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  • October 10, 2019 12:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    What You Need to Know about Medicare Open Enrollment

    (Note: This information applies to all Medicare - Eligible persons, whether or not they are AT&T retirees. AASBCR® members should consult information on the website that pertains specifically to AT&T coverage options and how to obtain coverage.)

    The 2020 Medicare Open Enrollment starts October 15 and ends December 7. The National Retiree Legislative Network (NRLN) has created a presentation to help you understand your options during the 8-week period. Click here to access the presentation. Caution: when reviewing the presentation, the premiums, deductible and out-of-pocket dollar limits shown are representative of 2019 information. You should substitute 2020 information that you find. Treat this information as examples only.

    Americans usually enroll in original Medicare or Medicare Advantage when they are eligible at age 65. Each fall participants in the program have an opportunity to review and possibly change their coverage. The NRLN's presentation provides information for seniors to think about for their health care plan for the coming year.

    Your Medicare enrollment decision is whether to use original fee-for-service Medicare, whether to include a Medigap plan to cover the 20% of costs that Medicare does not cover, or a Medicare Advantage plan. Most of the 64 million people enrolled in Medicare in 2019 use the original program, but 34% are in Medicare Advantage plans provided by private insurance companies. Another important decision is Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage - whether that is a stand-alone plan, or wrapped into a Medicare Advantage plan.

    While Medicare Advantage plans often include extra benefits, including some level of dental, vision or hearing services, gym memberships, etc., the trade-off is that Medicare Advantage enrollees must use health care providers within their networks, or pay more for out-of-network services.

    Enrollees in original Medicare with the Medigap supplement have access to a much wider range of providers, including specialized medical facilities with a national reputation.  Original Medicare participants with the Medigap supplement do not need to navigate the referral requirements and prior authorization steps required by many Medicare Advantage plans.

     The NRLN urges you to take advantage of the work that has been put into the presentation that you can view with Adobe Reader software. 

  • September 24, 2019 1:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NRLN Action Alert

    Tell Congress Do Not Give Taxpayer Subsidies to Insurers for Privatizing Medicare
     

    Click here to tell your members of Congress Do Not Give Taxpayer Subsidies to Insurers for Privatizing Medicare.

    NRLN retiree association and chapter members attending the NRLN fall Fly-In to Washington, DC, September 23-25, will be advocating during their meetings on Capitol Hill that Congress should not be giving taxpayer subsidies to private insurers for Medicare Advantage plans to move Medicare toward privatization.

    From 1997 to 2018, Congress provided Medicare Advantage (MA) $380 billion in subsidies paid to insurers for making low bids and 50% quality bonuses for 2 Stars out of 5 Stars Ratings. The NRLN believes this is a foolish effort to privatize Medicare! Car dealers wouldn’t be subsidized for making low bids or get bonuses for meeting warranty terms.

    The April 2019 Medicare Trustees’ Report disclosed expenditures per MA plan enrollee in 2018 at 103% of those for original Medicare enrollees, before adjustments for cherry picking.

    MA plan gross margins are $1,608 per MA plan and two times individual and group plans. Net income for MA plans is 20% higher.

    In 2018, the Bipartisan Balanced Budget Act authorized HHS to add MA benefits costing $16.5 billion annually for chronic care benefits like changing air filters and shampooing carpets for asthma patients, but didn’t provide them to original Medicare patients.

    It is a disgrace that Congress and HHS added benefits to MA while denying them to 38.2 million seniors in original Medicare. Authorizing these benefits for only 21.3 million seniors in MA plans is discriminatory. It’s immoral, unethical and in conflict with the President’s promise not to touch Medicare benefits.

    Fly-In attendees will be advocating that those benefiting from prior MA subsidies be protected and to extend new chronic treatment benefits to original Medicare enrollees or rescind new MA benefits. Then, terminate wasteful MA privatization subsidies and reduce, not shift, healthcare costs to enrollees.

    By emailing the NRLN’s sample letter to your U.S. Representative and Senators, they will be made aware that when Fly-In attendees meet with them and/or members of their staffs that their constituents support what the NRLN is advocating.

