Bernie Sanders on Seniors

Bernie Sanders has a long record of supporting seniors. He has fought to protect social security benefits, medicare, and pensions from funding cuts. He introduced legislation to renew and modernize the Older Americans Act that would fund important programs like Meals on Wheels, protect seniors from elder abuse, and keep open senior centers that so many older citizens rely on. Bernie’s Medicare for All will add coverage for seniors to include vision, dental, and medical devices such as hearing aids. His bill will include long term support services (LTSS) that can help seniors stay in their homes and remain an integral part of their communities. 

Social Security: Social Security should be strengthened and expanded.

Pensions: Workers who are owed pension benefits from their employer should be paid those benefits.

Medicare: Coverage for seniors should be expanded to include vision, dental, hearing aids and other medical devices as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment. Bernie’s proposed Medicare for All bill includes home-and community-based long-term services and supports that would cover care at home or in community settings. 

Prescription Drugs: the price of prescription drugs is too high.  The costs must be cut to be in line the the prices the rest of the world pays. The so-called Medicare Donut hole for prescription drugs must be closed so seniors can afford the medication they need and are not forced to choose between cutting medication in half or skipping doses.

Medicaid & Hospice Care: Until comprehensive universal healthcare is passed, we must expand and improve the Medicaid program to help low income seniors get the services they need.

Community Health Centers: increasing community health clinics is necessary so lower income people can get the healthcare they need in the communities where they live.

Food Assistance for Seniors: All Americans must have access to nutritious food, regardless of income or mobility. We must fund an expand food programs for seniors including Meals-on-Wheels.

Preventing Elder Abuse: Seniors must be protected from psychological and physical neglect and abuse as well as financial exploitation. We must fully fund the programs directed at ending abuse and strengthen reporting mechanisms.

End of Life Choices: Terminally ill people have the right to preserve their dignity and determine how and when they die. Death with dignity laws that are enacted should not be attacked by the federal government.

Social Security

“At a time when over half of the American people have less than $10,000 in savings and senior poverty is increasing, we should not be talking about cutting Social Security benefits.  We should be talking about expanding benefits to make sure that every American can retire with dignity,” – Bernie

Social Security is a federal insurance program that is funded by payroll taxes, payments that workers contribute from each paycheck. You see the tax on your paycheck as a FICA tax. The money is deposited in a trust fund and invested for future use. We all pay social security taxes up to $128,400 of our income.  No social security taxes are paid on income above $128,400 so rich people don’t pay social security taxes on all of their income taxes like the rest of us. Bernie wants to change that and fix social security

In exchange for these payments the federal government has set up several programs to help workers when they retire, become unable to work, or die with a surviving spouse or children.  In other words, it’s not just for “old people”, it’s an insurance program for workers. The program is divided into SSI for retirement payments and SSDI for disability payments. In 2017 recipients received $806.7 billion in SSI payments and $145.8 billion in SSDI payments.

Why is Social Security important?

Before the Social Security Insurance system became law in 1935, over half of seniors lived in poverty. Today, because of Social Security, that number is less than 10 percent. While employed, all workers contribute to the system by paying a small tax from each paycheck. When workers reach retirement they receive payments to help support them since they no longer earn wages to pay for their expenses. The original vision was for Social Security to form a “three-legged stool” in combination with company pensions and personal savings.

In recent years, however, the other two legs of the stool have become less reliable. This makes Social security even more important to allow seniors to retire without becoming destitute.

Yeah, yeah. But can I see a video that explains it with graphics and nice music?

Sure. Here ya’ go:

Sounds like there’s a lot at stake.

Quite a bit. Social Security is currently projected to remain solvent until 2033. If we do nothing to put more money into the system it will pay only 75 percent of promised benefits after 2033. That’s a big deal for workers who will rely solely or primarily social security payments after they retire to pay their bills and buy their food. And it matters for a lot of people since most people don’t have a pension from their job and insufficient savings set aside for retirement. 

So, what does Bernie have to say about it?

When he introduced the Social Security Expansion Act he said,

“Social Security is the most successful government program in our nation’s history. Through good times and bad, Social Security has paid out every benefit owed to every eligible American… The most effective way to strengthen Social Security for the future is to eliminate the cap on the payroll tax on all income above $250,000 so millionaires and billionaires pay the same share as everyone else.”

What’s in the bill?

The Social Security Expansion Act of 2015 would:

  • Increase Social Security benefits by about $65 a month for most recipients.
  • Increase cost-of-living Adjustments for Social Security recipients.
  • Provide a minimum Social Security benefit to significantly reduce the senior poverty rate.

