retirees prescription drug benefits better than Medicare recipients. The House is expected to pass the legislation this week.


Loopholes let well-off seniors skirt Medicaid rules (July 7, 2003)

Many States are planning to cut spending on Medicaid for the poor or immigrants. Although targeting Medicaid makes sense for cash-strapped States to reduce fiscal deficits, many states are cutting aid only to the poor while sparing a huge Medicaid benefit enjoyed by middle- and upper-income families: nursing-home stays. These households are taking advantage of loopholes in the law to hide elderly relatives' wealth so the seniors can qualify for costly long-term care at public expense. The author suggests that “a fairer way to limit Medicaid costs would be to curb services for those best able to afford them”.


Report Criticizes Federal Oversight of State Medicaid (July 7, 2003)

The General Accounting Office investigators examined 15 Medicaid waivers, states that are exempted from some federal regulations and give them broad discretion to decide who gets what services, and found problems with the quality of care in 11 of the programs. In many cases, Medicaid beneficiaries simply did not receive the services they were supposed to receive.


Employers Seek to Shift Costs of Drugs to U.S. (July 2, 2003)

Last week’s Medicare bills will shift some of the soaring drug costs from the country’s largest employers to the federal government by creating Medicare-subsidized managed care organizations that offered drug benefits and subsidies for employers that maintained their drug coverage.  Companies are lobbying hard to make sure that those gains survive in the final version of the law. Some critics are attacking the Medicare bills as corporate welfare.


Medicare bill would require co-pays for seniors' lab tests (July 2, 2003)

Medicare bills passed by the Senate last week might trim a benefit that could cost seniors billions of dollars. The bill has a provision requiring Medicare patients to pay 20 percent of the costs of their clinical lab work, such as blood tests and urinalysis. Seniors would have to start paying in January. Some physicians predicted many of their patients would be unable to pay the new fees and wouldn't get the tests they need.


Federal Pension Provider Overwhelmed (July 2, 2003)

As the nation's pension corporate system is under severe stress, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), the federal agency charged with ensuring that workers from bankrupt companies get their pensions, is facing a growing workload. The PBGC serves as financial trustee for nearly 1 million individual pensioners and pays out $2.5 billion a year. It expects more customers by next year and has already inherited more than 100,000 new customers in the past six months. Some people are disappointed by PBGC’s administrative delays and rules that limit their pensions.


Private Health Insurers Begin Lobbying for Changes in Medicare Drug Legislation (July 1, 2003)

The private health insurance industry is lobbying Congress to make major changes to the Medicare bills passed last week. They said few private plans would enter the Medicare market without increased subsidies and more stability. They denounced the proposed limit on the number of private plans. Under the proposed legislation, Medicare would sign contracts with up to three preferred provider plans in each region of the country.


Prescription Drug Plan Faces Tests (June 30, 2003)

The House and Senate passed bills on June 27, 2003 to add a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare. But it is far from certain the plan would work, even if the House and the Senate are able to resolve differences between their bills. Some companies, looking for their last chance to affect the legislation, say neither version will offer businesses enough profit to attract interest. Experts say “the willingness of insurers to take part remains an open question”.


Drug-benefit plans greeted warily: Many seniors voice suspicion, confusion about the proposals (June 27, 2003)

The Senate and House both passed the Medicare bill to offer prescription-drug coverage to seniors on June 27. But interviews with seniors around the country show many of them are confused and suspicious about the bill, which would not take effect until 2006. Some seniors say “they're better off sticking with employer-sponsored plans or buying cheaper drugs over the Internet or from Canada”. Still others are worried being “pushed into private health plans in exchange for defraying their drug costs, even though the program would be voluntary”.


House and Senate Pass Measures for Broad Overhaul of Medicare (June 27, 2003)

After a severe test of President Bush's influence on Capitol Hill, Congress early today approved landmark legislation that would overhaul Medicare and expand its benefits to include prescription drug coverage and give private health plans a larger role in the program. The Senate passed its bill by 76 to 21. The House approved its version by the narrowest of margins, 216 to 215. The two bills differ in some key areas, but their passage represents a major step toward enactment of the most far-reaching changes in the health-care program for the elderly since it was established in 1965.


Senate Rebuffs Bid to Close a Gap in Medicare Drug Coverage (June 25, 2003)

The Senate turned back Democratic efforts to expand a proposed prescription drug benefit for elderly people with high drug cost and neared agreement on the divisive issue of how far to go in encouraging private health plans to provide Medicare coverage. Both developments helped clear the way for Senate approval later this week of the first major overhaul of Medicare since it was created four decades ago.


Trends in private Medicare+Choice plans provide warnings for Medicare debate (June 25, 2003)

While Congress is debating Medicare bills to encourage more use of private insurance plans, the article lists six lessons that legislators should learn from the six-year-Medicare+Choice program, Medicare's managed care alternative to its traditional fee-for-service program. According to the article, many Medicare+Choice enrollees have been faced with a limited choice of plans in their area, instability in provider participation compared with fee-for-service Medicare, significantly increased out-of-pocket costs, and a confusing, complicated benefit structure.


Bush Pushes for Expanded Private Role in Medicare (June 24, 2003)

President Bush pressured Congress to pass a Medicare drug bill this week, even as conservatives in his own party criticized the legislation and pushed for changes. For the second consecutive week, the Senate debated amendments to the legislation, which would offer new prescription drug benefits to 40 million elderly and disabled Americans on Medicare, at a cost of $400 billion in the next 10 years.


Senate putting $12 billion more into Medicare bill (June 24, 2003)

The Senate Medicare bill came in below its $400 billion 10-year budget, giving lawmakers an extra $12 billion to use. The lead sponsor of the Senate Medicare prescription drug bill said he hoped to use at least half of the $12 billion available to encourage more health plans to participate. One possibility, not yet finalized, is to put half the money into encouraging employers to keep providing health coverage to retirees and put the other half into encouraging more Preferred Provider Organizations, or PPOs, to venture into Medicare.


