Social Security recipients—who are receiving no cost-of-living increase (COLA) next year—would receive a one-time payment of $580 in 2016 under legislation proposed today by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The amount is 3.9% of the average benefit, reflecting the average raise CEOs at the 350 largest companies received last year.
“It may sound like a small amount to some people, but to a woman who depends on Social Security for basic living expenses, this infusion would mean a lot,” said OWL Executive Director Bobbie Brinegar. “The average annual Social Security benefit for women 65 and older is about $13,500 per year. When you consider what these women have contributed over the years, this ‘bonus’ has definitely been earned.”
It’s also money that will go right back into the economy, Brinegar said. “We know that these are checks that are spent quickly; so it will not only benefit individuals, it will help their communities.”
Under the legislation, revenue gained from closing the loophole after the one-time payment will be dedicated to Social Security, decreasing the long-range projected shortfall.
The way the Social Security COLA is calculated has been criticized for years for being based on a Consumer Price Index (CPI) that doesn’t accurately represent how seniors spend money. The current CPI gives more weight to factors like transportation and fuel prices; the drop in gas prices in the last year played a big role in the lack of a COLA increase. Advocates for years have pressed for an alternative index (CPI-Elderly) to be used that would more accurately reflect senior spending.
This is only the third time since 1975 that Social Security recipients are not scheduled for a cost-of-living increase.
Call your Senators today. If they are sponsors of the SAVE Act, thank them. If not, urge them to sign on!
Due to a number of converging factors, 2016 Medicare Part B premiums are projected to dramatically increase for some Medicare beneficiaries, and the Part B deductible is projected to dramatically increase for everyone – unless Congress acts to fix it.
On October 15th – the same day that the Medicare Open Enrollment period began, which allows people to make changes to their Medicare Advantage and Part D plans – the Social Security Administration announced that there will be no Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2016. Although the Medicare program has not yet released the official 2016 Part B premium and deductible amounts, this announcement makes it much more likely that these unprecedented increases will occur.
According to the 2015 Medicare Trustees Report, Part B premiums are expected to increase for 30% of beneficiaries by 52% – from $104.90 to $159.30 per month. The trustees also predict that this increase will be accompanied by an increase in the Part B deductible for everyone – up to $223 from $147.
Because there will be no COLA next year, 70% of beneficiaries who have their Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security checks will be protected by a “hold harmless” provision of the Medicare statute, meaning their premiums will stay at the same rate next year ($104.90).
That means the increased costs will be borne by the 30% of individuals described below, rather than a lower amount spread across the entire Medicare population.
The 30% of affected individuals are:
o those who will be new Medicare enrollees in 2016;
o those with income-related premiums (incomes higher than $85,000 for individuals);
o those beneficiaries who pay their premiums directly instead of having it deducted from their Social Security checks (or those who don’t collect Social Security, such as certain government employees); and
o individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid (these costs will be paid for by state Medicaid agencies rather than individuals).
There is no “hold harmless” provision that applies to the deductible, so the projected increase from $147 in 2015 to $223 in 2016 (an increase of $76) will apply to all Medicare beneficiaries. While many Medicare beneficiaries have supplemental or other coverage that includes coverage of the deductible, state Medicaid agencies, employer plans, and certain Medigap plan carriers will pay these increased costs which could, among other things, affect premiums. Those without any supplemental coverage that covers the Part B deductible will pay the full amount.
On Tuesday, California took a landmark step in addressing wage discrimination when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Fair Pay Act, which is being called the strongest equal-pay protection in the nation.
The Act closes loopholes in existing laws that made it difficult for people to prove wage discrimination or challenge their employers.
One such loophole is the phrase “equal work,” which the courts have interpreted to apply only when a male and female worker have the same job title. The new law changes the standard to “substantially similar work” – and mandates that people doing basically the same job be paid at the same wage rate, regardless of their job title.
Another loophole is that women often are not privy to what their male co-workers earn. The new law gives them the right to openly ask questions about co-workers’ salaries without fear of retaliation from employers.
California’s law goes beyond federal law by placing the responsibility on employers to prove that higher pay for the same work is based on reasons other than gender – for example, education, experience, skills, merit, or seniority.