    Other issues on the Fly-In’s Capitol Hill lobbying agenda are supporting bills that will reduce the cost of prescription drugs and supporting passage of the Social Security 2100 Act to fund the program for the next 75 years. The Social Security 2100 Act was the subject of last week’s NRLN Action Alert and is still available for responses where this new Medicare Action Alert is posted on the NRLN website.

    Bill Kadereit, President                           Bob Martina, VP – Grassroots
    National Retiree Legislative Network     National Retiree Legislative Network
     
    Here are the easy steps to follow on this Action Alert:

    1. If you have a problem with the link above, go to https://www.nrln.org/SE.html#/. Under the top Action Alert notice, Congress Should Not Give Taxpayer Subsidies to Insurers for Privatizing Medicare, click on “Take Action” then enter your street address and zip code and click “GO”. It will present the sample letter for you to email to your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative. If you have a problem with this link, go to www.nrln.org and click on the red flashing icon “Respond to an Action Alert” near the top of the NRLN website home page. When the Action Alert appears, click on the “Take Action” link. Enter your street address and zip and click “GO” and follow the steps to email the NRLN’s sample letter.
    2. When you have accessed the sample letter, to the left of the letter are windows to type in your contact information required by members of Congress so they know they are receiving an email from a constituent. If you have sent previous NRLN emails to your members of Congress your contact information may be automatically displayed.
    3. Personalize the letters by editing in your own comments.
    4. Click on the "Preview" button and the letter addressed to your two Senators and Representative will appear. Their names will be automatically added in the letter’s greeting. Check to make sure the letters appear correct and then click "Send".


  • September 15, 2019 11:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NRLN President's Forum

    Important Medicare Information

    Seniors with traditional Medicare plans may have access to better quality home healthcare than Medicare Advantage plan participants, according to a study by researchers at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

    "Traditional Medicare beneficiaries are able to select and receive care from any Medicare-certified home health agency," Margot Schwartz, one of the researchers, reported to Reuters Health by email. "The limited networks in Medicare Advantage may result in these beneficiaries receiving care from lower-quality home health agencies."

    Some higher-quality home health agencies may also opt not to participate in Medicare Advantage plans because of low reimbursement rates, said Momotazur Rahman, also at Brown University and the study's senior author.

    "Payment rates by Medicare Advantage plans to home health agencies are much lower compared to traditional Medicare payment rates," Rahman said by email. "This may drive highly-rated home health agencies away from the Medicare Advantage patients."

    Fraud Alert: Genetic Testing Scam

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General is alerting the public about a fraud scheme involving genetic testing.

    Genetic testing fraud occurs when Medicare is billed for a test or screening that was not medically necessary and/or was not ordered by a Medicare beneficiary's treating physician.

    Scammers are offering Medicare beneficiaries "free" screenings or cheek swabs for genetic testing to obtain their Medicare information for identity theft or fraudulent billing purposes. Fraudsters are targeting beneficiaries through telemarketing calls, booths at public events, health fairs, and door-to-door visits.

    Beneficiaries who agree to genetic testing or verify personal or Medicare information may receive a cheek swab, an in-person screening or a testing kit in the mail, even if it is not ordered by a physician or medically necessary.

    If Medicare denies the claim, the beneficiary could be responsible for the entire cost of the test, which could be thousands of dollars.

    Protect Yourself

    If a genetic testing kit is mailed to you, don't accept it unless it was ordered by your physician. Refuse the delivery or return it to the sender. Keep a record of the sender's name and the date you returned the items.

    Be suspicious of anyone who offers you "free" genetic testing and then requests your Medicare number. If your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes.

    A physician that you know and trust should assess your condition and approve any requests for genetic testing.

    Medicare beneficiaries should be cautious of unsolicited requests for their Medicare numbers. If anyone other than your physician's office requests your Medicare information, do not provide it.


    If you suspect Medicare fraud, contact the HHS OIG Hotline

  • September 10, 2019 11:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NRLN Action Alert
    Tell Congress to Support Passage of Social Security 2100 Act

     

    Click here to tell your members of Congress to support passage of the Social Security 2100 Act.