Senate Backs Wider Importing of Canada Prescription Drugs (June 24, 2003)

The Senate voted 62-28 to allow licensed pharmacists and drug distributors to bring in medications from Canada, where they often are less expensive. The amendment, attached to broader Medicare bill, would allow people around the country to purchase Canadian products in their local stores. Currently, only drug makers and their affiliates can legally import prescription drugs.


NCOA Opposes House Proposal for Medicare and Prescription Drug Bills (June 23, 2003)

The National Council on the Aging prefers the Senate Medicare and prescription drug bill. It opposes the House proposals because of the weaker low-income protections, possible premium increase, 48 percent of beneficiaries without coverage, and the dangerous precedent of cutting protections based on income.


Long-term Care: Federal Oversight of Growing Medicaid Home and Community-Based Waivers should Be Strengthened (June 20, 2003)

Over the last decade, states have increased their support for long-term care services in individuals’ home or in other community-based settings – such as an alternative to care in nursing homes and other institutions. For many vulnerable elderly and nonelderly individuals with physical, developmental, or cognitive disabilities, these alternative settings and services are seen as preferable to institutional care. Most state funding of long-term care is through Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for certain low-income individuals. Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) waivers, authorized under section 1915 (c) of the Social Security Act, are the primary means by which states provide noninstitutional long-term care.


NARFE Fears Medicare Changes Could Cut Drug Coverage for Retirees (June 20, 2003)

The National Association of Retired Federal Employees announced it opposes legislation that would revamp the Medicare program, because $400 billion would not be enough to create a Medicare drug benefit equivalent to the coverage offered under most plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Under the House and Senate Medicare bills, 40 million Medicare recipients will receive $400 billion worth federal subsidies for prescription drugs over 10 years.


Public cool to U.S. Congress's Medicare proposals (June 19, 2003)

While both the House and Senate Medicare bills seek to encourage beneficiaries to join private plans for health care services, the public prefers the government-run program to private plans. Two polls suggest that “many Americans are not ready to embrace the plans being considered by Congress.”  Older persons object to the high prices of drugs that fuel pharmaceutical profits.  If the private drug plans win out, there will be no incentive to lower the cost of drugs.  The rich get richer!


Debate Starts on Medicare and Coverage for Drugs (June 17, 2003)

For the first time in year, lawmakers were debating a Medicare drug bill considered to have a good chance of passage. As the Senate yesterday began this “historic debate” on legislation to add prescription drug benefits to Medicare, liberals and conservatives immediately signaled that they would seek changes in the bill. The bill would allocate $400 billion drug benefits over 10 years and include private insurance plans in the program.


CalPERS weighs hefty HMO hikes (June 17, 2003)

CalPERS members may face an 18.4 percent increase in the HMO premium if CalPERS’ health committee don’t agree to raise fees for medication today. The proposed rate increase signals U.S. employers a continuous surge in medical costs next year.


Aging population makes this deficit scarier: Digging out will be harder as Medicare, Social Security pressures mount (June 16, 2003)

While it’s beginning to look a lot like the 1980s with rising deficits, huge tax cuts, and soaring spending, there’s one big difference: the baby boomers are aging. Views differ among economists but it is certain that the vast tax cuts for the wealthy meant that surpluses could not be used for immediate or distant social needs to benefit all Americans.


Alliance to Fight Grassley-Baucus Medicare Bill at Grassroots (June 13, 2003)

After the Senate Finance Committee approved the Grassley-Baucus Medicare bill on June 12, 2003, the Alliance for Retired Americans has launched a massive grassroots campaign to defeat it. The Alliance will provide its groups around the country with flyers, talking points and fact sheets to spread the word that the bill will only exacerbate the prescription drug crisis facing older Americans. It has also established a toll-free number that seniors may use to call their Senators to oppose the Medicare bill.


Bush Urges Prescription Drug Plan for Elderly Americans (June 12, 2003)

President Bush pushes for Medicare reform in his speech in Chicago yesterday. He said there is a growing consensus in both houses of Congress and both political parties that senior citizens need more choices and better health care benefits. He challenged lawmakers to send him a bill to reform the government's health plan for seniors and the disabled by the July 4 recess.


Adding Confidence, Along With Drug Benefits, to Medicare (June 11, 2003)

Lawmakers yesterday set forth details of their proposal for Medicare reform, making the drug benefits slightly more generous than they had originally planned. Under the bill, outpatient drug benefits would become available in 2006.


Bush Will Accept Identical Benefits on Medicare Drugs (June 10, 2003)

Bush administration today accepted equal prescription drug benefits for people in the traditional Medicare program and those who join private health plans. The administration originally insisted on more generous drug benefits for enrollees in private plans. The move is the administration’s compromise with a Senate plan to give the same Medicare drug benefits to everybody.


Medicare-Drug Deal Faces Dual Critiques (June 9, 2003)

Although Senate leaders reached agreement to provide prescription-drug benefits under Medicare, disagreements still remain over the extent of the drug benefit and cost. The bill is facing dual critics: conservatives say benefit isn’t generous enough while liberals see the coverage as too stingy.


Medicare Debate Focuses on Merits of Private Plans (June 9, 2003)

A central issue of the Congress debate over prescription drug benefits for the elderly is “whether private health plans can deliver better care at lower cost” than Medicare. Republicans maintain that Medicare is obsolete and antiquated, while liberal Democrats point out that Republicans are trying to “unravel the one piece of universal health insurance we have in this country."


