Today is Giving Tuesday, a day of charitable giving that was developed in recent years to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In a few short years, giving has topped $300 million nationally to national and local charities which are now gearing their publicity and outreach to the event. The Albany Times Union is running two full pages of ads for local charities that paid for them. The ads ran in the paper on Monday and Tuesday. The paper is also running ads on December 13 and 14 for year end donations to charities.
Charities are concerned though about the first year of impact of the federal tax bill passed last year which significantly raised the standard deduction to $24,000. This change is a disincentive to charitable giving since previously, charitable donations were able to be deducted with a lower standard deduction if they were itemized. Now that the standard deduction has been doubled, taxpayers would have to give substantially more money to itemize deductions. And, with the change limiting state income and property taxes to $10,000, there is less likelihood most taxpayers will be able to reach the new $24,000 standard deduction. So, most middle and upper income taxpayers will simply be taking the new standard deduction and giving to charities without a tax benefit. Wealthy taxpayers will still probably itemize if they have been giving substantial amounts to charity.
Despite the threats to fundraising, charities are getting more adept at using email and social media to push for volunteers and donations, setting goals online and promoting the drive. Online fundraising has become the key medium for charities. And political candidates like Beto O’Rourke who ran for the Senate in Texas have proven the ability to raise huge amounts of money online.
We are in the Medicare open enrollment period until December 7th and seniors and persons with disabilities are getting a barrage of advertising in their mail, email and in television and newspaper ads. Medicare has become more profitable for these private and nonprofit health plans in Medicare with the government boosting their payments by 3.45% for 2019. There are now 3700 such local and regional plans across the nation. The Trump Administration is predicting up to 50% of beneficiaries will soon choose these plans. About 23 million Medicare beneficiaries are predicted to be in Medicare Advantage in 2019. This has become a very confusing exercise for many beneficiaries unless they decide to simply stay with original Medicare and can have their choice of doctors and providers.
The Advantage plans though are trying to entice beneficiaries with $0 monthly premiums, gym memberships and some dental and hearing aid costs covered along with other perks. How do they do this? They try to attract healthier persons and have a restricted network of providers. They also have prior authorization rules for some treatments In fact, a recent report from the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services says it has found “widespread and persistent problems related to denials of care and payment” in the Medicare Advantage program. It found that 75% of appeals were overruled though most people do not appeal or know how to.
The Medicare Care Advantage market nationwide is dominated by Aetna, Humana and United Healthcare but there are many smaller and more regional insurers. 10,000 persons are turning 65 every day and they are more accustomed to having managed care coverage from private employers. With government funding increasing many insurers are entering the Medicare market and the three dominant companies plan to expand into 97 more counties nationwide. The for profit companies are reportedly making a profit margin that is double that of other nonprofit Medicare Advantage plans.
Progressive activists are continuing to push for a Medicare for All single payer plan nationwide to extend health coverage to all Americans and cut into the overhead and profit of private insurers.
New York State turned a deeper shade of blue on Election Day as Democrats, which needed one seat to take over the New York State Senate won eight seats. They now will have a majority of 40 members with Republicans having only 23. About one fourth of the Senate members will be new after the election. It will be very difficult for Republicans to regain control of the Senate anytime soon.
Assembly Democrats continue to hold a dominant majority. Governor Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli were re-elected easily along with the new Attorney General, Democrat Latitia James. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand won 66% in her re-election bid and she already said she is considering running for President in 2020.
Victories for the Democrats mean that Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester will become the new Senate Majority Leader, the first woman and African American in that position. Outgoing Majority leader John Flanagan may face competition for the position of Minority Leader. The Republicans had nine members in the Senate from Long Island but will have only three now so upstaters may want one of their own to lead the GOP.
Many familiar faces who have been in Albany for decades will be gone including Senators Kemp Hannon, Martin Golden and Carl Marcellino who were all defeated. Others including Jeff Klein, Tony Avella, David Valesky, Marisol Alcantara and Jose Peralta, who were members of the Independent Democratic Caucus were defeated in September primaries after a rebellion by progressive Democrats. Others who retired and not coming back are John DeFrancisco, John Bonacic, Bill Larkin and Kathy Marchione. The new Senate Democratic Majority will be much more diverse than the Republicans who ran the chamber.
Hannon had chaired the Health Committee for many years and now there will be a new Democratic chair. Senator Gustavo Rivera has been the ranking member of that committee but it is unclear if he will become Chairman of the committee. Others with more seniority may want that high profile position. Senator Sue Serino who has been chair of the Aging Committee was re-elected but will no longer be chair. Usually, a Senator without a lot of seniority becomes chair. It would be ironic if new Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated Jeff Klein becomes Aging Chair. Her grandfather, Congressman Mario Biaggi, was the legendary first Chair of the Aging Committee in the US House of Representatives forty years ago.
Meanwhile, Democrats won three seats in Congress in New York, leaving Republicans with only six of the state’s 27 seats. Democrat Antonio Delgado defeated John Faso in a seat in the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys. Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi ousted Claudia Tenney in central New York and Max Rose defeated Daniel Donovan on Staten Island, meaning there will no longer be any Republicans from New York City in the House of Representatives Indicted Congressman Chris Collins was re-elected in western New York. Other remaining Republicans are Peter King and Lee Zeldin on Long Island and Elise Stefanik from northern New York, John Katko from central New York and Thomas Reed of the Southern Tier.