    The National Retiree Legislative Network’s Legislative Affairs Committee (LAC) and the Legislative Action Planning Committee (LAPC) have done an extensive review of the Social Security bills that have been introduced in the current 116th session of Congress. As a result, the NRLN is supporting H.R. 860 / S. 269, the Social Security 2100 Act. This bill comes the closest to the NRLN’s “Grand Bargain” proposal to make Social Security financially strong for our generation, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

    Beginning in 2020, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it takes in from taxes and interest income. Social Security will deplete its $2.9 trillion reserve fund in 2035, according to the Social Security trustees' annual report issued in April. While the program will not go bankrupt due to payroll taxes, projections are there will only be enough revenue to cover 77% to 79% of benefits.

    Congress and a President haven’t acted to preserve Social Security since 1983 when Senators Bob Dole and Patrick Moynihan and President Ronald Reagan are credited for their leadership to avert a financial crisis by raising payroll taxes and slowly raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 years old. The current retirement age for full benefits is 66.

    While the Social Security 2100 Act was first introduced in 2014 and reintroduced in 2017, the difference in 2019 is the House has held four hearings on the bill. With currently 62 million Social Security beneficiaries and 10,000 baby boomers being added daily, the NRLN believes that for Congress to continue to do nothing is not an option.

    Passage of the Social Security 2100 Act would:

    • Ensure the solvency of the program for the next 75 years, the only bill to do so.
    • Change the annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) from the current CPI-W index pegged to urban wage earners’ living expenses to CPI-E (Elderly) based on older Americans’ spending patterns, including high medical costs.
    • Provide an across-the-board benefit increase equivalent to about 2% of the average Social Security benefit.
    • Increase the minimum benefit to ensure that workers with many years of low earnings do not retire under the poverty line.
    • Cut federal income taxes on Social Security benefits for about 12 million middle-income Americans and raise the limit for non-Social Security income before benefits begin to be taxed. The new limits would go to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples, up from the current $25,000 and $32,000.

    To pay for the benefits the Social Security 2100 Act would:

    • Raise the payroll tax rate starting in 2020 so that by 2043, workers and employers each would pay 7.4% toward Social Security, instead of the 6.2% each worker and employer pays today.
    • Impose a payroll tax rate to the current earnings amount above $400,000. While there appears to be a doughnut hole between the current $132,900 taxable limit and the new $400,000 limit, this doughnut hole will shrink annually as under existing law the current maximum earnings amount subject to the payroll tax increases each year.
    Unlike many members of Congress, the NRLN believes that Social Security is not an “entitlement”. The payroll taxes that workers and employers have paid over decades have been an “insurance policy” for funding retirement, disability income and survivor benefits.
     
    Social Security benefits have become increasingly important as pensions have disappeared and many Americans have failed to save enough for retirement. The importance of the monthly Social Security check may vary widely among NRLN members. However, for nearly two-thirds of beneficiaries Social Security represents the majority of their income, and for more than one-third, it is the source of more than 90% of their income.
     
    Please take a few minutes to email the NRLN’s sample letter, with your comments added, to your Representative and Senators to say you expect them to be bipartisan in support of the Social Security 2100 Act. Tell them it is important to take action sooner ratherr than latter to preserve Social Security for current and future generations.
     
    Bill Kadereit, President                                   Bob Martina, Vice President – Grassroots
    National Retiree Legislative Network             National Retiree Legislative Network
     
    Here are the easy steps to follow on this Action Alert:
    1.  If you have a problem with the link above, then go to https://www.nrln.org/SE.html#/. Under the top Action Alert notice, Support Passage of Social Security 2100 Act, click on "Take Action" then enter your street address and zip code and click "GO". It will present the sample letters for you to email to your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative. If you have a problem with this link, go to www.nrln.org and click on the red flashing icon "Respond to an Action Alert" near the top of the NRLN website home page. When the Action Alert appears, click on the "Take Action" link. Enter your street address and zip and click "GO" and follow the steps to email the NRLN's sample letters.
    2.  When you have accessed the sample letters, to the left of the letters are windows to type in your contact information required by members of Congress so they know they are receiving an email from a constituent. If you have sent previous NRLN emails to your members of Congress your contact information may be automatically displayed.
    3.  Personalize the letters by editing in your own comments.
    4.  Click on the "Preview" button and the letters addressed to your two Senators and Representative will appear. Their names will be automatically added in the letter's greeting. Check to make sure the letters appear correct and then click "Send".