Bernie’s plan would make the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share. Currently, the amount of income subject to the payroll tax is capped at $128,400. That means someone making millions of dollars a year pays the same amount in payroll taxes as some making $128,400 a year.

The new legislation would expand the payroll tax to cover income over $250,000. Income between $128,400 and $250,000 would not be subject to the payroll tax. This change would no affect most people, it would only impact only the top 1.5 percent of all wage earners. 

The Social Security Trust Funds have $2.8 trillion which means there’s enough money to pay all promised benefits until 2033. Bernie believes that his plan to expand the payroll taxes for Social Security would generate enough revenue to  support Social Security payments for the next 45 years. 

Keeping Our Social Security Promises Act, S.500. This legislation would keep the Social Security Trust Fund solvent for at least 75 years by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share. 

That makes sense.  But what about the cost of living increases, won’t that bankrupt the system?

Over time the cost of everything goes up. If you go to the store today $5 won’t be enough to buy a quart of milk, a stick of butter, a dozen eggs, a pound of flour and a pound of sugar to make a birthday cake.  But in 1980 you would have gotten some change back.  That’s inflation. So social security payments need to be increased to deal with inflation and cover costs as prices go up over time.  Essentially that’s what we do now with cost-of-living adjustments, and it works just fine. In the last few years there has been a lot of talk about changing this to something a lot less fair, that’s what CPI is about.

A chained Consumer Price Index, or CPI would reduce the amount of Social Security benefits recipients receive each month. Currently, cost-of-living adjustments are calculated using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W. A chained CPI assumes that Social Security recipients will change their spending habits as prices rise and fall. But most seniors have fixed expenses that can’t be adjusted like housing and they spend a large portion of their income on healthcare which has prices that rises faster rate than other goods and services. So a chained CPI would not help seniors deal better with inflation, instead it would lead to lower monthly benefits for recipients.

Where does Bernie have to say about chained CPI?

Bernie has always been against a chained CPI because it would reduce Social Security payments. 

In a statement on the floor of the Senate in 2012, Bernie said:

“…some of the folks here want to pass something called a chained CPI, which, if it were imposed –and I will do everything I can to see that it does not get imposed — would mean that between the ages of 65 and 75, a senior would lose about $560 a year, and then when they turn 85 and they’re trying to get by off of $13,000 or $14,000 a year, they would lose about a thousand bucks a year. That’s what some of our colleagues want to do. Virtually all the Republicans want to do it. Some Democrats want to do it as well. As chairman of the defending Social Security caucus, I’m going to do everything that I can to prevent that.”

The full video of his speech can be viewed here:

Pension Benefits 

“In 2014 a provision was slipped into a spending bill that cut pensions by up to 65%.If I’m elected president we’ll immediately stop cuts to multi-employer pension plans. If the crooks on Wall Street can get bailed out, we can damn well afford to protect Americans’ pensions.” – Bernie 

Pensions are usually employer sponsored retirement plans.  Employers offer the plans often as an incentive for worker to take and keep a job with them.  In exchange the worker may accept lower wages or stay At a job to keep the benefits often workers pay into the pension plan sometimes there’s an arrangement like a matching contribution. The employee relies on the fact that the pension will be there when they retire so most people invest in the pension plan by contributing to it and don’t usually set aside even more savings for retirement.  

In 2014, Congress passed a law that allowed drastic cuts to multi-employer pension benefits programs (MBPs). Before this law was passed, it was illegal to make cuts to a pension plan that was already agreed to and earned by employees. Bernie believes that we need to repeal this law to reinstate pensions so that seniors who were promised financial security during retirement will get what they were promised. Bernie plans to reinstate all pension programs that were cut by closing tax loopholes for wealthy corporations.

What is a multi-employer benefits program?

A multi-employer benefits program (MBP) is a financial agreement between two or more companies in a given trade that provides benefits to all of their employees. These benefits programs are usually initiated by workers’ unions and settled through collective bargaining.

There are two types of plans: welfare MBPs and pension MBPs. Welfare MBPs provide: group life insurance, disability insurance, medical insurance, legal insurance, unemployment insurance, or paid vacation. Pension MBPs provide retirement income benefits. For both of these types of plans, all workers in the union must pay into the MBP to be able to access the benefits that it provides when the time comes; and the size of the benefits is directly proportional to the number of years of service of the employee.

What exactly is the problem?

In 2014, President Obama signed the Omnibus Spending Law (H.R.83), which allowed for companies to make drastic cuts to all existing pension MBPs. While in 2012, there were over 2000 pension MBPs with a net worth of over $600 billion, it is now estimated that the scope of these pension plans will be cut by 60 percent.

