The Senior Citizens League
With more than one million supporters, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan advocacy groups representing older Americans. We aim to educate and alert senior citizens about the work of their elected officials on Capitol Hill, and to protect, defend, and strengthen the retirement security they have earned and deserve.
TSCL’s supporters are active and informed, and we advocate tirelessly for the issues that matter the most to them. Each year, we survey our supporters and ask them, “What’s important to you?” We take their answers and shape our legislative agenda around them. Our legislative agenda for the 116th Congress includes the following key issues, among many others.
Comprehensive Social Security Reform
Long-term solvency of the Social Security trust funds is essential to TSCL’s supporters. According to the Social Security Trustees, trust fund reserves will be depleted in 2034, at which point the program will be able to pay out three-quarters of scheduled benefits using tax revenues alone.
The program faces a manageable shortfall, and TSCL is hopeful that lawmakers will return the program’s trust funds to 75-year solvency as soon as possible. Taking action in the 116th Congress will allow changes to phased in gradually and with minimal impact on beneficiaries.
The Senior Citizens League has endorsed several small changes to the program, including increasing the payroll tax cap to ensure that the wealthiest Americans contribute to the program more fairly. However, benefit cuts – including reductions in cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) – for current or future retirees will not be tolerated by older Americans.
Legislation like the Social Security 2100 Act or the Social Security Expansion Act would restore the program’s solvency responsibly while strengthening benefits for seniors.
Social Security COLA Fairness
Social Security beneficiaries received a 2.8 percent COLA in 2019. It is the largest increase since 2012, but approximately 2 million seniors with the lowest Social Security benefits saw no net increase in their monthly checks after Medicare Part B premiums were automatically deducted. It is the fourth year in a row that this group has not seen a boost in net benefits due to Part B premiums, which are rising several times faster than Social Security COLAs.
According to TSCL’s research, Social Security benefits have lost 34 percent of their purchasing power since 2000 due in large part to inadequate COLAs and rising health care costs. To address this growing issue, TSCL urges Congress to adopt legislation that would base the COLA on an inflation index specifically for seniors, like the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E).
Under current law, the COLA is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners (CPI-W), and it underestimates the inflation Social Security beneficiaries experience since it does not give enough weight to expenses like health care or housing costs.
TSCL has endorsed the CPI-E Act, the Guaranteed 3% COLA Act, the Seniors’ Security Act, and several other bills that would better protect the purchasing power of Social Security benefits. TSCL also supports legislation that would give beneficiaries a modest boost in benefits to help compensate for years of excessively low COLAs.
Social Security COLA Cuts
Despite evidence that Social Security beneficiaries are already receiving inadequate COLAs, some on Capitol Hill argue that COLAS are too generous and that they should be cut. In 2018, more than one hundred House lawmakers endorsed a budget proposal that called for the adoption of the more slowly-growing “chained” CPI. The proposal also called for eliminating COLAs altogether for seniors with incomes above $85,000 per year.
A study by TSCL found that the adoption of the “chained” CPI would significantly reduce the amount of lifetime retirement benefits received by future Social Security recipients — in some cases by as much as $88 per month after ten years. Cutting the COLA would undoubtedly reduce Social Security benefit adequacy, especially if Medicare Part B premiums continue to exceed the growth in the COLA.
TSCL believes that any cuts to the COLA — including the adoption of the “chained” CPI — would be unwarranted and unduly harsh, especially for the oldest and lowest income seniors who depend on Social Security the most. We will continue to oppose COLA cuts in the 116th Congress.
Social Security Notch Reform
TSCL’s members and supporters tend to be older, less affluent seniors. They are also, to a large extent, Notch victims — those individuals who receive lower Social Security benefits because they were born between the years 1917 and 1926.
Just years before they were set to retire, these individuals learned that they would have significantly lower benefits than originally anticipated. The issue was created by the amendments to the Social Security Act that were signed into law in 1977, and it has compounded over time.