  • August 20, 2019 2:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NRLN President's Forum

    Trump Administration Issues Plan for Drug Imports

     

    The Trump administration announced last week (July 31) a plan for allowing the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from other countries, particularly Canada. Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), issued a plan outlining the steps it will take, including issuing a regulation to allow for states and pharmacies to submit drug importation pilot programs for approval.

     

    Since 2009 the National Retiree Legislative Network has advocated that Americans, especially retirees living on fixed incomes, be allowed to have access to safe, lower price imported drugs that meet the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) safety standards.

     

    The NRLN's lobbying efforts to gain prescription drug importation has included Action Alerts to members of Congress and President Trump; a petition to President Trump signed by 5,824 NRLN grassroots advocates, a meeting that the NRLN Executive Director and I had with an HHS Under Secretary and two installments of our whitepaper on high prescription drug prices that we have lobbied on Capitol Hill during fly-ins. Click here to access whitepaper. 

     

    Our lobbying efforts for the importation of safe and lower priced medicines is a testament to the NRLN's tenacity to constantly keep pressure on policy makers and our patience to gain our objective.  

     

    An important element of the Administration's plan is the FDA will work on safety guidelines for drug manufacturers who want to import any drugs they sell in foreign countries to the U.S. market. The manufacturer would have to prove to the FDA that the overseas version of the drug is the same as the FDA-approved version, and allow Americans to purchase the same drug for less money.

     

    Ned Sharpless, acting FDA Commissioner said, "The FDA has the resources to do this. The agency is interested in considering any reasonable proposal that maintains the bedrock of safety and efficacy for the American consumer."

     

    "For the first time in HHS's history, we are open to importation," Secretary Azar said on a call with reporters. "What we're saying today is we're open. There is a pathway. We can be convinced."

     

    As you would expect, the pharmaceutical industry, a powerful force in Washington, DC, opposes the plan. "We haven't spoken about this plan with the pharmaceutical industry," Azar said.

     

    Azar said complex regulations setting up the system could take "weeks and months." He called on Congress to pass legislation that would lend its muscle to the effort, making it harder to overturn the policy in court [from drugmaker lawsuits].

     

    Bill Kadereit, President

    National Retiree Legislative Network


  • August 11, 2019 1:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It has been reported that AT&T has won a $984 million, 15-year contract to help upgrade the US Department of Justice's technology systems. The deal will see AT&T move more than 120,000 DOJ employees in 2,100 offices to a new communications platform for mobile voice and data, cybersecurity and cloud services. While it doesn't cover 5G for now, the next-generation networking service could be added on later.

    The DOJ and 43 attached organizations will also get access to FirstNet, a dedicated public safety network with better security, speed and priority.

    Stacy Schwartz, AT&T's vice president of public safety and FirstNet, said it will help support the Justice Department's "hard work of protecting the freedoms, rights and safety of all Americans."

    The deal is part of the federal government's Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions technology procurement program.

    By Corinne Reichert; CNET ~  Jul 29, 2019

  • May 15, 2019 1:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Support the AREF Through Father's Day and year round with Gifts from AmazonSmile

    Father's Day is Sunday, June 16, and by purchasing a gift for Dad through https://smile.amazon.com/ch/47-2146998 AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to the American Retirees Education Foundation (AREF) with no additional cost to you. AREF is the research and education arm of the National Retiree Legislative Network (NRLN). Even after Father's Day, Amazon Smile continues to donate when you use this link for purchases.

    For details on AmazonSmile, go to: www.nrln.org/documents/What%20is%20AmazonSmile.pdf.

    You may also make a direct tax-deductible contribution to the AREF at: www.SeniorsAREF.org/donations.html. AREF certification information regarding tax deductibility can be found at www.SeniorsAREF.org under the Tax-Deductible Information tab.

    Bill Kadereit,

    Chairman and President, American Retirees Education Foundation


  • May 09, 2019 3:24 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In 2020 and all following years, Social Security will pay more in benefits than it takes in from taxes and interest income. Social Security will deplete its $2.9 trillion reserve fund in 2035. Medicare is pointed toward insolvency by 2026.