Though retirees over 80 are completely protected from these cuts, retirees from ages 75 to 79 are only partially protected, and those under 75 are generally not protected at all. This means that most workers who paid into pension MBPs for their whole working lives will now lose most of their earned pensions. Retired women, in particular, are grievously affected by this law.

Wow, that is really unfair! Why is this happening?

Right now, the United States is facing a shortfall of over $1 trillion with regards to paying out pension benefits. The cuts implemented by the Omnibus Spending Law are a desperate attempt to deal with this shortfall while still providing pension benefits to the most vulnerable – retirees over 80.

Where did all this pension money go?

Many economists agree that the biggest reason for the shortfall is that the Great Recession of 2008 led to massive losses in investment portfolios, including for MBPs. This caused state governments to shift their budgets in a way that stabilized business interests at the cost of workers’ retirement security. Furthermore, instead of being distributed fairly to all employees, most of the money collected through pension MBPs has been siphoned exclusively into the salaries and retirement incomes of top-level executives.

This sounds like a serious problem. What has Bernie said about this?

Bernie voted against the passage of the Omnibus Spending Law, saying, “instead of investing in rebuilding our infrastructure to create millions of decent-paying jobs, this bad bill would let companies renege on the promises they made to their workers by cutting pension benefits of current retirees.”

In June 2015 Bernie introduced the Keep Our Pension Promises Act (KOPPA) – which would reinstate pension MBPs and establish a legacy fund to continue funding the plans. Bernie plans on funding the program by closing tax loopholes for wealthy corporations.

“Hard-working retirees should not ever have to doubt their retirement security. We made a commitment 40 years ago to workers in this country that companies will never renege on a pension promise. We need to restore that commitment.” – Bernie

Check out the full speech here:

In a questionnaire administered by the AFL-CIO, Bernie also argued:

“The most important thing we can do to both preserve and expand defined benefit pension plans is to make it easier for workers to join unions. One of the most significant reasons for the decline in defined benefit pension plans is that the rights of workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined.”

Medicare 

It’s open to all Americans over 65 years of age and has been a resounding success since its introduction 48 years ago. Medicare is a really successful program.  Seniors love it. Bernie wants to expand this model program to include everyone. Coverage under Bernie’s plan will be expanded to include vision, dental, hearing aids and other medical devices as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment. Bernie’s proposed Medicare for All bill includes home-and community-based long-term services and supports that would cover care at home or in community settings. 

What is Medicare?

Medicare is a national health insurance program administered by the federal government. It provides health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older who have worked and paid into the system. It also provides health insurance to younger people with some disabilities like end-stage renal disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

How does Medicare work?

In single-payer system like Medicare, the government negotiates a fee schedule with healthcare practitioners. This is an essential component to controlling costs. 

In the Medicare system, every American over 65 is automatically enrolled into the healthcare plan, Medicare. The healthcare providers and facilities are independent private practitioners that accept Medicare coverage. The providers are paid by the Medicare healthcare plan. 

How many people are covered by Medicare?

Medicare successfully delivers healthcare coverage to all Americans over age 65, which covers 15% of the U.S. population, around 44 million people

What has Bernie done to support Medicare?

Bernie has a long record of supporting Medicare and defending it against cuts

  • Voted NO on the Ryan Budget: Medicare choice, tax & spending cuts. (May 2011) 
  • Voted YES on overriding veto on expansion of Medicare. (Jul 2008)
  • Voted NO on means-testing to determine Medicare Part D premium. (Mar 2008)
  • Voted YES on requiring negotiated Rx prices for Medicare part D. (Apr 2007)
  • Voted NO on denying non-emergency treatment for lack of Medicare co-pay. (Feb 2006)
  • Voted NO on limited prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. (Nov 2003)
  • Voted YES on allowing reimportation of prescription drugs. (Jul 2003)
  • Voted NO on subsidizing private insurance for Medicare Rx drug coverage. (Jun 2000)
  • MEDS Plan: Cover senior Rx under Medicare. (Jan 2001) 
  • Make healthcare a right, not a privilege. (Nov 1999) 

Bernie’s proposed Medicare for All bill is comprehensive. The bill includes home-and community-based long-term services and supports that would cover care for Americans with a disability at home or in community settings. Coverage will include dental, hearing and vision care. Prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, primary and preventive services,mental health and substance abuse treatment are all included in the plan.

