Category Archives: Newsroom

Response to President’s Health Care Plan and Summit: Three Things You Can Do

In order to bridge the differences between the U.S. House and Senate-passed health care bills – and continue to move reform forward – President Obama unveiled his Administration’s own health plan on Monday.  The plan contains several major steps toward improving the well-being of current and future retirees.  “President Obama’s plan recognizes the millions of seniors who are struggling to afford to see a doctor or get a prescription filled,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.  “For retirees, continued inaction would be devastating.  Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs would soon eat up more than one-third of a retiree’s Social Security benefits.”  For the Alliance’s comparison of Obama’s health reform bill with those passed by the U.S House and Senate, go to  On Thursday, President Obama led a televised health care reform summit, which focused on discussing ideas and grievances about the proposed health care bill from both parties.  White House officials named 21 lawmakers the president wanted to attend the summit: the top leaders in the House and Senate and of the committees with jurisdiction over the health legislation.  Obama also invited the top four leaders to invite four more lawmakers each, bringing the total to 37; 20 Democrats and 17 Republicans. For a specific list of the attendees, go to  As a follow-up to the summit, concerned senior activists are encouraged to do 3 things:

  1. Contact your U.S. House member and two Senators by calling 202-224-3121.  Tell them that President Obama’s proposal would close the “doughnut hole” coverage gap in Medicare Part D; finally end the $3.60 per month every senior pays in higher premiums to subsidize the big insurance corporations that run Medicare Advantage; and make long-term care more affordable for middle-class families.
  2. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper reiterating the need for reform.  You may find it helpful to use the language at as a guide; and
  3. Share Alliance materials like the comparison chart above and the fact sheet at with your friends and neighbors.

Further evidence of the need for reform came last Friday, with the release of a study by a major consulting firm showing that spiraling costs are a problem even for seniors with solid insurance.  The Avalere Health study found that premiums for private Medicare Advantage plans offering medical and prescription drug coverage jumped 14.2% on average for 2010.  Some 8.5 million seniors and disabled Americans who signed up for the private plans will therefore be facing sharp premium increases this year, following an increase of 5.2% last year.

More Debt Commission Appointees Named
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday appointed Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to serve on the President’s fiscal panel tasked with developing a plan to bring down the $12.3 trillion national debt.  The President said that the commission can consider everything, including new taxes, spending cuts and changes to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, in order to reach his goal of balancing the federal budget except for debt interest payments by 2015.  Obama is asking Congress to consider the panel’s recommendations.  Obama will appoint six people to the 18-member panel and up to four can come from the same party.  Leaders in Congress will choose the other 12 members, with three coming from the Republican and Democratic caucus in each chamber.  Reid is the first congressional leader to announce his picks.  The majority leader said that he would make sure that the panel’s recommendations, which are non-binding, receive votes in the Senate.  Both Baucus and Conrad are noted centrists, a group of lawmakers that has made debt and deficit issues a priority.  Obama last week selected former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) to head the panel.  Today, the president named former Clinton White House budget director Alice Rivlin; Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern; former Young & Rubicam Brands CEO Ann Fudge; and Honeywell CEO and Chairman David Cote to fill remaining slots, an administration official said.  “I would like to say to the panel: Social Security’s long-term solvency can be resolved by relatively modest adjustments, and without cutting benefits,” stressed Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.  To see the Alliance’s latest document on Social Security, which refutes opponents’ charges that today’s budget problems are due to Social Security, go to

Requests for Heating Assistance Rise By 15%
As the winter wears on, the number of households applying for home heating assistance has risen to record levels for the third straight year, rising by 15% to include 8.8 million households.  The majority of these applicants are low-income seniors, disabled people, and families living beneath the federal poverty line.  Under LIHEAP (the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program), states provide grants of about $500; however, due to increased demand, many states have had to cut the grants or applications to stretch funds, leaving many in the lurch.  “While several states forbid the cut-off of utilities during the winter, struggling retirees often put off payments and build up debt,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.  “In the spring, seniors may find themselves lacking gas and electricity as companies seek payment.”

