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Public Statements

Issue Position: Seniors

Issue Position

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Republican Plan to End Medicare As We Know It:
On April 15, 2011, House Republicans passed their budget, which ends Medicare as we know it and replaces it with a voucher system that increases costs to seniors and reduces benefits. The GOP plan ends the guaranteed coverage seniors paid for. I strongly oppose this.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) states that, under the GOP plan, seniors "would bear a much larger share of their health care costs than they would under the traditional program." According to CBO, the GOP plan would more than double the typical senior's out-of-pocket health care spending in 2022, compared to what their costs would be under traditional Medicare -- increasing their out-of-pocket costs by more than $6,000. Seniors' health care costs would continue to skyrocket over time because the voucher would grow much slower than health care costs, leaving seniors to pay more. According to CBO, under the GOP plan, by 2030 seniors would be paying 68 percent of their health care costs -- with the voucher covering only 32 percent.

The Republican plan would also:
* Give enormous flexibility to the private insurance companies -- meaning the GOP plan no longer guarantees seniors the same level of benefits and choice of doctor that they have today under Medicare.
* Raise prescription drug costs for millions of seniors -- getting rid of health reform's provisions providing a 50% discount for brand-name drugs for seniors in in the "donut hole' coverage gap and completely closing the "donut hole' by 2020.
* Raise costs for seniors by getting rid of the new free preventive care benefit under Medicare, which went into effect on January 1st.
* Phase in an increase in the age at which seniors are eligible for the new voucher program that replaces Medicare from 65 to 67, beginning in 2022.

The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also reports that the Ryan plan would increase health care spending for Medicare beneficiaries.

Republican Plan Cuts Medicaid:
Under the budget passed by House Republicans, Medicaid's guarantee of coverage would be eliminated, Medicaid would be turned into a block grant program, and the federal contribution to Medicaid would be reduced by nearly $800 billion over the next decade. Other changes proposed by House Republicans would allow states to eliminate coverage for seniors, individuals with disabilities, children, pregnant women, and others currently enrolled in Medicaid. These changes would have a profound impact on Medicaid's ability to provide health coverage to millions of Americans.

Strengthening Medicare Through Health Care Reform:
As part of health care reform, I was committed to making sure that we fixed what's broken in the health care system and strengthened what's working. For 46 years, Medicare has provided critical health care and financial stability for seniors and people with disabilities -- and it's working for seniors in western Wisconsin. Under health care reform, Medicare will be strengthened and improved by:
* Immediately lowering prescription drug costs for the 8,800 seniors in western Wisconsin stuck in the "donut hole' and ultimately closes it altogether by 2020. The bill provides a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the donut hole in 2010. Drug manufacturers will provide 50% discounts on brand name drugs in the donut hole to reduce costs beginning in 2011. Provisions also make it easier for seniors to enroll in the prescription drug low-income subsidy program by reducing administrative barriers and red tape.
* Eliminating Medicare co-payments for preventive care so that seniors will pay nothing on recommended preventive services that will keep them healthier longer. It also limits cost-sharing requirements in Medicare Advantage plans to the amount charged for the same services in traditional Medicare coverage and improves payment accuracy to ensure that Medicare pays the right amount for health services.
* Fighting waste, fraud and abuse in the system by strengthening existing enforcement and compliance tools and eliminating overpayments to providers. New penalties will be created for submitting false data on applications, false claims for payment, or for obstructing audits or investigations related to Medicare or Medicaid.

Health care reform provides strong protections to safeguard seniors and the Medicare program by:
* Banning Medicare prescription drug plans from making mid-year formulary changes, which prevents drug plans from using bait-and-switch tactics after seniors have committed to enrolling in a plan.
* Strengthening penalties for prescription drug plans that use false marketing to mislead seniors.
* Limiting the maximum Medicare Advantage cost-sharing levels to the amount charged for the same service in traditional Medicare coverage.
* Extending the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund, which strengthens the financial future of Medicare.
* Medicare is an important program that is working for our seniors. I supported health care reform because it strengthens and improves this vital program and protects it for years to come. Reform also ensures the sustainability of our health care system and provides stable, affordable, high quality health care to all Americans.

Protecting Social Security:
As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security, I am committed to finding responsible solutions to address the long-term financing challenges facing the program. I know we can find a way to ensure Social Security remains strong for today's seniors while making sure future generations can rely on it too. As part of my commitment to protect its solvency, I strongly oppose privatizing Social Security because it would rob money from the system that is needed to pay benefits for today's seniors. We cannot leave the emergency retirement money of our nation to be subject to the ups and downs of the stock market.

In 2005, when some members of Congress tried to privatize the program, I fought hard to save Social Security from this effort to destroy it, putting our seniors' financial security at risk. When the stock market plunged and the housing bubble burst, there was one thing America's seniors could count on - Social Security. There are those in Congress today that are again threatening to privatize Social Security. We cannot allow that to happen. I have fought to keep Social Security strong for today's seniors and generations to come.

According to the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees, Social Security has enough money to pay 100% of benefits for decades to come through payroll taxes and the Trust Fund. During the decades before Social Security's finances reach a critical point, I believe the Social Security Trust Fund surplus should be reserved for Social Security payments alone. Protecting the Social Security surplus from being raided for other spending will protect the program and prevent us from having to increase the deficit to make sure seniors get the benefits they've earned.

Economic Stability for Seniors:
Seniors, like so many Americans, are struggling at this time and are worried about the present and future. I am working every day on behalf of the seniors in western Wisconsin to rebuild our economy and protect the programs most important to them. We're making tough choices to turn this country around and put us on a path towards shared prosperity for generations to come.
We need to continue the ongoing recovery and translate that economic growth into jobs. So I am continuing to encourage small businesses to grow and hire new employees through a number of bills I have introduced . The Recovery Act worked for western Wisconsin and did create jobs - but more needs to be done to foster an environment to help the private sector grow our local economies.

Protecting seniors and their income from financial frauds and schemes so they have money for the things they need is also critical. That's why I supported new and tougher regulations on the banking industry through the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act which bans unfair rate increases and forbids the abusive fees and penalties that credit card companies have inflicted on America's seniors.

Fiscal Responsibility:
Having investigated some of Senator Bill Proxmire's Golden Fleece awards pointing out wasteful government spending, I have long been committed to fiscal responsibility. We must begin dealing with our long-term fiscal challenge and pay down the debt to ensure that future generations are not stuck with our unpaid bills.


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