Hey Baby Boomers, We’re No. 2!

You can read all my blog posts at http://www.generationsofnewyork.com

The Census Department confirmed this month the end of an era that last over 50 years.  We Baby Boomers, the largest generation in the nation’s history are now the second largest generation.  Yes, our children, the Millennials, born between 1981 and 1997, have surpassed us with 75.4million.  There are 74.9 million in our  Baby Boom Generation which peaked at 78.8 million in 1999. For the Millennials the increasing number of immigrants in their age range is adding to the increase while the number of older immigrants is less than the mortality rate of us Baby Boomers now. The generation between us, born from 1965 to 1980 is smaller and will peak at 65 million in  2018 and will surpass us in 2028.

Throughout our entire lives, we have dominated the history of the country from our early days in the 1960s when schools had to be built or expanded, through our entrance into college when  students challenged the Vietnam War and so many more policies of the political and social order. The civil rights movement, the environmental movement, the gay rights movement and the women’s movement all may have begun when we were kids but many have taken up their banners as adults to change the face of the country from what we remember it as when we first became politically aware.  We continue to have an influential role as is evidenced by the large number of older persons showing up at political rallies this year.

We are going to challenge all the definitions of older age as we are already doing.  If you go to your local gym, it is amazing how many seniors, older than us, are there with us. For many the gym, the food coop and the library are the social centers for many older persons.  There are a lot of us continuing physical activities from our youth.

We are the most affluent generation ever so there are many who are able to enjoy a higher standard of living, but not everybody is healthy or wealthy so the burdens of older age for those without money or good health remain.  The social and community services networks as well as the support of faith based communities remain important in helping those in need.   Seniors are a large source of volunteers in this country.  I see it all the time working with Community Caregivers in Albany as they drive their peers to doctor appointments, help with household chores or make re-assurance calls.

The Greatest Generation of our parents and grandparents, born from  1910-1924 is now in last years  All are in the 90s or older and a few members of it could live to around 1930.   For us Baby Boomers, we are now 52-71.  In twenty years, we will be 72-91 and some of us will make it to 2050 and beyond.  We will be a tremendous burden on our long term care system.  I suspect though that we will fight hard to remain independent and that is why it is so important to promote grassroots efforts to support family caregivers, start self help villages and  supportive communities and neighborhoods that focus on the quality of life for older persons and those of all ages.

We must pass our community activism and volunteerism to the Millennials because Facebook has its benefits but face to face contact and friendship cannot be replaced.

Medicare Advisory Panel Wants to Restrain Drug Prices

You can read all of my blog posts at http://www.generationsofnewyork.com    You can email me at mjburgess1002@gmail.com

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MPAC) recommended this month that insurers and pharmaceutical companies have their payments cut so that they are pressured to lower drug prices in the Medicare Part D program.  Prices have been increasing more quickly than expected in the Medicare program as well as all insurance.

Some drugs like those for hepatitis C have cost thousands of dollars and driven drug spending up 16.6% in the past year to a total of $75 billion.   These costs are higher than Medicare originally projected. While premiums have remained relatively stable over the past few years, some are predicting they will rise quickly in the years ahead, perhaps doubling to to $64 monthly, if costs for drugs are not restrained.  Drug companies, of course, are protesting that any cuts to reimbursement will restrict access to drugs for some patients- apparently they don’t understand that their high prices are already doing that.  Some insurers in their Part D plans require beneficiaries to pay 25% of the cost of a drug and that can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars with each prescription.

Of course, Medicare has its hands tied by the original Part D law that forbid the government from negotiating drug prices, leaving it to the Medicare Advantage and separate drug plans to do so.   The MPAC says there needs to be more pressure on drug prices which can only come if the insurers and drug companies have less reimbursement.  The Committee also suggested that beneficiaries should be shielded from the 5% of the costs they pay when the reach the catastrophic tier after having spent $7500.

