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PRESS RELEASE

Beneficiary Advocates Urge Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to Correct Inaccuracies in Medicare & You Handbook for 2019

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Washington, DC – The Center for Medicare Advocacy, Justice in Aging and the Medicare Rights Center sent a joint letter to Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), on May 15, 2018, objecting to serious inaccuracies in the draft Medicare & You Handbook for 2019, and urging CMS to rectify the errors prior to disseminating the Medicare & You Handbook.

Medicare & You is the official government publication designed to provide beneficiaries with factual information about the Medicare program, their choices for obtaining coverage, and the benefits they can expect. Unfortunately, the draft 2019 Handbook includes inaccurate descriptions of the differences between Original Medicare and private Medicare Advantage plans. Without fair and accurate information, older adults, people with disabilities and their families cannot make informed choices about their health care coverage.

The letter to Ms. Verma voiced the three organizations’ concerns that the draft 2019 Handbook distorts and mischaracterizes essential facts on which beneficiaries rely to make decisions about their coverage. First, it does not adequately inform beneficiaries of the significant limitations on choices of health care providers if they choose a Medicare Advantage plan rather than Original Medicare. In addition, it presents prior authorization in Medicare Advantage plans as a “right” that is not available in Original Medicare, rather than acknowledging that it is a requirement, an extra step mandated for Medicare Advantage members before they are permitted to access care. Further, the draft 2019 Handbook inaccurately implies that Medicare Advantage is the less expensive option for all beneficiaries. This sweeping generalization ignores the many variables that people with Medicare must consider in evaluating and selecting coverage that is most affordable and best suited for their needs.

Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, noted, “These can literally be life and death decisions. CMS has a duty to provide complete, unbiased information to help beneficiaries make the best choice for their Medicare coverage. Regrettably, the current version of Medicare & You does not fully and fairly inform people of the pros and cons of Original Medicare vs. Medicare Advantage. The draft Handbook needs to be corrected before it is published and sent to beneficiaries.”

Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director of Justice in Aging stated: “Several proposed changes in the Handbook distort basic facts about how Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare work. People with Medicare rely on Medicare & You for accurate and objective information. If these changes were adopted, beneficiaries would not have the information they need to make fully informed decisions about their Medicare coverage.”

Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center, stated: “From the Medicare Rights Center’s experience assisting people with Medicare and their families, we know how challenging it can be for beneficiaries to make the best coverage decision for their unique circumstances. The Medicare & You Handbook must support this decision-making process by accurately describing the rules, restrictions, and benefits of both Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Regardless of the coverage they ultimately select, all people with Medicare deserve the opportunity to make an informed choice. We commend CMS for incorporating many of the language changes we suggested in prior years, and urge the agency to address our concerns with the draft 2019 Handbook prior to its publication.”

Read the letter here.

The Center for Medicare Advocacy is a national, nonprofit, non-partisan law organization that works to advance access to comprehensive Medicare coverage and quality health care for older people and people with disabilities through legal analysis, education, and advocacy.

Justice in Aging is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty through law. Formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center, since 1972 we’ve worked for access to affordable health care and economic security for older adults with limited resources, focusing especially on populations that have traditionally lacked legal protection such as women, people of color, LGBT individuals, and people with limited English proficiency.

The Medicare Rights Center is a national, nonprofit consumer service organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities through counseling and advocacy, educational programs, and public policy initiatives. 

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Contact: Vanessa Barrington
510-256-1200 direct
vbarrington@justiceinaging.org

American Society on Aging Honors Paul Nathanson with its Hall of Fame Award

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San Francisco, CA (March 26, 2018) – Justice in Aging is proud to announce that the American Society on Aging is honoring Paul Nathanson with its 2018 Hall of Fame Award. The Hall of Fame Award is presented to an individual who has, through a lifetime of advocacy and leadership, enhanced the lives of elders through demonstrated leadership on the national level. The award will be presented today at 4PM in the Continental Ballroom during the opening plenary of the American Society on Aging’s annual conference in San Francisco.

“I am honored to receive this award. We at Justice in Aging have been using the law to try to address the most critical needs of the most vulnerable older Americans for over 45 years,” said Paul. “There have been many successes. Unfortunately the challenges continue and have been intensified with this administration.”

