Weekly Update for Week Ending August 30, 2020

Weekly Update for Week Ending August 30, 2020

Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.  We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.

Our nation is in a hyper-partisan period as the November elections approach.  In this environment it becomes tricky when reporting about issues that affect you and other TSCL supporters because the issues are so often intertwined with politics.

We want to assure you that we will try to report the facts as we understand them and keep elective politics out of it.


Permanent Cuts to Payroll Tax would Devastate Social Security/Medicare

Back in mid-August we reported on President Trump’s executive order to stop the collection of the workers’ part of the Payroll tax, which funds Social Security and Medicare.  TSCL is opposed of Payroll tax cuts of any kind because they seriously jeopardize the financial viability of both Social Security and Medicare.

The President’s order halts the collection of Payroll taxes from Sept. 1 through the end of the year.  In addition, he instructed the Treasury Department to look into how the government can forgive the deferred tax payment permanently because as things stand right now the taxes must be repaid after the first of the year.

However, it’s not clear whether employers are going to pass the savings on to employees.  Since the taxes would be deferred, not waived, several experts question whether firms would actually pass the money along to their workers, because it is the businesses that are on the hook for the taxes.

In response to Trump’s orders, four Senators requested an estimate from the Social Security Administration about what the long-term effect on the viability of Social Security if the tax deferral is made permanent.  Last week, the report was released.  (Note: “OASI” refers to the Social Security funds that are paid to seniors who qualify, while “DI” refers to funds that are paid to those with disabilities.)

The report assumes that no other change would be made in the law and that the lost revenues would not be replenished with general revenues from the Department of the Treasury.

Here is a portion of that report:

While benefits scheduled in the law for OASI [Old Age and Survivors Insurance] and DI [Disability Insurance]  are obligations, such obligations can only be met to the extent that asset reserves are available in the OASI and DI Trust Funds. The law does not provide authority for the trust funds to borrow in order to pay benefits beyond the limited authority for “advance tax transfers.”

Thus, under this hypothetical legislation, benefit obligations could not be met after the depletion of the asset reserves and elimination of payroll taxes. If this hypothetical legislation were enacted, with no alternative source of revenue to replace the elimination of payroll taxes on earned income paid on January 1, 2021 and thereafter, we estimate that DI Trust Fund asset reserves would become permanently depleted in about the middle of calendar year 2021, with no ability to pay DI benefits thereafter. We estimate that OASI Trust Fund reserves would become permanently depleted by the middle of calendar year 2023, with no ability to pay OASI benefits thereafter. (bold lettering added by TSCL)

TSCL’s opposition to any Payroll tax cut stems in part from previous comments from some Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)  In the past he has said:

“I make no apologies.  These very, very popular entitlement programs at some point are gonna have to be adjusted.”

In September of last year Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) talked about the need to go “behind closed doors” to reform Social Security, presumably because the American public won’t stand for it being done in the open.   There was more a year earlier from Majority Leader McConnell when he labeled Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — so-called entitlements —“the real drivers of the debt” and called for them to be adjusted “to the demographics of the future.”

Even President Trump said this about his own party: “Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security,” he said in one appearance. “They want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid.

In short, the Social Security disability trust fund would become insolvent by mid-2021 and the retirement trust fund would become permanently depleted by 2023, just two short years from now.

And remember, there is no plan anywhere on how to shore up Social Security, even if the Payroll tax deferment is not made permanent.

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Get the Seasonal Flu Vaccine – but Not Just Yet

According to the Center for Disease Control, it has been recognized for many years that people 65 years and older are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu compared with young, healthy adults. This risk is due in part to changes in immune defenses with increasing age. While flu seasons vary in severity, during most seasons, people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease. In recent years, for example, it is estimated that between 70 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group.

Flu Vaccine Reduces Risk of Flu Illness and Serious Outcomes

Flu vaccination has many benefits. It has been shown to reduce flu illnesses and also to reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes that can result in hospitalization or even death in older people. Flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.

The best way to protect against flu and its potentially serious complications is with a flu vaccine. CDC recommends that almost everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year by the end of October. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue throughout flu season, even into January or later.

Flu vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older because they are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu. Flu vaccines are updated each season as needed to keep up with changing viruses. Also, immunity wanes over a year so annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best possible protection against flu. A flu vaccine protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.  Flu vaccines for 2020-2021 have been updated from last season’s vaccine to better match circulating viruses. Immunity from vaccination fully sets in after about two weeks.

Because of age-related changes in their immune systems, people 65 years and older may not respond as well to vaccination as younger people. Although immune responses may be lower in older people, studies have consistently found that flu vaccine has been effective in reducing the risk of medical visits and hospitalizations associated with flu.

Types of Flu Shots for People 65 and Older

People 65 years and older should get a flu shot, not a nasal spray vaccine. They can get any flu vaccine approved for use in their age group with no preference for any one vaccine over another. There are regular flu shots that are approved for use in people 65 years and older and there also are two vaccines designed specifically for this group:

  • High Dose Flu Vaccine

The high dose vaccine (brand name Fluzone High-Dose) contains four times the amount of antigen (the inactivated virus that promotes a protective immune response) as a regular flu shot. It is associated with a stronger immune response following vaccination (higher antibody production). Results from a clinical trial of more than 30,000 participants showed that adults 65 years and older who received the high dose vaccine had 24% fewer influenza illnesses as compared to those who received the standard dose flu vaccine. The high dose vaccine has been approved for use in the United States since 2009. Learn more about high dose flu vaccine here.

  • Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine

The adjuvanted flu vaccine (brand name Fluad) is made with MF59 adjuvant, an additive that can create a stronger immune response to vaccination. In a recent review of multiple vaccine trials, older adults who received a MF59-adjuvated vaccine had a significantly higher immune response than those who received a standard flu vaccine, The adjuvanted vaccine was available for the first time in the United States during the 2016-2017 flu season. Learn more about adjuvanted flu vaccine here.

High Dose and Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine Side Effects

The high dose and adjuvanted flu vaccines may result in more of the temporary, mild side effects that can occur with standard-dose seasonal shots. Side effects can include pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle ache and malaise, and typically resolve with 1 to 3 days.

Get pneumococcal vaccines

  • People who are 65 years and older also should be up to date with pneumococcal vaccination to protect against pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections. Talk to your health care provider to find out which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for you.
  • Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause death. You can get the pneumococcal vaccine your provider recommends when you get a flu vaccine.

While the CDC recommends that younger people can start getting the seasonal flu vaccine starting in August, it recommends seniors wait until at least September to get theirs.  But everyone should have one by the end of October.

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For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.