Medicare Announces Updated Rates For Long Term Care Hospitals (June 3, 2003)

The final rule for the Long-Term Care Hospital (LTCH) Prospective Payment System (PPS) annual payment rate updates and policy changes [CMS-1472-F] went on display at the Office of the Federal Register on Friday, May 30, 2003. This final rule will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, June 6, 2003. This final rule discusses the change to the annual LTCH PPS rate update cycle to July 1st (from October 1st), and includes payment amounts and factors that are effective for July 1, 2003.


Governors Finalizing Proposal to Revamp Medicaid (June 3, 2003)

The nation's governors are nearly reaching an agreement on a plan that would fundamentally change Medicaid. The draft plan, with considerable support among Republican and Democratic governors, is designed to revamp the country’s largest public insurance program. The plan will hand states vast new powers to set health benefits for the poor. Some congressional Democrats and health care groups oppose the plan, which may go to Bush the first week in June.


Senate GOP looking at new Medicare drug plan with $400 annual deductible (June 3, 2003)

Senate Republicans are considering a new Medicare option that seniors receive benefits through a Preferred Provider Organization under Medicare. The plan will provide preventive benefits, prescription drug coverage and protection against catastrophic health care expenses. Medicare recipients will have a $400 annual deductible and pay another $400 each time they are hospitalized.


Pensioners Make Case For NIS Tax Breaks (June 2, 2003)

The Barbados Association of Retired Persons Inc. (BARP) submitted to the government proposals to exempt from tax all pensions paid by the National Insurance Scheme. BARP’s proposals, first submitted to Government in 1999, were submitted to the political parties on April 3.


GOP Eyes New Medicare Drug Legislation (June 2, 2003)

President Bush and the Congress launch intensive campaign this week to enact Medicare prescription drug legislation. Bush and GOP leaders put the issue high on the legislative agenda. However, officials and lawmakers recognize that tremendous obstacles exist to have the bill pass in the Congress.


Prescription Drug Coverage for Medicare Beneficiaries: A Side-by-Side Comparison of Selected Proposals (June 2003)

T his document, prepared by Health Policy Alternatives, Inc., provides a side-by-side comparison of two leading proposals to provide outpatient prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries: H.R. 2473, The Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act of 2003 (as reported on June 17, 2003), and S. 1, The Prescription Drug and Medicare Improvement Act of 2003 (as reported on June 13, 2003). This document summarizes the key provisions of these proposals as part of the Foundation’s continuing effort to track the Medicare prescription drug debate. This side-by-side will be updated in the near future to reflect key developments in this debate. Also click on Medicare Drug Benefit Calculator to calculate your Medicare benefits.


'Will Social Security Be There For You?': How Americans Perceive Their Benefits (June 2003)

Americans may be uncertain of their future Social Security benefits for several reasons, including uncertainty about their future labor earnings, the formula now determining Social Security benefits, and the future structure of the Social Security system. To learn how Americans perceive their benefits, researchers elicited Social Security expectations from respondents to the Survey of Economic Expectations. They have also performed a more intensive face-to-face survey on a small sample of respondents.


Medicare Prescription Drugs Through Private Drug-Only Plans: A Discussion with Actuaries (June 2003)

Central to the current debate over Medicare prescription drug coverage is the role of private insurance plans in providing drug benefits to Medicare beneficiaries. This report offers views from health actuaries knowledgeable about the Medicare program and the prescription drug debate on key issues that emerge for potential plan sponsors, such as insurers and PBMs, in providing prescription drug benefits to Medicare beneficiaries through private, drug-only plans.


Medicare and Prescription Drug Spending Chartpack (June 2003)

This chartpack provides 2003 and 2006 estimates of total and out-of-pocket prescription drug spending by Medicare beneficiaries. The data and analysis for this chartpack, prepared by Actuarial Research Corporation, assume no change in current law.


Medicare Tomorrow: The Report of The Century Foundation Task Force on Medicare Reform (June 2003)

This report examines recent changes to Medicare and proposed reforms to the program, with an emphasis on how they may affect Medicare beneficiaries and their families. It puts forth a set of principles that should be used as the basis for any substantial reforms to Medicare. The report suggests that policymakers ought to focus on what a well-designed Medicare program should look like rather than dwelling primarily on the program’s potential financing difficulties. The volume also includes background papers on competition-based reforms to Medicare, written by Lisa Potetz; and on supplemental and employer-sponsored insurance, written by Thomas Rice. A summary of the report is available at the following link.


Competition-based Approaches to Medicare Reform (June 2003)

This article outlines several approaches to health plan competition that have helped to shape the current debate. These are the theoretical approaches known as "managed competition" and "defined contribution" and the existing models of plan competition found in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and in Medicare+Choice.


Paying for medical value: A better outpatient prescription drug benefit for Medicare (June 2003)

A number of proposals for including an outpatient prescription drug benefit in Medicare are currently under consideration in Washington. Yet, while the question of what is covered must be at the heart of a successful drug benefit, it is an afterthought in most existing proposals. This issue brief proposes a different standard for the design of a Medicare benefit: the medical and therapeutic value of the medications covered.


The Evolution of Social Security Disabled Widow(er)s' Benefits (May 2003)

On May 14, 2002, the House of Representatives passed unanimously (418-0) “The Social Security Benefits Enhancements for Women Act of 2002 (H.R. 4069).” One of the provisions would have marginally liberalized eligibility for disabled widow(er)s benefits by repealing the seven- year deadline for a surviving spouse to qualify for benefits on the basis of disability. Although the H.R. 4069 provisions failed to be, it is the proposed liberalization of eligibility for disabled widow(er)s benefits are very likely to be taken up in the next legislative year. Among the most economically at risk Social Security beneficiaries, an estimated 37 percent of Disabled Widow(er)s have below-poverty incomes after benefit receipt (Walker, 1997). Indeed, one of the concerns related to this benefit is that a vulnerable population of women is currently receiving a permanently reduced benefit with long-term implications for their well being in advanced middle and old age.