Prescription Drugs & Drug Manufacturers 

Bernie’s Medicare for All plan will establish a system to negotiate the costs for prescription drugs in a fair and transparent way.  For now he has introduced legislation that will lower prescription drug prices so they are more affordable and more in line with what the rest of the world pays. He has also introduced  legislation to address the inflated cost of prescription drugs for Medicare and Medicaid recipients. Currently, the top 100 drug companies spend almost 3 times more on marketing and sales, than they do to research and develop new treatments to improve patient care. Big Pharma has increased their lobbying expenditures, presumably to counter to efforts to lower drug prices. 

Bernie tackles rising drug costs while still promoting innovation in the industry.

Bernie is committed to creating fair drug prices. At the same time, he has a history of supporting innovation in the field of HIV and AIDS medication that would benefit both patients and corporations. In 1999, Bernie was the first politician to take senior citizens north of the border to Canada to buy more affordable prescription drugs. Around that same time, Bernie also took breast cancer sufferers northward, where they could purchase medications in Canada at one-tenth the cost they’re sold for in the United States.

I know drugs are important when you’re sick, but why is this an issue?

Sharp price hikes not only impact consumers, hospitals, and pharmacists, but strain the budgets for Medicaid, Medicare, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. With regards to the Generic Drug Price Fairness Act, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the policy change would save taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years.

So, how has Bernie framed the challenge?

“Every single year, the major drug companies are ripping off the American people to the tune of billions of dollars a year because of fraudulent practices. Virtually every major pharmaceutical company has either been convicted of fraud (i.e., ripping off the federal government, state government, or individuals) or else has reached a settlement.”

Want to hear more? Watch this video.

What’s he done about it in Congress?

Americans pay higher prices for prescription drugs than any nation on earth. The same prescription drugs can cost 10 times more in the U.S. than just across the border in Canada. Bernie has long advocated for the ability of the government and individuals to re-import prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. In 2009, he supported an ACA amendment to allow re-importation. 

In 2018 Bernie and Rep. Ro Khanna Dem-CA introduced the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act of 2019. The bill if enacted will significantly lower prescription drug prices for patients in the U.S. by ensuring the median price is no higher than Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan. If pharmaceutical manufacturers refuse to lower drug prices the federal government would be required to approve cheaper generic versions of those drugs, regardless of any patents or market exclusivities that are in place. The pharmaceutical industry opposes the bill and law enforcement groups expressed opposition warning that the policy would worsen the opioid crisis.

Prescription drug costs are too high for everyone, including seniors. Bernie introduced the Medicare price negotiation Act of 2019 which would instruct Medicare to negotiate drug prices on behalf of beneficiaries. He cosponsored a similar bill in 2013.

In 2015, he introduced the Medicaid Generic Drug Price Fairness Act, a bill designed to hold down spending on generic drugs in Medicaid. Some generic drug prices have increased as much as 100 to 1000 percent in recent years. His bill requires drug manufacturers to rebate Medicaid for increases in generic drug prices that outpace inflation. He also introduced the Medical Innovation Prize Fund Act, which creates a medical innovation prize fund that would fundamentally restructure the system of financing research and development of new medicines as well as dramatically reduce their prices.

Medicare for All includes three bills that will help people with disabilities buy the prescription drugs they need at around half of the current price, which is what the rest of the world pays.

Medicaid & Hospice Care

“Medicaid is a vital lifeline for some 72 million Americans. Two-thirds of all Medicaid spending supports senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Cutting Medicaid would jeopardize the quality of healthcare, long-term services, and nursing home care for tens of millions of Americans. There are significant cost issues in America’s healthcare system that must be effectively addressed, but these challenges will not be remedied by benefit cuts to vulnerable Americans.” – Bernie Sanders, 2011

Medicaid is a health insurance program that covers the poorest Americans. It is jointly funded by federal and state governments to cover low-income individuals, families with children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Until comprehensive universal healthcare is passed, Bernie supports expanding Medicaid coverage to more Americans. Bernie has consistently supported the expansion of Medicaid coverage and fought efforts to cut Medicaid funding.

He was instrumental in increasing Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

How many people are covered by Medicaid?

Medicaid covers 1 in 5 low-income Americans, including low income seniors. 75 million people had Medicaid health insurance coverage in 2018. As of February 2019, 33 states have adopted Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid covers 6 in 10 nursing home residents and 1 in 5 Medicare beneficiaries, especially those in long-term care. 

What else has he done about it?

In 2007, 2014, and 2015, he introduced the Medicaid Generic Drug Price Fairness Act, a bill designed to hold down spending on generic drugs in Medicaid. Some generic drug prices have increased as much as 100 to 1000 percent in recent years. His bill requires drug manufacturers to rebate Medicaid for increases in generic drug prices that outpace inflation.