As I have said before that drug companies are killing the goose that lays the golden egg with the outrageous prices they are charging to American consumers and insurance plans. I believe they have moved from their old argument that pricing reflects the high costs of research and development.  Of course that is now ridiculous since some old drugs are having their prices hiked dramatically.   They really are switching to pricing that says they should be paid the equivalent of what would be paid if the disease and illness had led to hospitalization or other high health costs.  In other words, they want the money save re-directed to them.  Jonas Salk who developed the polio vaccine never said that he and his researchers or the drug company that developed the polio vaccine should be given all the money that would have gone to continuing to treat polio patients.

 

 

 

Income Inequality Hurts Social Security

You can read all my blog posts at http://www.generationsofnewyork.com

by Michael Burgess

A new study from Stanford University shows that income inequality   s undermining the progressively of Social Security benefits.    Social Security has a degree of progressively built into the benefits formula.  In other words lower wage workers have a higher percentage of their incomes replaced than those with higher incomes.  However, this progressively is being undercut by income inequality.

As income gaps have widened, annual benefits for Social Security for higher income persons have grown faster than for middle and lower income persons.  This has eroded the progressivity formula.  Adding to the income inequality, men with the highest incomes, the top 1% of earners, live to an average age of 87 versus 78 for a person with $30,000 income, according to the study.  With an average of nine additional years of benefits, this fact also undercuts the value of Social Security’s progressive structure.  Since the program is intended as insurance, those who die younger don’t reap the benefits of those with longer lifespans and they also subsidize the benefits for those living longer.

Lower income men are not seeing their lifespans increase as much and their lifetime Social Security benefits are actually not increasing  like in previous years because of wage stagnation.  The Times reported, “A study published this year … found that life expectancy for the bottom 10 percent of male wage earners turning 66 this year has risen 0.7 of a year compared with what was expected for their low-income counterparts 30 years ago. For the top 10 percent of male wage earners, however, life span rose 8.1 years in the same period.”

These studies could have a big impact on public policy debates on Social Security because they point to changes benefitting more affluent persons.  There could be more calls to cut the benefit formula for higher income beneficiaries and increase the earnings cap subject to Social Security taxes which is currently $118,500.  The new study should also be used to oppose efforts to raise the retirement age to 70 as some conservatives have proposed on the theory that all put are living longer.  However, raising the age would hurt  lower income persons the most since their longevity is not increasing much at all.

 

Sanders, Clinton Debate Social Security

In Thursday night’s Democratic debate, CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked questions about Social Security and tried to get Hillary Clinton to say whether she would support raising the income limit subject to Social Security taxes which is now $118,500.  Clinton said she did support getting more money for Social Security from wealthy persons and that raising the cap would be one way.  She also mentioned taxing “passive” income.

Bernie Sanders pressed her on the issue of raising the cap which he has pushed for a long time.   She said she has supported that and that she also wants to increase benefits for lower income older persons. Raising the cap  has long been the focus of progressive advocates as the way to extend  Social Security’s full financing for many more years.

Oh how the debate on Social Security has changed.  Ten years ago, President George W. Bush tried to privatize the program  That effort failed when many members of the Republican Party balked.  President Obama, trying to strike a bipartisan budget deal a few years ago, proposed changing the way the cost of living adjustment (COLA) is calculated to lower the increase.

Many Republicans are still talking about raising the retirement age and some still want privatization.   They have proposed those ideas as the only solutions and never mention raising the earnings cap above $118,500.  Governor John Kasich wants to keep benefits the same for most people but would cut them for the wealthy.   Donald Trump is to the left of the other Republicans and  is the only one who says he wouldn’t cut benefits.    He has shown that the party establishment has been out of touch with its own voters on this issue.

There are growing calls for improving benefits and even providing some credits for caregivers, mostly women, who were out of the workforce for child caring.  What has changed?  The growing focus on income inequality has shown how valuable Social Security is for older persons.  If they did not have it now, many would be destitute.  As pensions are no longer provided in many businesses and good paying jobs have been lost for many middle and lower income persons, Social Security has become even more important in retirement and for those who are disabled.

The change in the political environment for Social Security is another example of how change has come from the progressive advocates not from most elected officials.  Much still rides though on who is elected to the White House and Congress in the fall.  No matter who wins though, advocates have to aggressively push again to defend and expand Social Security.   It is a winnable battle because the program has the strong support of the American people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning for Implementation of Paid Family Leave Begins

Even though the new paid family leave program in New York State won’t begin until January 1, 2018, the Governor’s office is already outlining steps needed to move ahead with implementation.  Several state agencies will be involved including the Department of Financial Services, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health.  The program will be run through the worker’s compensation system.