The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program: Program Design, Recent Performance and Implications for Medicare Reform (May 2003)

This report provides a basic description of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Programs (FEHBP) structure, benefits, financing, and operations. The report also assesses FEHBP's recent performance in a variety of areas, including cost increases, benefit changes, access to providers, and risk selection. It concludes with a brief discussion of the implications of the FEHBP experience for Medicare reform proposals.


Study raises questions about Medicare reform (May 30, 2003)

A study released Friday shows that restructuring Medicare to make it more like the health insurance program might not cure Medicare's problems. The study examined how the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plans (FEHBP), which provides federal workers and retirees a wide choice of private health insurance options, operates. It shows that competition alone may not resolve the ongoing dilemma of maintaining comprehensive benefits while controlling spending growth.


States' Efforts to Cut Drug Prices Get a Boost From Medicaid Chief (May 30, 2003)

Faced with budget shortfalls and rising expenses, states have been seeking ways to control prescription drug costs, the fastest-rising cost for state Medicaid programs. To make it easier for states to band together to buy prescription drugs for Medicaid patients, the head of the federal government's health-care programs said that states would be able to join multi-state drug-buying programs administered by private companies without breaking federal purchasing rules.


Orange County Pension Fund Is Short $734 Million (May 30, 2003)

The retirement system of Orange County, California, is suffering from a shortfall resulted from high retirement benefits and eroding investment income. County might sell bonds to cover the gap, the result of declining stocks and beefed-up benefits. Rising retirement costs could lead to layoffs.


Plan for pension systems delayed (May 29, 2003)

The Illinois government delayed the plan of combining the state’s pension systems, according to the governor's budget director. Currently, pension funds are managed independently by unions. The plan was designed to combine the retirement systems for teachers, university employees, state employees, General Assembly members and judges into a single mega-fund to be managed by the State Board of Investments.


Elderly Women Will Bear Brunt of Medicaid Cuts (May 29, 2003)

Two-thirds of states plan to cut benefits for Medicaid, increase co-payments, and restrict eligibility to the program. Some 21 states will freeze or decrease medical payments to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes. These cuts will to disproportionately affect elderly women, because senior women in the country live longer and are far poorer than men on average. As a result, more elderly women rely on programs such as Medicaid.


A New Retirement Tactic for U.S.'s New Tax Law (May 29, 2003)

The tax law signed Wednesday by President Bush means that investors should buy and hold stocks in their regular accounts, and favor bonds in their 401(k)s and other tax-advantaged retirement plans. Under the new tax law, there will be a top tax rate of just 15% on stock dividends and on long-term capital gains, which is less than half the maximum tax rate, 35%, on ordinary income that includes interest payments from bonds.


Record retirements hit PERS (May 28, 2003)

In Oregon, a record number of 7,720 public employees have submitted forms to retire in 2003, surpassing 6,843 retirements in 1999. The Legislature and Gov. Ted Kulongoski have overhauled Public Employees Retirement System laws this year, trying to close a $17 billion shortfall in the system. PERS officials have said the changes could reduce benefits for some future retirees by 25 percent or more.


Advocates push for elderly drug plan (May 28, 2003)

In the wake of a Supreme Court ruling, health-care reform groups urge Maryland officials to follow Maine's lead. The Maine law allows the State to use the power of its Medicaid program to persuade drug manufacturers to give discounts to the elderly. Many elderly Marylanders do not have prescription drug plans and do not get the benefit of discounts available to people covered under government plans and private health insurance.


GAO Appointments to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (May 27, 2003)

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is an independent federal body whose mandate is to analyze access to care, quality of care and other issues affecting Medicare and to advise the Congress on payments to health plans participating in the Medicare+Choice program and providers in Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program. The Commission’s 17 members serve three-year terms (from May 1 to April 30), with five or six members’ terms expiring each year but subject to renewal.  The law requires that the Commission comprise a mix of expertise in the financing and delivery of health care services and broad geographic representation.  Commissioners include physicians and other health professionals, employers, third-party payers, researchers with a variety of health-related expertise, and representatives of consumers and the elderly.


Bill offers state retirement bonus (May 27, 2003)

A bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday will pay extra money to Texas’ veteran workers to quit their jobs. This bill is designed to save $21 million over the next two years by replacing veteran workers with lower-paid newcomers or eliminating their jobs. It could attract workers facing layoffs or higher health care costs.


Medicare Plan Would Give Bonuses for Superior Care (May 27, 2003)

Traditionally, Medicare pays hospitals the same fee for a procedure regardless of the outcome. However, in an effort to improve health care for its 40 million patients, Medicare is planning an experiment of paying hospitals and doctors more for superior care. This experiment is following the lead of private employers and managed-care plans to use financial incentives to improve health care in the U.S.  Will it work?


Lieberman Vows to Work on Medicare Reform (May 27, 2003)

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has agreed to push for revamping the Medicare system that has Iowa getting the lowest reimbursement in the nation. Lieberman signed a formal pledge offered by Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell to all nine candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.


Under bill, teachers to pay more to prop up retirement fund (May 26, 2003)

According to a bill approved tentatively Monday by the House, the amount Texas teachers pay into the Teacher Retirement System will be doubled, and school districts will pay into the system for the first time. The bill is designed to reduce Texas’ cost for health plans for teachers. Critics say that the bill will place extra burden on teachers who can’t afford to pay more on health insurance.


More companies eliminating pensions (May 25, 2003)

Increasingly, U.S. companies are eliminating traditional pension plans. Companies that continue to offer pension plans are struggling to meet projected obligations of growing pensions, following three years of falling stock prices and low interest rates. Congress is considering possible reforms and is expected to vote on the bill early this summer.  Will the companies consider similar cuts in their profit levels or executives’ fringe benefits?