Pay Inequality Begins Early On
The pay gap exists nationwide for women at all points in their careers and is even worse for women of color. And it starts right out of the gate: a report by AAUW found an inexplicable 7% gender pay gap between males and females just one year after graduating college.
Recent Efforts to Close the Gap
President Obama in 2009 signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extends the amount of time a woman has to sue an employer once she realizes she’s been illegally paid less for the same work. He also issued three executive orders in 2014 that help to protect employees of federal contractors from pay disparity.
The California bill had nearly unanimous bipartisan support, as well as backing from business-oriented groups like the Chamber of Commerce, whose CEO said: “Equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, should not be an issue in California.”
Most Americans agree. According to a Pew Research Center survey last fall, 77% of women and 63% of men said, “this country needs to continue making changes to give men and women equality in the workplace.”
How many times have you heard it? Life is too short… Life is too short to wear boring clothes. Life is too short to hate your job. To worry about money. To take a bad exercise class.
But this is exactly wrong. Life is long, not short. Too long to dress dully or to hate your job. If life were too short, it wouldn’t matter. You could forget about money – spend it all today, why not? Ignore your health – who cares?
Life is too long not to plan. With life expectancy exceeding 85 years, both women and men need to give careful consideration to the future. Women in particular need to take proactive steps given their longer lifespans, lower income and potential for higher healthcare costs.
Fortunately, women can and should own their future. Owning the future is not just planning for retirement, but also taking steps today to ensure lifelong well-being. Three steps women can take are:
1) Join a professional association. Whether it’s the Society of Association Executives or the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, membership in an association will expand your professional network and extend your opportunities. Already retired? Re-engaging with your profession can provide an opportunity to learn what is new and/or contribute what you know.
2) Find an exercise you like. If Lena Dunham can become an enthusiastic runner, then there is an exercise for every single person. She notes, “I had to learn, as you age, you have to move. You have to move so you don’t die. You have to move so your brain doesn’t atrophy. You have to move so that you look a little bit like a person that you might want to be. There are a thousand reasons why exercise is important…”
3) Spend mindfully. There’s a vast difference between wearing boring clothes and breaking the bank on a clothing budget. Whether you use a spending app, a monthly budget or a fixed ‘fun fund,’ set a limit on mindless expenditures. The joy of a balanced budget can be its very own fashion statement.
While there are many wise sayings, “Life is Too Short” is not one of them. Fortunately, women are wonderfully inventive and we know “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” When we acknowledge life can be long, we take the opportunity to own our future.
In OWL’s latest Huffington Post blog, Executive Director Bobbie Brinegar discusses opening up the primary election process to all voters. Below is an excerpt:
Over half the states have a closed or semi-closed primary system, where only registered members of a party with candidates on the ballot are allowed to vote. Voters who are independent, unaffiliated, or registered with a third party are excluded from voting, or forced to change party affiliation before they can vote.
This is wrong for a number of reasons.
Primaries are publicly funded. Voting machines, election materials, ballot tabulation, etc. are paid for with state tax dollars. All voters deserve the right to participate in a publicly funded election.
Primaries are critical. In many places, especially legislative districts drawn along party lines, the primary vote decides the election.
In OWL’s latest Huffington Post blog, Executive Director Bobbie Brinegar discusses women and Social Security:
One of the guiding principles in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution is to “promote the general welfare.” We’d be hard-pressed to name a program that achieves that goal more effectively than Social Security.
While Social Security is important to all Americans, it is even more so to women. Women rely more on income from Social Security than men do. And older women are at greater risk of being poor: in 2013, of those 65+, more than twice as many women as men lived in poverty.
Women make up more than half of all beneficiaries age 62+, and around two-thirds of beneficiaries age 85+.
Without Social Security, nearly half of women 65+ would be poor.
Women have longer life expectancies than men, so they live more years into retirement and run a higher risk of exhausting their savings.
Women are less likely than men to have a pension, and their pensions are likely to be smaller than men’s, due to earning lower wages or spending time out of the workforce to serve as caregivers.
Unlike pensions, Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation and last for the lifetime.
