Senior Matters: Checks and balance helps us all

Fred Goldenberg

First a quick public service reminder.

Last week I heard about a woman who received a call at home and without hesitation gave the caller all of her personal information. When those with her asked who that was, she said it was Medicare and they needed to update her account. Chances are the person has had her Medicare supplemental plan unwillingly changed or worse her identity compromised.

Please remember Medicare, Social Security and/or the IRS will never call you — never! Do not give any information to anyone you don’t know or trust over the phone — ever!!

After my last column, I received an email calling me — and “all you liberals” — out for always saying that the sky is falling as a way of scaring seniors into voting a certain way. The writer was referring to my rebuffing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who in an interview in Bloomberg stated that Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are “the real driver of the debt by any objective standard” and calling them “entitlements.”

Fortunately, millions of Americans in the last election also felt compelled to rebuff Mr. McConnell and the GOP’s determined effort to derail those programs that provides the safety net for us seniors and those in need of help. Although the Republicans will control the Senate, the Democrats will have the majority in the house for the first time in eight years, which should have calming effects on the future of Medicare, Medicaid and the ACA.

With the semblance of checks and balances restored, any legislation that affects these programs will require bipartisan support — thereby reducing the likelihood that we’ll see bills that promote the wholesale dismantling of our current system crossing the President’s desk.

But will we see actions that could enhance the programs and benefits used by the majority of Americans?

President Trump has said that controlling drug prices is a main priority of his administration. Four months ago, he announced that the drug companies agreed to temporarily roll back price hikes. Now days after the election Pfizer, rebuking the Presidents efforts, has announced it will increase list prices on 41 medicines in January. It will take a bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate to pass substantive legislation, but there already are rumblings of democrats and republicans working together to build a consensus for a legislative package to control drug costs. We can only hope it works.

Although he is retiring, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) will leave a lasting legacy with regard to his effort to expand Medicare coverage. Although there is the “Medicare for all” crowd stirring the pot to combine Medicare and the ACA, there also is a call to take it slow and keep them separate for now. This might facilitate reintroducing legislation designed by Rep. Levin to include dental, vision and hearing in original Medicare and impose an out-of-pocket cap — which it doesn’t have now. We’ll see what happens starting in January.

One thing is for sure, with the Democrats in control of the House there will be a focus on stabilization of the ACA. The three leading Democrats on the House health care committee — Reps. Richard Neal (MA), Frank Pallone (NJ) and Bobby Scott (VA) — already have proposed legislation that would be a great starting point. The bill would roll back recent Trump administration changes, encourage state outreach and coverage expansions, and make coverage more affordable all which would be welcome changes for working families struggling to pay for health care.

On the state level, with the election of Gretchen Whitmer almost 700,000 Michiganders can breathe a sigh of relief that their health insurance will remain intact as the Medicaid expansion program, championed by Gov. Snyder, will continue. Another important victory for “We the People.”

If writing about issues that affect our lives, stating facts and telling the truth is saying the sky is falling, then I am proud to say, “guilty as charged.”

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a financial services and certified health insurance organization in Traverse City. Questions or comments about this column or interest in our Medicare classes can be directed to (231) 922-1010 or fred@srbenefitsolutions.com.