Sebelius signs bill for extra pension check, bonds (May 23, 2003)

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill today, granting an extra month’s worth of pension benefits to about 15,000 retired teachers and government workers. The average additional check is estimated to be $475, to be paid in October. Over their lifetimes, affected retirees would receive an additional $35 million.


Ever-fewer doctors accepting Medicare (May 21, 2003)

In Colorado, family physicians who are accepting new members of Medicare has decreased from 52 percent in 2001 to 34 percent in 2003. It gives Medicare patients a harder time in getting to see a doctor. When seniors can’t get to see the doctor, will they get needed care elsewhere? Will more seniors end up in the hospital emergency rooms as a result?


Investors Find New Ways to Put Pension Money Into Real Estate (May 21, 2003)

Investors are discovering ways to buy bigger and more expensive properties with their individual 401(k) retirement plans. Last year, tax laws allowing individuals to set up single-participant 401(k) plans went into effect, and a number of firms began to offer services allowing these plans to invest in real estate, an activity single-participant IRA plans had long been doing.


Bush Drug Proposal in Medicare Plan Faces a Stiff Battle (May 21, 2003)

As Congress begins drafting Medicare legislation, one of the most contentious and politically explosive issues is whether the same drug benefits should be available to all. The Bush administration and many of its allies on Capitol Hill say they want to use prescription drug benefits as an incentive to encourage older Americans to enroll in private health plans.


Legislation allows ex-public workers to cash out PERS (May 20, 2003)

Former public employees who left money sitting in the Oregon state pension system can “cash out” their accounts before reaching retirement age under a bill that won final legislative approval Monday. The House passed Senate Bill 258 by a 52-1 vote, sending the bill to Governor Ted Kulongoski’s desk to be signed into law.


Cheaper City Pensions, Group Suggests (May 19, 2003)

Amid the city's first major wave of layoffs, a business-funded budget group called Monday for charging city employees for their health insurance and offering future employees cheaper pensions. The Citizens Budget Commission said compensating firefighters costs more than any other employee: $125,169 per year, including $74,393 average salary and $50,776 in fringe benefits, mostly pensions.


State retirement option draws few takers (May 19, 2003)

Nearly a year after the state of Montana unveiled its new pension option only about 600 of the 30,000 eligible public employees have signed up for the "defined contribution" plan. The new option allows employees to direct where their retirement money is invested in a variety of funds managed by Great West Life Insurance Co. of Denver, Colo. It's similar to 401(k) plans offered by many private employers.


Bush Quietly Abandons Retirement-Savings Plan (May 18, 2003)

President Bush is poised to win sweeping changes in the U.S. tax system, but not the top-to-bottom rewrite of retirement-savings incentives the White House was seeking. The president's proposal called for switching Americans from the dizzying array of tax-advantaged plans to a simplified system consisting of two basic vehicles: lifetime savings accounts and retirement savings accounts. But the plan was quietly abandoned soon after its splashy release with the federal budget.


Bush's Medicare plan would limit doctor choice, consumer group says (May 16, 2003)

Medicare recipients would have fewer choices of doctors under a proposal requiring senior citizens to join private insurance plans to get drug coverage, a study contends. The study, conducted in 23 Iowa counties, was released Thursday by Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C., consumer group that opposes President Bush's plan to privatize Medicare drug coverage.


Senate adds Medicare aid for Iowa to tax cut bill (May 16, 2003)

The U.S. Senate approved a landmark Medicare provision Thursday that would send millions of dollars in added federal aid to Iowa hospitals and doctors, who long have complained that the state is short-changed by the program for the disabled and elderly. The additional health care money passed 86-12 as an amendment to a major tax cut bill approved 51-49 Thursday by the Senate.


Senate plan revamps health system: Proposal builds on Romney proposal (May 16, 2003)

Massachusetts Senate leaders yesterday unveiled a sweeping proposal to reorganize the state's health and human service delivery system, adopting much of Governor Mitt Romney's plan and expanding an agency designed to cater to senior citizens' needs. Under the plan, the state's 15 health and human service agencies would be merged into five categories, bringing one-stop shopping to as many residents as possible when they access state services.


Preventive services worth Medicare's money: report (May 16, 2003)

Congress should make a "Welcome to Medicare" doctor visit standard for all seniors entering the program as a way to push disease prevention and health promotion, according to recommendations issued Friday on Capitol Hill. Paying for such a visit could help familiarize seniors with their health coverage options and promote prevention services, say the authors of a report on Medicare's coverage of preventive services.


Retirement system files suit (May 15, 2003)
The bankruptcy filing of telecom giant WorldCom has cost the Maine State Retirement System $38 million. Looking to recoup much of that money, the agency recently filed the lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court against 16 corporate defendants, including Citigroup, Salomon Smith Barney, J.P. Morgan Securities, and Arthur Andersen.


Tenet Healthcare Posts Loss After Shift in Medicare Policy (May 15, 2003)

Tenet Healthcare, the hospital operator, reported yesterday that it had a first-quarter loss after it changed its policy for billing the government for the sickest patients. The company adopted a new policy for billing "outlier payments," which are special Medicare payments made to health care providers for patients who incur unusually high costs. Reported results for the quarter were impacted by a number of factors, including the voluntary reduction in Medicare outlier payments and pending hospital sales that must be accounted for as discontinued operations.


Massachusetts may put 5% of pension assets in hedge funds (May 15, 2003)

As a move to diversity after three years of losses on stocks, Massachusetts may invest as much as 5 percent of its $28 billion public-employee retirement system in hedge funds, according to a state official.


Pataki says Legislature's pension reform bill OK (May 14, 2003)

New York Governor George Pataki said Wednesday he will sign into law the Legislature's bill to reform and stabilize public pension payments and save state and local governments $1.6 billion this fiscal year. The law will save the state $650 million this fiscal year in pension payments for its employees and a total of $1.1 billion over the next two fiscal years.