In order to correct the wrong done to those born during the Notch years, TSCL believe that some compensation should be provided. We have endorsed the Notch Fairness Act, which would provide victims of the Social Security Notch with a modest settlement payment.
For years, several leading lawmakers have been attempting to reduce the federal deficit by reforming the Medicare program. Popular proposals would phase out the traditional Medicare program and replace it with a “premium support” model, where older Americans would be given subsidies from the federal government to purchase private insurance.
These proposals have also outlined plans to increase the age of Medicare eligibility from sixty-five to sixty-seven, requiring younger seniors to purchase costly private insurance or to rely on employer-sponsored health insurance coverage for a longer period of time.
TSCL has serious concerns about Medicare reform plans that would adopt a “premium support” model or increase the eligibility age since these changes would result in higher out-of-pocket health care costs for older Americans.
In the 116th Congress, TSCL will advocate tirelessly for legislation that would protect the Medicare benefits older Americans have earned and deserve, and we will promote policy solutions that would strengthen and modernize the Medicare program responsibly, without enacting benefit cuts or increasing costs for seniors.
Dental, Vision, and Hearing Coverage
Millions of older Americans are afflicted with age-related hearing loss, low vision, and poor oral health. Yet under current law, Medicare is prohibited from covering most hearing, vision, and dental services.
TSCL has heard from countless retirees living on fixed incomes who cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for costly care and assistive technologies like eyeglasses or hearing aids. When left untreated, these conditions often cause serious health complications and injuries. But when treated successfully, the result is improved overall health and lower costs for Medicare and patients.
TSCL believes it is essential for older Americans to receive the primary and preventive care that is needed to ensure good health in retirement. We have endorsed the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act, a bill that would expand Medicare coverage to include essential hearing, vision, and dental services.
Prescription Drug Prices
Improving and maintaining access to affordable, lifesaving prescription drugs is a top concern for TSCL’s members and supporters, most of whom live on fixed incomes and cannot afford steep and sudden cost increases.
In a recent survey of TSCL’s members, as many as one-third of respondents said they postponed filling their prescriptions or took less than prescribed due to high costs. They question why Congress hasn’t taken action to improve the system and to protect the American public from rising drug costs.
TSCL urges Congress to take common-sense steps like the following five to reduce prescription drug prices: allowing the federal government to negotiate lower Part D prices, capping out-of-pocket expenses for Part D beneficiaries, permitting prescription drug re-importation, prohibiting anti-competitive pay-for-delay deals, and increasing price transparency.
TSCL has endorsed comprehensive prescription drug reform legislation called the Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, and in the 116th Congress, we will continue to seek out solutions that would increase access to lifesaving prescription drugs. The goal remains to ensure safe and affordable medicines for older Americans.
Prevention of Fraud, Waste, and Abuse
Fraud, waste, and abuse are significant problems in both the Social Security and Medicare programs, and TSCL believes that the government is not administering the necessary oversight to ensure that scarce program dollars are being spent properly. By increasing efforts to fight fraud, the government could save tens of billions of dollars each year, reducing the need for reforms that could negatively impact beneficiaries.
Fraud within Medicare costs the federal government an estimated $60 billion to $90 billion each year, and according to the Attorney General’s office, enforcement efforts have yielded an impressive return on investment for the American taxpayer. For every dollar spent fighting fraud, approximately $7 has been recovered and returned.
Social Security’s Disability Insurance program is also littered with waste. In recent years, an enormous backlog for Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) has accumulated, and increased funding could result in significant savings for the Social Security program.
It is well understood that the failure to manage fraud results in higher taxes for all and higher premiums for Medicare beneficiaries. In the 116th Congress, TSCL will urge lawmakers to increase preventive efforts in order to ensure that scarce program dollars are appropriately spent.
TSCL’s all-volunteer Board of Trustees, legislative team, and administrative staff will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of our supporters throughout the 116th Congress to protect, defend, and strengthen the retirement security they have earned and deserve. We are committed to our advocacy work on Capitol Hill, and to informing our supporters nation-wide on our website, in our newsletter, and on social media.