Not since the 1960s has the U.S. Congress seriously considered the issue of mental health. In 1963, it passed President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act, and a few years later, Medicare and Medicaid designated funding for the community services mentioned in the bill.
Now, nearly 50 years later, lawmakers in both houses are considering bipartisan bills that would reform mental health care in America.
The Senate bill is S. 1945, the “Mental Health Reform Act of 2015,” introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). The House bill is H.R. 2646, the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).
Both bills address two major issues:
• Improving access to mental health care under Medicaid. A decades-old rule in Medicaid excludes patients between the ages of 21 and 64 from going to freestanding psychiatric hospitals. The bills would allow an exception so that short-term psychiatric hospitals can participate in Medicaid.
• Clarifying disclosure of patient information under HIPAA. Because of the way doctors and other healthcare providers interpret the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), it’s difficult for family members or caregivers to get information about the diagnosis or treatment of a loved one. The bills would clarify what information can be disclosed, allowing for greater access to family members.
What were Airbnb, Uber, Walgreen’s and Peapod doing at a White House Conference on Aging?
Giving us a glimpse of the future.
In case you missed it, 10,000 people are turning 65 years of age every day. That’s expected to continue for the next 15 years - and the private sector is taking notice.
There was Seth Sternberg, CEO of Honor, one of a number of corporations that took part in the once-in-a-decade event designed to guide policies around aging. Honor’s goal is a heady one -“to spark a revolution in solving the monumental problem of how we care for our aging parents.” His well-funded company - investors include Marc Andreesen and Jessica Alba—is using technology to build a new model to match people with caregivers; at the conference Sternberg announced plans to give away $1 million in free home care in ten cities.
During the day-long conference, interspersed with announcements of new administration initiatives, company after company demonstrated how the private sector is finding opportunity in the nation’s changing demographics. From travel to grocery shopping to home care, there’s a promising partnership between aging and technology on the horizon.
The nation would need to spend $470 billion to replace the work done by the more than 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S. That’s one of the findings from a recent study by the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Caregivers themselves pay a high price; the study noted that adult children, mostly daughters, reduce their own paid work to care for parents, at a lifetime cost that can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to research by the MetLife Foundation, female caregivers lose on average $324,000 in lost wages and Social Security benefits.
The good news is that lawmakers are taking action. The recently introduced bipartisan Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act would require the development of a national strategy to support family caregivers, including creation of an advisory body to bring together relevant federal agencies and others from the private and public sectors to advise and make recommendations.
And Rep.Nita Lowey plans to reintroduce her Social Security Caregiver Credit Act, which would create a credit that would be added to earnings to determine future benefits. This is particularly important for women who are more likely to take time out of the workforce to serve as unpaid caregivers.
WL supports both pieces of legislation and encourages everyone to ask their congressional delegation to do the same.
A number of caregiving-related initiatives were also announced at the White House Conference on Aging. For example, the employer coalition ReACT (Respect a Caregiver’s Time), Care.com and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are creating the tools employers need to support employees who are caregivers. Bank of America announced its Bank of America Merrill Lynch Longevity Training Program for human resources and benefit plan professionals.
The talk with your health care professionals. The one
about weight—and the devastating consequences
extra pounds can have on women’s health.
OWL’s latest article on Huffington Post examines the impacts of obesity on women.
Study after study confirms it: America is facing a serious adult obesity epidemic. The latest report from JAMA Internal Medicine found that 75 percent of men and 67 percent of women are now overweight or obese—a sharp increase from 20 years ago when 63 percent of men and 55 percent of women fell into those categories.
(A person is overweight if they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9. Those with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese.)
Women were more likely to be obese than overweight, with 37 percent of women in the former category and 30 percent in the latter. Altogether, two out of every three women in the U.S. were above a normal weight.
This—no pun intended—is a very big deal. Carrying too much weight raises the risk of serious, life-threatening diseases including Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
Being obese affects certain recovery outcomes, as well: Obese women diagnosed with breast cancer are 35 percent more likely than normal-weight women to die of their cancer.
Obesity is also a significant predictor of cardiovascular disease (CVD), particularly among women, and CVD is the leading killer of women in the U.S.