House Approves Pension Rule Changes (May 14, 2003)

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 271 –157 to approve changes in pension laws that sponsors said would provide workers advice on investing their retirement assets, and give them more control over them. Critics poured scorn on the bill, saying it was a sop to Wall Street firms penalized recently for conflicts of interest involving stock analysts because it would allow similar conflicts in the management of retirement funds.


Biotech pushes for Medicare drug boost (May 12, 2003)

Biotech firms and patient groups want Congress to reverse a Bush Administration rule change that they say is making it harder to provide treatments for cancers and some rare disorders. Unlike prescription drugs that are taken at home, Medicare does cover prescription drugs that have to be delivered to patients in hospitals or clinics. But a regulation change that went into effect at the beginning of 2003 cut by an average of 35 percent reimbursements for drugs that are delivered in hospitals and clinics.


Troubled Md. Pension Plan Gets New Chief, Direction (May 12, 2003)

The new executive director today promises a sharp break from the past: clear communication, sound investment and the "highest ethical standards" for the agency that protects the pensions of 275,000 Maryland teachers, police officers and government workers. For the past several years, the system has been roiled by poor management, questionable if not sub-par performance and finger-pointing over its supervision of an outside money manager now under federal criminal investigation.


Pension fund could face $2 billion deficit by 2009 (May 10, 2003)

San Diego's troubled pension system may be in far worse shape than previously thought and could face a deficit of more than $2 billion within six years, according to a report prepared for city officials but buried from public view. The report shows that much of the $2.3 billion retirement system's troubles will result from the city's policy of deliberately under-funding its contribution to the pension trust.

PERS cuts quickly clear state senate (May 9, 2003)
The Oregon Senate rushed passage of the most sweeping reform plan for public employees’ pensions on Thursday, hoping to get the bill to Gov. Ted Kulongoski before the weekend. Passed 19-10, the proposal would save school districts and state and local governments $678 million over the next two years

Error exposed pension fund to $4.5 million loss (May 9, 2003)
A slip of the pencil two years ago at the State of Wisconsin Investment Board that put a decimal point two places further to the left than it should have been nearly cost the now underfunded state pension plan $4.5 million. Unfortunately, the Wisconsin Retirement System has only recovered $3.2 million of the money, from the Milwaukee Public Schools' supplemental early retirement plans. The other beneficiary of the error, the City of Milwaukee retirement fund, is no longer in the plan, so the retirement system has requested the return of the money.


Lawmakers near PERS reform: The House and Senate may act today on slashing the pension fund (May 8, 2003)dd

With two quick votes today in the Legislature, tens of thousands of public employees could see their future pensions slashed, saving Oregon taxpayers $6.6 billion in benefits costs. The Oregon Senate is expected to approve House Bill 2003, which phases out the most lucrative features of the Public Employees Retirement System. A concurring House vote is expected today or Friday, sending the landmark PERS reform to Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s desk for his signature.


Fresno County files suit over pension method (May 8, 2003)
Fresno County, California filed a lawsuit Wednesday against its retirement board to stop a possibly illegal method of calculating pensions that could cost the county millions of dollars. The lawsuit seeks to stop the practice called the "Fresno approach" from being used in the future, but doesn't attempt to lower pensions for people who have already retired. Currently, some people are earning more in retirement than they ever made as an employee of Fresno County.

Medicare proposal impresses lawmakers: tri-state delegation pitches plan in D.C. (May 8, 2003)
A regional approach may be the right medicine for an ailing Medicare reimbursement system that shortchanges metro Sioux City health care providers. Tired of waiting for a broad overhaul of Medicare, Siouxland officials propose to designate the metro area as part of Nebraska for reimbursement purposes. Several members of the tri-state congressional delegation voiced support.


U.S. Congress gears up for Medicare fight (May 8, 2003)

If the U.S. House and Senate fail to pass bills to add a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program and make other program reforms this summer, the effort might have to be put off until after the next election. A key goal of legislation taking shape in the Senate is to encourage Medicare beneficiaries to move to private plans where costs are more easily contained.

Pension funding change backed (May 7, 2003)

The United Auto Workers union supports a bill that would let automakers and others with large numbers of blue-collar retirees cut contributions to pension funds by billions of dollars because mortality statistics show those workers often don't live as long. The UAW wrote a letter backing the bill, which also allows workers to set aside more money in their IRA and 401(k) retirement plans.

House Considers Measure to Cut Billions in Pension Obligations (May 06, 2003)
A bill pending in the House of Representatives would allow businesses with union workers to reduce their company pension obligations by billions of dollars, because statistics show that most blue-collar workers do not live as long as other Americans. The provision, which has gone largely unnoticed in a broad pension bill, is being supported by the United Auto Workers and manufacturing companies whose pension funds now have assets far short of what they are projected to need under previous assumptions about worker longevity.

Critics Say Proposal for Medicare Could Increase Costs (May 06, 2003)
Congressional efforts to revamp Medicare by expanding the role of private health plans have been immensely complicated by new data suggesting that such plans would not save money and could substantially increase Medicare costs. Republicans in Congress said last week that they had accepted President Bush's proposal to encourage the development of private health plans known as preferred provider organizations, which steer patients to certain doctors and hospitals. Competition among private plans can slow the growth of Medicare, they said.

Bill would change retirement obligations for blue-collar workers
(May 06, 2003)
A little-noticed provision in a House pension bill would let companies that employ blue-collar workers reduce their retirement obligations by billions of dollars because those workers on average don't live as long as others. More than half of the 32,000 traditional pension plans provided by private employers are underfunded, according to the government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

NWA president tells federal panel pension proposal is crucial (May 06, 2003)
Northwest Airlines President Doug Steenland told a federal panel Monday that the company faces escalating pension fund obligations just when it needs cash "to weather the current economic crisis." As skeptical employees listened, he urged the five-member Labor Department panel to approve Northwest's controversial request to cover more than $220 million in pension fund shortfalls with yet-to-be tradeable stock in a subsidiary, Pinnacle Airlines.