Paul is a two-time former Executive Director of Justice in Aging. He served from 1972-1980 as the organization’s first Executive Director and then returned to serve from 2008-2013 when Justice in Aging’s current Executive Director, Kevin Prindiville, assumed the role.

“Paul has been a wonderful mentor and colleague over the years. His lifetime of commitment to fighting senior poverty is unmatched. His work has been instrumental in several precedent-setting legal cases that have returned billions of dollars in benefits to low-income older adults who would otherwise have had no access to justice”, said Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director, Justice in Aging. “We value Paul’s continued contributions today through his role as special counsel.”

In his role as special counsel Paul contributes to Justice in Aging’s efforts to restore and improve the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI). He has served as the director of the University of New Mexico (UNM) Institute of Public Law where he is now an emeritus professor. Paul is a past president of the American Society on Aging, and a founding member of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging. He also served as the National Secretary of the Gray Panthers and is a past Chair of the Board of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM); and currently serves on the board. Paul is a graduate of Duke University (JD) and University of Chicago (MCompLaw).

Justice in Aging is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty through law. Formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center, since 1972 we’ve worked for access to affordable health care and economic security for older adults with limited resources, focusing especially on populations that have traditionally lacked legal protection such as women, people of color, LGBT individuals, and people with limited English proficiency. Through targeted advocacy, litigation, and the trainings and resources we provide to local advocates, we ensure access to the social safety net programs that poor seniors depend on, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

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Contact: Vanessa Barrington
510-256-1200 direct
vbarrington@justiceinaging.org

Joint Statement: President’s Budget Targets Key Health Care Programs; Millions of Older Adults and People with Disabilities at Risk if Implemented, Advocates Warn

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Washington, DC—The President’s annual budget request is, at its core, a statement of values. It is incredibly troubling then, that President Trump’s budget blueprint for FY 2019, submitted this week, again prioritizes deep cuts to programs on which older adults and people with disabilities rely, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.

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Justice in Aging Statement on Proposed 2019 Budget

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President Trump’s proposed FY 2019 Budget is yet another attack on the health and economic security of older adults and people with disabilities. After using the latest tax bill to give away trillions of dollars in tax cuts to America’s wealthiest, the Administration is attempting to pay for those tax cuts by slashing critical programs that keep older adults in their homes, allow them to visit their doctors, and ensure they can meet their basic needs.

This budget would take us backwards by increasing poverty and making it harder for people to get the health care they need. It goes against what Congress wants and what the public wants. In its 2018 budget, Congress recently increased spending for important and popular programs. Those gains would disappear in 2019 under this budget.

The American people do not want cuts to Medicaid or the repeal of the ACA, yet this budget renews calls for slashing Medicaid by more than $1.4 trillion over the next decade through block grants and per capita caps, as well as repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As we have explained, such cuts would be devastating to low-income older adults who rely on Medicaid to support their health care needs and ability to stay in their homes, leave millions without coverage, and weaken consumer protections.

The President promised the American people he wouldn’t touch Medicare, yet his proposed budget for the next ten years calls for over $490 billion in cuts to a program that every American will need.

The budget also would make it harder for older adults to pay rent, put food on the table, and meet their basic needs. The budget proposes significant cuts of over $83 billion to Social Security, primarily through cuts to Social Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. These programs are there for people who have no or little income and are the difference between home and a life on the streets for many.

Additionally, the budget proposes dramatic cuts to nutrition assistance, eliminates funding for home heating and cooling assistance for about 6 million low-income households, and calls for the complete elimination of the Legal Services Corporation, which provides vital legal help for low-income older adults and their families.

This budget is a true window into the misplaced priorities of this President and his Administration. On the heels of a massive tax cut that will increase income inequality, this budget proposes to make life even more difficult for America’s poor older adults and people with disabilities.

By joining together we have fought back successfully against previous attempts to cut the programs older adults and their families rely on, and we will continue to fight for justice for us all as we age.

Federal Government Falls Short in Protecting Assisted Living Residents

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(February 5, 2018)  A new report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that lax federal oversight over Medicaid-funded assisted living services threatens the health and safety of the over 330,000 people relying on these services across the country.

The report shows that “critical incidents”, such as unexplained deaths, assault, abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, and other serious situations are not tracked and reported adequately or consistently. Additionally, there is no way for prospective residents and their families to evaluate the quality of various assisted living facilities because this information is not readily available.