Sign Up By March 2 to Get Special Room Rate for the Las Vegas Convention!
As 2010 political campaigns heat up, retirees need to begin learning more about elections that will see the entire U.S. House, one-third of the U.S. Senate, and 36 gubernatorial races on the November ballot.  A great place to start is this year’s Alliance National Convention, April 5-8 in Las Vegas, which will feature noted speakers and training workshops on mobilizing retirees for electoral success.  Alliance members will elect a president and secretary-treasurer, and community members will elect six community-based board members.  Hotel reservations must be made by contacting Bally’s Las Vegas directly at 1-800-358-8777.  To guarantee the low room rate of $89, you must make your hotel reservation by March 2, 2010.  To register for the convention itself, please go to

President Establishes Debt Commission to Look at Social Security and Medicare

Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a commission to tackle the federal debt.  The commission’s purpose is to reduce the federal budget deficit from 10% to 3% by 2015 and to propose ways to contain costs related to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  As co-chairs of the commission, the president named former Bill Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson.  Bowles, president of the University of North Carolina, worked to pass the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 with Republicans in Congress when he was White House Chief of Staff.  He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004.  Simpson served as a Wyoming senator from 1979 to 1997 and as Senate GOP Whip from 1985 to 1995.  Alliance Executive Director Edward F. Coyle said yesterday, “Retirees fully support President Obama on the critical need to reduce our nation’s budget deficit.  Older Americans have always been uncomfortable with large debt, both in government and in their own families.  We are, however, wary of the objectivity that Commission Co-Chair Alan K. Simpson will bring to this important assignment.  As a Senator, Simpson referred to older Americans as ‘greedy geezers’ and launched bitter and protracted assaults against advocacy groups for seniors.  Social Security benefits would have been cut under his plan to change the statistical formula used to calculate Cost-of-Living Adjustments.”  Mr. Coyle continued, “We believe that if the Commission takes a thorough and honest look at Social Security and Medicare, it will conclude that these vital programs should be strengthened, not weakened.  Social Security and Medicare are two of our nation’s greatest success stories, helping generations of seniors stay healthy and out of poverty.”

President’s Budget Includes $250 Stimulus Payment for Social Security Recipients

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposes a $250 payment to Social Security recipients.  The relief would come at a time when Social Security beneficiaries will not be receiving a normal cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) because of a formula that forbids adjustments during times of negative inflation.  “Without a COLA, far too many of America’s seniors will find it even more difficult to purchase basic necessities, heat their homes and pay for their medications,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.  “We urge Congress to similarly work to provide much-needed economic relief to older Americans who are struggling to make ends meet during these difficult times,” she continued.  “The President’s budget proposal will provide Social Security beneficiaries with the equivalent of a 2% increase in benefits and will help greatly to bolster their financial security.”

As expected, the budget also calls for a Bipartisan Fiscal Commission that will address the growth of entitlement spending, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  A plan to freeze non-security discretionary spending for three years to address the budget deficit would not affect those programs.  “We must watch this fiscal commission development carefully, so that the budget is not balanced on the backs of seniors,” said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance. Other items in the budget are aimed at supporting seniors.  These include $3.3 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); funds to reduce Social Security backlogs; and money to help families care for aging relatives at home.  Retirement security initiatives include establishing automatic workplace IRAs, with employees being able to “opt-out” if they choose; doubling the credit for small employers starting a retirement plan; and providing a 50-percent match on the retirement savings of families that earn less than $85,000.

Recharging Health Care Reform
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and President Obama all took steps this past week towards a revival of the floundering health care reform initiative.  Pelosi announced her plan to schedule a vote next week on a smaller bill, which would focus on a fifty-year-old exemption of health insurance companies from anti-trust laws. This vote is an integral part of her strategy to tackle items that would not normally be included in a more expansive bill.  This smaller bill would bear similarities to a section of the House health care bill which proposed ending the exemption for health and medical malpractice insurers, while granting the government more power to regulate anti-trust laws.  Pelosi’s decision came in the midst of a debate on the use of reconciliation, a procedural maneuver that would allow the Senate to amend and pass the health care bill with only 51 votes.  According to Reid, a reconciliation bill would first have to be approved by the House, where revenue measures must originate.  A vote in the Senate would then follow.  President Obama called on Republicans to support the reform bill.

President Obama Delivers State of the Union Address

During his State of the Union address on Wednesday, President Obama vocalized the critical need for a reduction in the federal deficit.  Alliance Executive Director Edward Coyle agreed with the sentiment but cautioned, “We cannot balance the budget on the backs of America’s seniors.  Vital programs such as Social Security and Medicare did not cause these large deficits.”  He added, “The passage of a strong health care reform bill will not only improve our nation’s physical health, but its fiscal health as well, and therefore must remain a priority.”  The day after the speech, the President traveled to speak at a Town Hall event in Florida at the University of Tampa.  Alliance members Bob Meeks and Tony Scelzo were among those in attendance, along with Florida Alliance Field Organizer Jenny Kenny.

