By Robby Stern
New York Congressional Representative Nita Lowey has proposed H.R. 5024, the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act of 2014. This legislation will fix a significant problem in the calculation of Social Security payments.
When workers take time out of the workforce to care for children, aging parents, or ill family members, they suffer a significant penalty. Social Security benefits are based on an average of yearly wages over the highest earning thirty years. Years spent not earning wages are given a value of zero and have the effect of sharply reducing the average yearly wage.
H.R. 5024 would assign a yearly dollar value to caregiving for up to five years of time spent out of the workforce providing home care. This change would be particularly helpful to women who are more likely to take caregiver responsibilities.
NOW national president, Terry O’Neill, made an eloquent argument for the need for this legislation at the recent Social Security forums that we sponsored in Seattle and Bellingham. While we do not expect the legislation to pass this year, its introduction is a good step forward.
Rep. Jim McDermott agreed to be an original co-sponsor of H.R. 5024. Similar requests were made of several of Washington’s Congressional Representatives. Please be sure to thank Rep. McDermott when you have the opportunity.
Will Healthcare be a Human Right in Washington?
Three major research organizations issued reports in July indicating that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made a significant impact on the number of uninsured across the country. The estimates range from 8 million to 9.5 million adults gaining coverage. According to the Commonwealth Fund, 15 percent of American adults were uninsured in the second quarter of 2014, down from 20 percent in the third quarter of last year. Young adults, age 19 to 34, dropped from 28 percent to 18 percent uninsured. In the 25 states that expanded Medicaid coverage, uninsured poor people declined from 28 percent to 17 percent. Tragically, the uninsured rate for poor people in states that did not expand Medicaid was and remained 36 percent.
The Office of the Insurance Commissioner issued a similar report for Washington. Our uninsured rate dropped from 970,000 to 600,000. That is a good thing but not nearly good enough!! Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians are suffering the injustice of barriers to the health care they need.
The Constitution of the World Health Organization states: “Enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition…Governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.”
As a result of a grass roots organizing campaign led by the Vermont Workers Center, the governor and legislature of Vermont passed a single payer plan called Green Mountain Care. The Center began the campaign in 2008 with the principle that health care is a basic human right. By successfully mobilizing thousands of residents, in 2010 the Vermont legislature passed legislation adopting human rights principles as the basis for health reform in Vermont. In 2011, the Vermont legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation creating a framework for a system for single payer health insurance based on human rights principles.
Much is left to be done in Vermont, and the battle is not close to being over. Significant opposition is being mounted by conservative forces, the pharmaceutical industry and the state association of private insurance brokers. Significantly, the largest insurer in Vermont, Blue Cross, a nonprofit that has 70% of the market in Vermont, supports Green Mountain Care. Blue Cross expects to administer the payment system. Additionally, the hospitals and the medical association support the plan, particularly because it promises to equalize reimbursements for Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows states to apply for waivers beginning in 2017 to establish state-based systems. Vermont hopes to implement their plan in 2017 after receiving the waiver. Meanwhile, they barred the selling of health care insurance outside their health care exchange which was established in 2014 under the ACA. Their plan in 2017 is to transform their exchange into Green Mountain Care and enroll every payer they can into that one system.
There are significant challenges facing Vermont. They expect to partially fund Green Mountain Care with dollars they presently receive from the federal government for Medicaid, Medicare and subsidies for their exchange. These dollars will not be enough to fund the program. They are determining how to finance the rest of the estimated $1.2 billion to $2 billion in costs. Additionally, ERISA bars the state from regulating large self-insured employers. Vermont must figure out how to get these employers into Green Mountain Care and tax them to help finance the new system.
According to the State of Vermont Agency of Administration in a report published in January 2013, “Green Mountain Care is estimated to save $281 million for Vermont in the first three years of operation as a result of administrative efficiencies, even with the enhancements to coverage, elimination of the uninsured, and a reduction in out-of-pocket costs for
Washingtonians who believe that healthcare is a fundamental human right can be inspired by Vermont. At the same time, we are a much larger state with many more insurers, no income tax and a regressive tax system, a large insurance market outside the healthcare exchange, and a very politically divided state.
PSARA is part of a coalition to advocate for Health Care as a Human Right in Washington. Our first step is to mount a campaign to apply for a federal waiver in 2017 or shortly thereafter. Much work lies ahead.
PSARA has a long history of fighting for single payer healthcare. We believe healthcare is a fundamental human right! We look forward to joining with our allies to mount this campaign.