Teachers retirement bill now tied to class-size reduction (May 05, 2003)
To get legislation that would give them a "golden handshake" retirement bonus, the state's largest teachers union will have to accept a bill that would relax limits on class sizes. Corbett's bill would allow let school districts offer retirement incentives for teachers, such giving retiring teachers two extra years of service credit.

Pension system lacks oversight (May 4, 2003)

Both the state and Milwaukee County pension plans were passed quickly with no estimate of the ultimate cost to taxpayers. A civic task force has suggested changes in the county system, but the state plan may need reform as well. Legislators and other observers note three problems with the state system: no outside oversight, no public disclosure, and no estimate of total costs.


Pension pact a coup for Thompson (May 4, 2003)

Early in Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's tenure, he was still working to overcome his legislative reputation as "Dr. No," a roadblock to new programs. The icebreaker came in 1989, when Thompson signed a bill giving higher benefits to veteran public employees who retired early.


Change may spur teachers to retire (May 4, 2003)

School districts across Texas are bracing for a flurry of retirements at the end of the school year as employees rush to beat a soon-to-close loophole that allows them to earn thousands of dollars in Social Security benefits for one day's work. Teachers are concerned that Congress is about to pass legislation that would make Texas educators work five years -- instead of one day -- in a school system covered by Social Security to collect spousal benefits along with their own retirement benefits.


"Acute Inpatient Prospective Payment System" (May 2003)

This proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, May 21, 2003. This proposed rule discusses proposed revisions to the Medicare acute care hospital inpatient PPS for operating and capital costs for discharges on or after October 1, 2003. In addition, this proposed rule includes proposed changes for FY 2004 for other inpatient hospitals and costs excluded from the hospital inpatient PPS.


Medicare At A Glance, Fact Sheet (April 2003)
This fact sheet, updated in April 2003, provides a basic overview of the Medicare program, including how it is financed, who is eligible, and what benefits are covered under the program. In addition, it describes sources of supplemental health insurance to fill in Medicare's gaps, recent trends in the Medicare+Choice program, and data on current and future Medicare spending.


Medicare + Choice, Fact Sheet (April 2003)
This factsheet, updated in April 2003, provides an overview of the Medicare+Choice (M+C) program, describes recent trends in plan participation and beneficiary enrollment, presents data on benefits and premiums, and explains how Medicare pays participating M+C plans.


Medicare and Prescription Drugs, Fact Sheet (April 2003)
This fact sheet, updated in April 2003, profiles current sources of prescription drug coverage among the Medicare population, describes the characteristics of beneficiaries who lack drug coverage and the implications of being without such coverage, and provides current data on prescription drug use and spending.


Government workers suing over pensions (April 30, 2003)
More than $100 million is at stake in a class-action lawsuit launched on behalf of 10,000 members in an underfunded Saskatchewan government pension plan. Regina lawyer Gord Kuski, who represents the plaintiffs, said pensions are being paid, but there's no money to enhance the benefits. Stay tuned!


City faces $1B jump in pensions (April 30, 2003)
The city's pension costs are expected to rise by $1 billion next year, creating another huge hole in the city's budget, New York City Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday. The city's skyrocketing pension costs are a direct result of a sweetening of benefits for retirees and the continued downturn in the stock market.


City endorses limits on reducing pensions (April 30, 2003)
City officials said Tuesday that they would support a proposed Texas constitutional amendment that would limit their ability to reduce pension benefits but said they remain concerned about the legislation's potential effects.


Marin to use bonds to cover pensions (April 30, 2003)
The county of Marin is betting it can save taxpayers about $27 million over the next 24 years by getting the bond market to partially underwrite its retirement system. County supervisors voted yesterday to issue $110 million in 24-year bonds to help finance the retirement system's debt. This is not a certain remedy!


Senate urged to restore elderly, disabled aid (April 29, 2003)
A coalition of groups representing the elderly and disabled wants the Senate to restore services today during its debate on the budget that would otherwise take away home health care for tens of thousands of Texans. "We refuse to pit the elderly, individuals with disabilities and children against each other. Citizens all over the state, regardless of age or disability, stand to lose the public safety net of health and long-term services," said Susan Murphree, a spokeswoman for Advocacy Inc.


Retired police, firefighters return to work, keep pensions (April 27, 2003)
Retired police and firefighters, unlike many public servants in New Jersey, can return to work at higher salaries while continuing to draw pensions. The Courier-Post of Cherry Hill gave several examples of formerly retired firefighters and law enforcement officers who are earning more than ever after landing higher-paying jobs than the ones they left.


Lawyer says PERS reform will fail in court (April 23, 2003)
Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s plan to reform the state’s pension system likely won’t hold up in court, a lawyer for unions representing members of the Public Employees Retirement System said Tuesday. Substantial changes in benefits likely are a breach of contract because of the “promissory language” in the statutes, he says.


Health insurance bill moves forward (April 22, 2003)
The bills target out-of-state health insurance companies that sell "group" policies to individuals in Florida. Using a loophole, the companies largely avoid rate regulation. And for some consumers that means when they get sick, their rates skyrocket and state regulators can do nothing about it.  Al Davis, a 62-year-old Panama City man, said he bought his policy through an out-of-state association in 1997. But he's seen his rates increase 136 percent and has had his deductible rise to $5,000 a year. He says he's now worried that when his next scheduled rate increase comes in June, his monthly health insurance premium will be nearly equal to his Social Security check.