Conrad-Gregg Task Force Defeated
On Tuesday, the Senate voted down the Conrad-Gregg debt task force, 53 to 46.  The proposal did not collect the 60 votes required for it to pass, primarily failing due to concerns about cutting funds for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but also due to the severe limitations that it would have put on Congressional debate.  Here is a link to the vote:  Before the 53-46 vote, the Senate added by 97-0 an amendment by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to exempt Social Security from the deliberations of the task force.  It is expected that President Obama will now create a bipartisan fiscal commission by executive order.  “I’d like to thank our members and activists for sending more than 6,000 letters to their Senators urging them to vote against this wrongheaded plan.  It was a great help and surely contributed to a victory in this round,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

Middle Class Task Force Recommendations Emerge
The White House Middle Class Task Force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, has released a preview of its recommendations for strengthening the middle class.  The recommendations include a few core items for seniors, such as expanded funding for caregiving, respite care, promoting 401(k) transparency, and the availability of annuities.  The respite care and expanded funding for the Department of Health and Human Services would help seniors maintain their independence and live in the community for as long as possible, as well as assist their family caregivers with essential elder care training.  The Task Force will advocate automatic workplace IRAs with an opt-out option; a saver’s credit that would match workers’ retirement savings; an update of 401(k) regulations in order to ensure transparency; and increased availability of optional annuities as well as other forms of guaranteed lifetime income.  The Alliance is also urging the White House to include a $250 stimulus payment to Social Security recipients since there is no Cost of Living Adjustment in 2010.  The President’s budget will be released on Monday.  “Americans have seen their retirement savings plummet.  It is important that the government renew their commitment to all citizens,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance.  Next month, the committee will deliver its year-end report to the President, and it is expected that Congress will be pressed to create legislation supporting the Task Force’s suggestions.

The Next Step for Health Care
President Obama spoke briefly on the imperiled health care reform bill during Wednesday’s State of the Union address, asking legislators of both parties to bring forward any plans or policies they feel would strengthen Medicare for seniors and cover all uninsured Americans.  Democratic leaders have put forward two possible plans – they may start from scratch and keep only the most popular provisions, or they may have the House pass the Senate measure, and then use a budget reconciliation process in the Senate.  Reconciliation would help Democrats avoid a GOP filibuster, since the process requires only a simple majority.  Democratic leadership is expected to decide on a course by next week.  On Tuesday, members of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), including the Alliance, sent a letter strongly urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to continue working on health care reform.  The letter stressed that reform could allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, help older Americans remain independent in their homes, reduce out-of-pocket costs, and protect against elder abuse.

Retirees with the Write Stuff: Write Letter, Win Pen
“Retirees with the Write Stuff” is an Alliance project recognizing retirees whose letters to the editor are published.  Most recently, Vivian Silbiger, Janice Ayres, Billy Feitlinger, Donna McGrath, Owen Humphress, John Pernorio, Beatrice Stratton, and Barbara Franklin contributed to their state and local papers.  If you have had a letter published recently, please email us at so that we can recognize you and send you a “Write Stuff” pen.

Join the Alliance in Las Vegas to Build Retiree Power
As a reminder, on April 5-8, 2010 in Las Vegas, the Alliance for Retired Americans will be holding its annual convention.  The conference, Building Retiree Power, will offer educational and training opportunities to improve both grassroots activism techniques and leadership skills.  Topics such as health care reform, Social Security, community organizing, fund-raising, and the use of popular on-line communication tools including Facebook will be addressed through informative speakers and workshops.  For up-to-date information, or to sign-up for the convention, visit or call 1-888-373-6497.

Andy Barnes, Co-Founder of California Alliance for Retired Americans, Dies
Andy Barnes
, a retired machinist and much-loved retiree activist, has passed away after a struggle with cancer.  Mr. Barnes retired in 1999 after serving as a Grand Lodge Representative for twenty years.  He served as Treasurer and a regional chair for the National Council for Senior Citizens, and helped to found the California Alliance for Retired Americans in 2003.  “He was an integral part of the retirees department, and will be missed very much,” said Maria Cordone, Retiree Director of the machinists union.