Jim’s work on health care, working families and poverty is motivated in part by his concern for the health and well-being of America’s older population. He understands seniors’ concerns about living well as they age, as well as seeing their children and grandchildren prosper. Many of the issues that affect seniors come before the House Committee on Ways and Means, and Jim’s leadership on this Committee allows him to advocate for older Americans. Jim has focused on a number of specific priorities for seniors – not only in Seattle but across the U.S.
Protecting Social Security
Jim understands that Social Security is one of America’s most popular and effective programs. Social Security dramatically reduces senior hardship and uncertainty. Given that two-thirds of older Americans rely on Social Security for at least half of their income, Jim has worked to ensure that benefits are adequate and that the program remains financially sound, and he has strongly opposed attempts to cut or privatize this vital program. He was instrumental in securing a one-time $250 supplement payment for Social Security recipients in 2009, which aided households during the recession and helped offset the loss in retirement savings that many experienced. In Washington State, more than 1 million recipients received a total of $263 million in extra benefits. He co-sponsored legislation that would eliminate the “earnings cap” on payroll taxes (H.R. 539) so that high-income earners pay their fair share to keep Social Security on solid financial footing for the next 75 years.
Making Health Care Affordable
Jim strongly supported the 2010 health care reform law, which includes numerous provisions to strengthen Medicare so that it continues to guarantee affordable and high quality health care to seniors and other beneficiaries. He adamantly opposed recent attempts to end this guaranteed coverage and reduce Medicare to a voucher program that would cover only a fraction of health care costs and leave it up to seniors to pay far more out-of-pocket.
The new health care law is already helping reduce out-of-pocket costs for seniors, as more than six million beneficiaries have enrolled in the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit program, saving an average of $1,100 per beneficiary by eliminating the gap in prescription drug coverage (or “donut hole”). The bill also has provided millions of seniors with a 52.5 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs. In Washington, thousands of people already have benefited from these changes, with an average saving of $1,187.
Understanding Seniors in Poverty
Experts have long agreed that the “official” measure of poverty, created in the early 1960’s, is badly outdated, especially for understanding senior poverty. Based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, Jim introduced legislation – the "Measuring American Poverty Act" – to develop a more accurate measure of poverty. His proposal is reflected in the Obama Administration’s creation of a Supplemental Poverty Measure alongside the official measure. This new measure indicates that seniors are more likely to be living in poverty than we realized (16 percent, rather than 9 percent according to the official measure) by capturing out-of-pocket health care expenses, which are higher for seniors and reduce their discretionary income. Jim's measure was intended to help his colleagues better understand the plight that many seniors face and encourage them to find solutions that help seniors improve their financial standing.
Promoting Awareness of Kidney Disease
Although public awareness of kidney disease remains modest, twenty-six million Americans suffer from this illness and another twenty million are at risk of developing it. In 2002, Jim founded the bipartisan Congressional Kidney Caucus to educate his Congressional colleagues and the public about the problems kidney disease poses for our society and the federal government's role in providing access to life-sustaining treatment for Americans with the severest form of kidney disease (Stage 5). The Kidney Caucus recognizes the crucial role of Medicare and Medicaid in enabling Stage 5 kidney treatment, and it provides a forum to discuss quality of care issues, research findings, and a framework for policies to aid individuals with kidney disease.