In 2008, he cosponsored legislation to preserve funding for Medicaid. In 2015, he voted to prevent more than $1.2 trillion in cuts to Medicaid in states that expanded Medicaid as part of healthcare reform.

More recently, he introduced legislation that would undo previous cuts to Medicaid by rolling back the tax breaks the wealthy received from the Trump Administration.

You can learn more about Bernie’s positions on Medicaid by checking out our page on Healthcare.

Community Health Centers

Community health centers (CHCs) provide primary medical, dental, mental health care, substance use disorder treatment, and low-cost prescription drugs to 28 million people in 11,000 communities in every state across the country. They have received additional funding through the Affordable Care Act to support and expand their services.

Medicaid expansion is only effective if clinics, doctors, and hospitals accept it. That’s why Bernie fought hard to include a provision in the ACA to fund new Community Health Centers. It was a deft move that The Intercept described as making an “indelible mark on American healthcare, extending the number of people served by clinics from 18 million before the ACA to an expected 28 million next year.”

In 2019, Bernie introduced legislation with Rep. James Clyburn to fund and expand Community Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps, which supports healthcare providers who work in underserved communities and provides scholarships and loan-repayment to over 10,000 clinicians each year.

The Sanders and Clyburn’s bill would allow 5.4 million more Americans to receive the primary care they need. 

Here’s a video of the news conference where Bernie introduced the bill.

Food Assistance for Seniors

Meals-on-Wheels

Bernie is a strong supporter of the Older Americans Act, which provides meals, supportive services, jobs, and protections from abuse for 11 million seniors. Bernie introduced bipartisan legislation, S.1562, to extend and modernize the Older Americans Act.

Food assistance for seniors

Bernie supports all efforts to offer food to people who need it. He supports the provisions in the Farm Bill, the Emergency Food Assistance Act of 1983 which help fund SNAP, Food Banks and other food assistance programs and the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program which distributes food to low-income seniors.

Ending Elder Abuse

Recent studies have shown that at least 10% of adults age 65  have experienced intentional or negligent by a caregiver in the last year.  Some seniors experience more than one type of abuse. According to one report, the rate of elder abuse reporting is lower in rural and tribal communities than in other areas on the U.S.  

Source

Victims of elder abuse often suffer a loss of independence that diminishes their quality of life and may lead to worsened health issues, hospitalization and increased mortality, depression and suicide, disrupted relationships, and financial loss.

Many of the abusers are family members. It is likely many cases of go unreported, and exploitation, neglect and abuse continue undetected. 

Source

What has Bernie done to protect Seniors from exploitation and abuse? 

The Older Americans Act provides meals, supportive services, jobs, and protections from abuse for more than 11 million American seniors. Bernie introduced bipartisan legislation, S.1562, to extend and modernize the Older Americans Act.

End of Life Issues

Seniors face many difficult issues like disabilities, difficulty paying for prescription drugs, living on inadequate social security payments, fighting to keep their pensions, challenges with entering hospice or a retirement facility without giving up the home and life savings that they had hoped to pass on to their children. One of the most difficult issues facing seniors and their loved ones are difficult end of life choices such as pain management and aid-in-dying. Bernie supports the Vermont aid in dying legislation and the rights of individuals to make their own choices without government interference.

What is aid-in-dying? 

Death with dignity statutes  also known as physician-assisted dying or aid-in-dying laws, allow mentally competent adult state residents who have a terminal illness and less than 6 to live to hasten their inevitable, imminent death with a prescription medication.

Currently  seven states and Washington, D.C., have enacted death with dignity statutes: 

  • California: End of Life Option Act 2015 
  • Colorado: End of Life Options Act 2016
  • District of Columbia: D.C. Death with Dignity Act 2016
  • Hawaii: Our Care, Our Choice Act 2018
  • New Jersey: Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act 2019
  • Oregon: Oregon Death with Dignity Act – 1994/1997
  • Vermont: Patient Choice & Control at the End of Life Act 2013
  • Washington: Death with Dignity Act 2008

These laws have safeguards to protect patients and prevent misuse. Having these laws in place give terminally ill patients control in how and when they die which provide peace of mind and increases dignity. 

What does Bernie think about aid in dying laws? 

Bernie believes that terminally ill people should be able to make their own end-of-life decisions without interference from the government. Where regulation is necessary Bernie believes this is an issue that should be left to the states. 

What has Bernie said?

Bernie said in 2016

“I think if a human being is in a situation where they are going to see their life end in a short period of time, where they are suffering, where they choose no longer to be alive. I think they have the right to make that decision for themselves.”

In October 1999 Bernie voted against banning physician-assisted suicide.