State agencies will have to write regulations to implement the program.  Though the legislative language spells out details of the program, there are numerous particular issues that will have to be addressed.  Some of those include how paid family leave works with paid vacation and sick time.  It will also have to be clarified how it works with disability benefits for childbirth.  Another issue is how and if workers can split the paid family leave, taking less than twelve weeks at one time and using the rest later.

All of these issues and more will be addressed by state agencies as they move ahead in developing plans for implementation and regulations.  The advocacy coalition that supported the bill’s passage will continue to have dialogue and input with the Governor’s office and state agencies on these issues and others interested should seek input with the key staff persons involved in the implementation at the agencies.

Governor Cuomo’s Counsel, Alphonso David, has played a key role in coordinating advocacy for the program and has been given high marks by advocates for his support and accessibility.

Abinanti, Latimer Propose Aging in Place Task Force

Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti and Senator George Latimer are proposing a bill (A2123/S566) to establish an Aging in Place task force  with the State Office for the Aging.

The purpose of the task force shall be to study how the state can encourage
aging in place including, but not limited to, an examination of:

(a) infrastructure and transportation improvements;
(b) zoning changes to facilitate home care;
(c) enhanced nutrition programs and delivery options

(d) improved fraud and abuse protections;
(e) expansion of home medical care options;
(f) tax incentives; and
(g) incentives for private insurance.

The bill is in Aging Committees of both houses but has not advanced yet. The bill is being supported by local activists who are involved in the “village movement” and other projects to enhance the ability of older persons to remain living independently in the community.  They are urging others to contact the committee chairs and their own legislators to get the bill passed in both aging committees and onto the floor of both houses.

Meanwhile, the Albany Guardian Society is continuing to hold meetings to assist local communities  across the region and state to develop villages.   At a recent meeting in the Albany area, representatives of villages from Rhinebeck, Glens Falls and the Albany area spoke.  There are currently several villages in formation and started in the Albany area including Livingston Village in a reconverted school building in Albany and one developing in the West Hill section of the city.   There are two other villages in formation in the Albany suburbs in Glenmont.  A meeting is being planned for the suburb of Delmar as well.  There remains one NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) in the City of Albany.

For more information, leave a comment here with your email address.

For Clinton, Sanders, NY Primary Is Battle of Strengths

All eyes in the political world are on New York State now.  For once, this primary really matters in both parties.  The clash between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will highlight the fault lines in Democratic politics, the two powerful forces in New York politics.  One is the movement politics that Bernie Sanders represents and the other is the establishment politics and performance of incumbency politics.

There are many environmental, peace, and good government activists and progressive reformers who have long known and  admired Bernie Sanders.  It is true that parts of upstate New York are very much like Vermont.  Just two years ago, another Vermont native, Zephyr Teachout, came out of nowhere as a political unknown and won 30 upstate counties in the Democratic primary against Andrew Cuomo.  So, Sanders starts with more money and more name recognition that Teachout did.   Bernie is the leader of a movement and there is strong element of that in New York’s highly educated and activist Democratic party.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton not only has the wide support of the political establishment across the state, she earned the support and affection of many people and communities as the Senator from New York.  This is her home field advantage and it is significant.  Whatever one thinks of Hillary, she ran a masterful campaign for the Senate and her constituent service operation was much like that of our legendary other Senator Chuck Schumer.  Being a a Senator from New York really provided the best showcase of the way Clinton wants to lead regarding bringing people together to work on local problems.

And, the other masterful aspect of her campaign and service was her approachability.  When she ran for the Senate we remember how she visited all the small towns and large crowds turned out for her.  In those days before selfies, she posed for old fashioned photos with just about anyone who wanted one.  People don’t forget that and still have those photos.  It is no coincidence that she won decisively in many upstate counties even in northern New York on the Vermont border.

I suspect that she will win this state and that her margin of victory will be very much because of that record.