This year, as Medicare turns 50, it’s a good time to look back on its half-century of success in providing access to health care for hundreds of millions of older Americans. It’s also a good time to look forward at ways we can strengthen this essential program for generations to come.
One critical way is to allow Medicare to cover hearing aids. Surprisingly, America’s original safety net for seniors doesn’t cover hearing aids or routine hearing exams.
If you have a loved one who suffers from hearing loss, you know how important a hearing aid can be to quality of life. And chances are, you do: hearing loss is one of the most common chronic conditions in the U.S., affecting nearly 20 million Americans over the age of 45. Left untreated, it can have serious social and emotional consequences: a National Council on Aging study found that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression and less likely to participate in social activities than those who wear hearing aids.
Yet, because of the lack of Medicare coverage, many seniors who need them go without. The average price of a pair of hearing aids is around $4,500—a heavy burden or entirely out of reach for many older Americans.
Congress is currently considering legislation that would remove the barriers in the Social Security Act that prevent Medicare from covering hearing aids. H.R. 1653—the Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, is an important step toward bringing Medicare into the 21st century and improving access to hearing aids and exams.
As we celebrate Medicare’s 50th birthday - as well as our own 35th anniversary—we reflect on the role Medicare has played over five decades in the well-being of our nation’s seniors, and we encourage Congress to pursue actions such as H.R. 1653 that will strengthen and modernize this essential program.
By Donna L. Wagner, Ph.D.
Interim Dean, College of Health and Social Services, New Mexico State University
Talking about death and end of life issues is probably the last thing most people are interested in doing. Many believe that it’s sad, morbid and unpleasant. Perhaps that’s why we have developed so many euphemisms for death: “He passed,” “She is no longer with us,” “he ate the banana,” “kicked the bucket” or “crossed over.” No matter what your preferred term may be, it is likely seen as more palatable and acceptable than using the “d” word.
At the recent health symposium on the topic of death convened by the College of Health and Social Services at New Mexico State University, Gail Rubin, who organized the death café during our lunch, reminded the audience of this important fact: “Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant and talking about death won’t make you dead.”
The conference was organized to give the community of Las Cruces, New Mexico, both residents and health professionals the opportunity to spend the day talking about the very personal topic of death; more than 400 people showed up.
“A Beautiful Death: What will you choose?” opened with a presentation by Peggy Battin, a bioethicist from the University of Utah who has been studying end of life issues her entire professional career. She challenged the audience with important ethical dilemmas that are timely today as the circumstances around the end of life have changed and are changing due to health technology and medical advancements that can keep us alive. These changes raise the bar for us all as we watch our parents and grandparents face a complicated set of decisions that no one had to make in the past.
Around the nation, end of life issues are being discussed. In part this is a function of an aging population and increasingly large health expenditures for care at the end of life.
Palliative care is not available in all communities and many health professionals are not clear of the value of palliative or what is the scope of the care and what should not be included.
Absent a more rationale and informed approach to the end of life on the part of patients and health professionals, the end of life will continue to be an expensive proposition for our health care system. And, more importantly, unnecessary pain and suffering for the dying and their loved ones.
In a 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health “End-of-Life Care Issues: A Personal, Economic, Public Policy and Public Health Crisis” describes the lack of advance care plans in place for most Americans. The authors point out the irony that while the majority of Americans want their wishes to be respected at the end of their lives, only about one-third say they have completed paperwork like the Five Wishes or other advance care planning documents.
Who would you want making decisions about your care when you are dying and unable to speak for yourself? If you haven’t been talking about your wishes, either with your family or preferably through a written document that can be shared with your physician and at the hospital where many die today, the decision-maker will likely be someone who doesn’t know you or if they do, doesn’t know what you want.
Every state in the nation has an advanced care form online for you to use to memorialize your wishes. It’s important to get all the information you need to make an informed decision that is right for you. This is best managed by talking to those you love and others who know something about end of life situations. If you still have trouble talking about death, just fill out the form online and hand a copy to a trusted family member. It is the most important gift you can give them.
Read more about the symposium here.