Though 48 states provide Medicaid coverage for assisted living at a cost of more than $10 billion annually, more than half (26 states) could not report the number of critical incidents occurring in assisted living facilities.

“The GAO report only scratches the surface,” said Eric Carlson, a directing attorney at the non-profit Justice in Aging.  “Despite the significant federal Medicaid expenditures, the federal government generally defers to state assisted living licensing laws, and some of those state laws are grossly inadequate to protect the health and safety of the high-need residents that receive Medicaid funded assisted living care.”

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Justice in Aging Joins Other Civil Rights Groups in Amicus Brief Filing As SCOTUS Scrutinizes Workers’ Rights

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Monday, August 21 – To protect the rights of workers, Justice in Aging teamed up last week with leading civil rights law firms, The Impact Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) and Cohen Milstein, to file an amicus brief on behalf of more than thirty civil rights organizations from across the country in a trio of cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The cases address the question of whether employment agreements that prevent workers from taking “concerted” action to challenge workplace violations conflict with protections in federal labor law. Such agreements undermine the fight for civil rights.
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Court Certifies Nationwide Class in “Observation Status” Case

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Decision in Alexander v. Price Means Medicare Patients Could Gain Right to Appeal Placement on “Observation Status” and Avoid Large Medical Bills

August 1, 2017 – Eighty-four-year-old Nancy Niemi of North Carolina was hospitalized for 39 days earlier this year after her doctor sent her to the emergency room. It took weeks to stabilize her blood pressure and she experienced serious complications. But unbelievably, Ms. Niemi was categorized as an outpatient on “observation status” for her entire hospitalization, and she therefore lacked the three-day inpatient stay Medicare requires for coverage of her subsequent, very expensive care at a nursing home. Ms. Niemi’s son tried to help her challenge her lengthy placement on observation status, but Medicare does not allow beneficiaries to appeal this issue. She still owes thousands of dollars to the nursing facility. However, due to the federal court decision issued July 31, 2017, she is now a member of a nationwide class of hospital patients who may gain the right to appeal their placement on observation status.
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In Reckless and Irresponsible Move, Senate Votes to Proceed on Repeal of the ACA

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Below is a statement by Executive Director Kevin Prindiville of Justice in Aging

Today, the Senate took a reckless and irresponsible step towards gutting healthcare for older adults and others, and removing critical consumer protections that save lives. With Vice President Pence casting the tie-breaking vote, the Senate voted to begin a curtailed 20-hour debate on several bills that would drastically change our health care system, stripping coverage from millions of Americans and cutting over $750 billion from Medicaid. Any bill that emerges from such a chaotic process would have devastating effects on older Americans and their families.
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Bill in Congress Aims to Address Poverty Among Older Adults and People with Disabilities

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Washington, DC—(July 19, 2017) 85-year-old Ortencia boils soup bones with vegetables she gets from the food bank to stretch her weekly food allotment and stay healthy. 61-year old Carey endures numerous aches and pains to carry groceries home from the bus, the cheapest form of transportation. Both struggle to survive on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a need-based program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provides a very basic income to older adults and people with disabilities. Major provisions of the program haven’t been updated since it was created in 1972, and as the program fails to keep up with the cost of living, the 8.3 million people who rely on it to pay rent, buy food, and meet other basic needs keep falling further below the poverty line.

Representative Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced the SSI Restoration Act of 2017 in Congress today, with the support of 36 representatives and more than 80 organizations. The SSI Restoration Act puts forth solutions intended to help people like Ortencia and Carey make ends meet. The act increases the amount of money individuals can receive to supplement their income from both employment and non-employment sources; it increases the amount of assets individuals and couples can save for emergencies to a limit that’s more in line with today’s dollars; it repeals a provision that discourages people from seeking help from family; and removes the marriage penalty, among other adjustments.
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CBO Score Confirms Latest ACA Repeal Bill Will Lead to Devastating Coverage Losses and Sharply Higher Premiums

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Below is a statement by Executive Director Kevin Prindiville on the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act of 2017 (ORRA)

Today the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirmed what we already knew: repealing the Affordable Care Act and delaying replacement will wreak havoc on our health care system. According to the CBO’s report, the Senate’s latest bill would strip coverage from 32 million Americans and cause health insurance premiums to nearly double in the next decade.
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