    The figures come from the latest annual reports by the trustees for Social Security and Medicare released on Monday, April 22, 2019. The reserves will run out a little later than the trustees predicted last year. The NRLN will use the latest information from the trustees to update its "Grand Bargain" whitepaper proposal to save Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years.

    The Social Security program consists of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. The Trustees project that the hypothetical combined Trust Funds will be depleted in 2035.

    Income is sufficient to pay full scheduled benefits until 2026 for Medicare's Hospital Insurance program (Medicare Part A). The Supplementary Medical Insurance (Medicare Part B and Part D) trust fund remains adequately financed throughout the projection period, because of beneficiaries' premiums and SMI has access to general revenues.

    A strong economy and low unemployment are helping fund the program in the near term. However, the outlook in the not too distant future for both programs is for smaller benefits unless Congress and the President take action instead of continuing since 1983 to kick the can down the road.

    The 75-year actuarial deficit for the combined trust funds is estimated at 2.78 percent of taxable payroll, down from 2.84 percent of taxable payroll estimated in last year's report. This reflects a 0.05 percentage point worsening due to extending the projection period and valuation date one year.

    The report projects that over the next 75 years, the program will have unfunded obligations of $13.9 trillion in present value, $700 billion more than the projected deficit of $13.2 trillion a year ago. The program's costs equaled 4.9% of gross domestic product in 2018, but that will rise to 5.9% by 2039, the trustees predict.

    Bill Kadereit, President

    National Retiree Legislative Network


  • April 09, 2019 1:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    April 2, 2019
    The Honorable Steven T. Mnuchin
    Secretary of the Treasury
    1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
    3330 Main Treasury Building
    Washington, DC 20220

    Dear Secretary Mnuchin:

    We the undersigned retiree, labor and consumer organizations, representing the interests of millions of retirees covered by defined benefit pension plans in the United States, are writing to urge you to retract Treasury Notice 2019-18 and restore guidance preventing employers from offering a lump sum payment to retirees in lieu of their remaining annuity. We are concerned that the Treasury Department’s reversal of the 2015 Notice will undercut lifetime retirement security for vulnerable retirees and surviving spouses across the country.

    Four years ago, after studying the issue, the Treasury Department and the IRS issued Notice 2015-49 to announce their intention to amend the minimum distribution regulations under IRC Section 401(a)(9) to provide that “qualified defined benefit plans generally are not permitted to replace any joint and survivor, single life, or other annuity currently being paid with a lump sum payment or other accelerated form of distribution.” The Notice filled in an important gap in the regulations’ interpretation of section 401(a)(9), and we believe its reasoning -- which the new notice does not disclaim or further analyze -- was consistent with the purpose of section 401(a)(9).

    The 2015 Notice was correct as a matter of law, but equally important, it provided important protections to participants. Except in rare situations—such as where an unmarried participant has a terminal illness and the plan annuity thus has little value—participants incur substantial economic, money-management, and legal costs when they elect a lump sum. Employers typically offer lump sum payments with the expectation that many participants will imprudently select a lump sum payout because they underestimate the economic value and legal protections of the annuity and overestimate their ability to invest and manage the lump sum. Lump sum buyouts typically end up as a windfall to companies and impair economic security for retirees. Indeed, the Government Accountability Office issued a 2015 report that confirmed that participants in pay status often suffer significant loss when they elect a lump sum during a temporary election “window.”

    We also are concerned that, in some cases, older retirees may no longer have the capacity to make complicated financial decisions and may rely on others who may not have their best interests in mind. For instance, financial advisors who will make substantial fees managing the distributed assets, and relatives who might benefit from an elderly parent receiving a six-figure payment, may exercise undue influence on such participants to elect a lump sum. In short, we encourage the Department and other agencies to continue studying the issues related to “lump-sum windows,” and not to retract Notice 2015-49, which correctly ended an abusive practice in which plan sponsors profited at the expense of plan participants. For all of these reasons, we urge you to rescind Treasury Notice 2019-18 and reinstate Notice 2015-49.

    Respectfully,

    AARP

    Alliance for Retired Americans

    National Retiree Legislative Network

    Pension Rights Center


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