OWL’s Mother’s Day briefing and venture capital campaign was featured in a Forbes article:
Divorced, depressed and more than a million dollars in debt in 1997 due to a troubled real estate development, Carol Gardner’s world was falling apart. She was 52. “My cupboard was bare with no money coming in, I was living on four credit cards,” Gardner says. “My divorce attorney’s advice was: ‘Sweetheart, get a therapist or a dog.’”
Gardner opted for an English bulldog, named her Zelda and hoped she’d double as a therapist and help relaunch her life. A friend, knowing Gardner’s background was advertising, suggested entering Zelda in the local pet store’s annual Christmas greeting card contest. So Gardner borrowed a Santa hat from a neighbor, filled the tub with bubble bath, lowered Zelda in the water, snapped the photo and sent it in with this caption: For Christmas, I got a dog for my husband…good trade, huh?
Weeks later, Gardner won the contest, got a year’s supply of dog food and had a life-changing brainstorm in the process: a greeting card company centered around Zelda sporting different outfits.
Though Gardner was warned that 97% of greeting card startups fail, she was determined. “I had no choice. It was about survival.” Nearly 18 years and three Zeldas later, Zelda Wisdom today generates more than $50 million annually from cards, calendars, posters, books and gifts featuring the iconic bulldog.
This week, Gardner was named one of 10 women in the first Hall of Notables — remarkable encore entrepreneurs honored by OWL (Outstanding Women Leaders), the advocacy organization for women over 40. There isn’t a shrinking violet in the Hall, which includes Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, the first African-American female combat pilot who’s now a leadership coach; Patricia Lizarraga, Managing Partner of Hypatia Capital Group; journalist and author Gail Sheehy and Teresa Younger, CEO of Ms. Foundation.
Every May, OWL, formerly known as The Older Women’s League, releases a Mother’s Day Report about concerns of women as they age. This year’s report is “Our Women Mean Business: Encore Careers after 40.” It differs a bit from past reports, but the theme — the need for economic security — is not new.
“Our Women Mean Business” offers inspiration and hope to women who are discouraged by the pay equity gap, the glass ceiling, and gender and age discrimination.
OWL’s 2015 Mother’s Day Report cites research that differs from the conventional wisdom that entrepreneurship is just for young people. During the past 10 years, the highest rate of entrepreneurship in this country has been among those aged 55 to 64; in 2013, one-fifth of all new businesses were started by 50- to 59-year-old entrepreneurs, and 15 percent created by those age 50 and over.
Women decide to open their own businesses for good reasons. Even though there are laws against gender discrimination, gender gaps still exist.
OWL’s Mother’s Day briefing was featured in an article from Next Avenue, a group of public television people and journalists who, for the most part, are experiencing both challenges and opportunities of ‘Adult Part 2’, and that recognizes that what we could all use an abundance of reliable information that can help us figure out what’s next.
Just 7 percent of all VC funding goes to businesses led by women, according to OWL’s new report timed to Mother’s Day, Our Women Mean Business: Encore Careers After 40.
“We are launching a campaign to increase that number to 20 percent by 2020,” says Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, vice president of OWL’s Board of Directors and a partner in a Miami law firm. “When you realize $48 billion was invested by venture capitalists in 2014, 20 percent of that would be a sizeable improvement.”
OWL plans a three-pronged effort to get more investment money in the hands of female entrepreneurs.
First, the 35-year-old organization will ask its Hall of Notables women “to speak to the VC community so we can put a real face to the statistics,” Rodriguez-Taseff says. She adds: “Nothing speaks success to VCs like a successful entrepreneur.”
Second, OWL will reach out to institutional investors — nonprofits, universities and funds that invest in socially-responsible projects — to ensure they factor gender into their investment strategy.
And there’ll be a grassroots effort around the country. “When owls flock together, it’s called a parliament, so OWL will also be convening parliaments around the country to make sure venture capitalists more evenly distribute their funds,” Rodriguez-Taseff says.
OWL reports that women make up only 4.2 percent of the 542 partner-level positions at the 92 largest VC firms. “People give money to people who look like them. It’s not an intentional slight, but what a Harvard study called ‘unconscious bias,’” says Rodriguez-Taseff.