U.S. Limiting Costs of Drugs for Medicare (April 20, 2003)
In a fundamental change, the Bush administration has begun to weigh cost as a factor in deciding whether Medicare should pay for new drugs and medical procedures. Medicaid, the federal-state program for poor people, covers most prescription drugs. Will President Bush and Congress agree on a plan to provide more extensive drug benefits to the elderly and the disabled at a time when "drug prices are going through the roof" and many states are cutting Medicaid benefits and eligibility? Will Bush consider regulating profit levels on the highly profitable drug companies?

Worries Over Budget Cuts And Elderly (April 17, 2003)

Two City Council members visited a group of Queens senior citizens last week to explain the city's budget predicament and answer questions about its possible impact on the elderly.

House debates funds for lobbyists, buildings and elderly (April 16, 2003)
An ongoing budget debate has caused a major partisan rift in the House as many Democrats urge lawmakers to increase funding, while Republicans and other supporters keep their pledge to cut programs instead of raising taxes. Democrats have shaped the budget debate as wants versus needs. They claim Republicans are funding wants, while the state's most needy citizens are being denied services.

Taxes Driving Some Elderly From Their Homes (April 12, 2003)
Rising property values and higher tax rates are creating financial hardship for many older people. Several towns in the Northeast have been looking for creative ways to make property taxes less onerous. At least three towns have adopted programs like Harvard's, allowing older people to work off part of their taxes. Some towns have increased tax exemptions for the elderly. Others have allowed older people to postpone paying part of their taxes until they sell their property.

Bush's Stealth Attack On Medicaid (April 11, 2003)
Under the cover of the war on Iraq, President Bush is stealthily working to devastate Medicaid - a program that provides access to health care for millions, including middle-income Americans in need of long-term care.

Cash Balance Pensions Debated (April 10, 2003)
Don't let companies adopt cash balance pensions without protections for older workers, pleaded labor advocates and employees at an Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department hearing yesterday. These pension plans slash the benefits of those nearing retirement, while saving the companies millions of dollars in pension costs, they argued.

White House to scrap plan on pensions shift (April 8, 2003)

The Bush Administration wanted to permit companies to convert traditional pension plans to ‘‘cash balance’’ plans. Aging advocates and other critics say cash balance plans hurt older workers. The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service have made a broader proposal, which among other things advises companies how to avoid age-discrimination lawsuits when switching to cash-balance plans.  Stay tuned!


Dowd Presents Budget to Senate (April 8, 2003)
Pennsylvania Acting Secretary for the Department of Aging, Nora A. Dowd assured the Senate Appropriations Committee that all services including PACE provided by the Department of Aging would be sustained regardless of the budget cuts.


IRS backs off pension plan change (April 7, 2003)
The Internal Revenue Service will withdraw controversial new regulations to convert traditional employee pension plans to "cash balance" plans, that have met significant opposition among workers and on Capitol Hill.


Retired teachers concerned about plan to reduce funding for pensions (April 2, 2003)
Retired teachers are concerned about a proposal in Gov. John G. Rowland's budget to reduce the amount the state puts into the teachers' pension fund.


Government Pensions Green Paper 'too narrow focused' (01 April 2003)
The National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) says the Government has missed a golden opportunity to simplify the pensions landscape and boost future retirement saving. “I am disappointed that the DWP has failed to take this golden opportunity to bring about equally radical change in the wider pensions regime” says Peter Thompson, the chairman of NAPF.


Health care and prescription drug spending by seniors (March 2003)

Spending for health care and for prescription drugs among seniors has increased over the 1980-97 period; the seniors who had insurance coverage in addition to Medicare, on average, spent more on health care and prescription drugs than those who had Medicare coverage only.


State pension reform. A sound idea from Albany (March 31, 2003)
New York State comptroller Alan G. Hevesi is proposing a solution for revamping the state's outdated public employee pension system.


Iowa Lawmakers Tap Fund Meant for Elderly (March 30, 2003)
Decreases in tax revenue prompted Iowa lawmakers to withdraw money from the Senior Living Trust to pay for Medicaid expenses. The Trust originally was designed to help older people to live independently in their homes, providing funds for meal deliveries, visiting nurses, transportation and other services. Now it’s diverted to other uses.


Medicare Recipients Face 12.4% Rise in Premiums (March 25, 2003)
Medicare beneficiaries face a 12.7 percent increase in premiums next year, and doctors' fees will probably be cut 4.2 percent because Medicare spending surged unexpectedly last year, federal officials says.


Hevesi warns of impending pension-cost hike for localities (March 17, 2003)
New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi is urging government leaders to be prepared for a lingering escalation in local taxpayers' cost for public employee pensions. Hevesi warns that this is not likely to be a short-term problem.

Ohio fails to adapt to seniors' new needs (March 17, 2003)
Ohio’s Gov. Bob Taft plans to cut state aid to nursing homes, saying that nursing homes resident population declined by about 100,000 in the past decade, and that the state pays part of the cost to maintain an estimated 12,700 empty beds.

If Medicare Says No ... Try, Try, Try Again (March 16, 2003)
Medicare’s appeal process helps if a claim gets turned down. The chances of success seem quite significant, above 60%. The article gives useful insight on how to file appeals and increase the chances to win them.

Pension Costs Smothering City (March 15, 2003)
Recession has transformed the New York City's pension funds into tax hogs that consume hundreds of millions of extra dollars. The consequences, financial experts say, could include higher taxes, bigger deficits, more borrowing and ultimately deeper cuts in the same city services the pension funds once nourished.

Medicaid Medically Needy Programs: An Important Source of Medicaid Coverage (January, 2003)
This issue paper by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured describes the options for the medically needy to qualify for Medicaid coverage, how it works for people with disabilities, the elderly, and low-income families, and highlights some key issues surrounding the program. Included in the paper are hypothetical examples of ways in which individuals can qualify for Medicaid as medically needy.