Tens of thousands of Southwestern Pennsylvania seniors rely on Medicare and Social Security during their retirement years for basic necessities like food, monthly electricity bills, doctor visits and prescription drugs. During Wednesday's Senior Expo in Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County, Congressman Murphy fielded questions from countless seniors on the latest updates from Washington on these programs that will impact them here at home.
For starters, Murphy shared the news that the Social Security Administration will provide a 1.7 percent cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) next year, which translates to an adjustment of $21 per month. The Congressman expressed his belief that the current COLA model fails to take into account the rising price of healthcare, including medical procedures and prescription drugs and other cost-of-living expenses unique to seniors and those on disability. That's why Murphy supports The Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act to establish a new rate relevant to seniors expenses instead of the population as a whole. The bill directs the Department of Labor to prepare and publish a monthly Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E) to calculate the changes over time in expenditures for individuals aged 62 years or older.
At the event Murphy also spoke with seniors about his efforts to shore up the Medicare and Social Security Trust funds. In the past, the federal government attempted to cover overspending by "borrowing" trillions from the Social Security Trust Fund. To stop Congress or the Administration from treating the trust funds as a piggy bank for earmarks and new programs, Murphy authored the Social Security and Medicare Protection Act (H.R. 1630). Murphy's bill stops spending of hard-earned taxpayer dollars by ensuring that money seniors pay into the trust fund is only spent on those programs.
Another important issue impacting seniors today involves a complicated federal law called "Medicare Secondary Payer." Imagine you suffer an injury while visiting your local grocery store. Under current law, Medicare's bureaucracy would prevent you from collecting a settlement until the store reimbursed the Medicare Trust Fund for your medical bills. In fact, those stores, as well as insurance companies and attorneys, are trying to repay hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the Medicare Trust Fund but government bureaucracy is standing in the way. Without Congressional action, this convoluted process puts legal settlements at risk and causes some seniors to lose their Medicare coverage or have their Social Security checks garnished. Congressman Murphy introduced the "Strengthening Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers Act' (SMART Act, H.R. 1063), which eliminates bureaucratic delays in the Medicare system while helping to ensure that seniors who are injured receive the proper settlement in a timely manner. After receiving unanimous support from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the SMART Act awaits a full vote on the House floor, where strong bipartisan support is expected.
Murphy also reminded seniors at the Expo that open enrollment for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage begins Monday, October 15th and runs through December 7th, 2012. During open enrollment, all Medicare eligible individuals can join, switch, or drop a Medicare drug or Advantage plan for the upcoming year. Medicare Advantage plans are managed care offerings like Security Blue and UPMC for Life.
If you have questions or concerns about your Medicare plans or need assistance enrolling in a new plan, please contact Congressman Murphy's Mt. Lebanon (412) 344-5583 or Greensburg (724) 850-7312 offices, where a member of his staff will assist you. You can also learn more about Medicare plans online by visiting www.medicare.gov.