Republican Budget Seriously Slashed Medicare by $4.73B

Medicare is a fundamental tool of economic security – a guarantee that seniors will not be denied health care just because they cannot afford it. But Republicans in the House, led by Paul Ryan, just voted for a budget plan (HR553) (Roll Call Vote 552) that would gut Medicare – slashing funding for the program by more than $473 billion.  (Note: Rep. Mark Amodei from NVCD2 was absent for the vote, as were all three Las Vegas Reps from CD1, CD3 and CD4.)

We Need to Protect Access to Medicare | Getty Images

Fresh off their failure to pass #TrumpedUpCare and take away health insurance for millions, cruel and heartless Republicans in Congress, led by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, are desperate to tell their insurance industry donors that they have been able to do something to undermine the social safety net, and so they are sneaking this massive cut into their 2018 budget proposal.

More than 58 million seniors rely on Medicare, and the program is overwhelmingly popular. When we have collectively taken action to stop #TrumpedUpCare, we have been able to keep the Republicans from gutting health care. With Medicare now on the chopping block, we need to make it clear that any attempt to privatize, cut, weaken or damage Medicare is completely unacceptable.

Speaker Ryan has wanted to destroy Medicare for years. His ultimate goal is to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a privatized program in which seniors would get federal vouchers to help offset the cost of premiums charged by commercial insurance plans. It’s a trick designed to create the appearance of cutting costs by shifting some of the financial burden from the federal government to America’s seniors. If Ryan gets his way, folks who have been working their whole lives counting on Medicare in their retirement won’t ever be able to enroll in Medicare – instead, they will get a check that might help cover their premium for private insurance, if they are lucky.

The devastating budget bill (HR553) that Ryan just pushed through the House would destroy the social safety net: slashing funding not just for Medicare, but also for Medicaid, affordable housing and Pell Grants. All so they can give the ultra-wealthy a 1.5 billion-dollar tax cut.5

During his campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly pledged that he would not attack Medicare, but since inauguration, he has only undermined the program. First he appointed Tom Price, who has a long history of opposing Medicare as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Price has since resigned over his use of tax payer-funded private jets, but another Trump appointee and fervent Medicare opponent, Mick Mulvaney, remains the budget director, where he has significant influence on social safety net spending.6 These attacks on Medicare are enormously unpopular, and if we speak up now, we can stop cruel and reckless Republicans from gutting this essential program just so they can give a massive tax hand out to corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

It’s time to lean on Senator Dean Heller  (who’ll likely be looking to vote “Aye” to please Trump) and Senator Catherine Masto  (pretty sure she’s all ready a “No”) to make sure these massive cuts don’t pass the Senate as currently written and sent to the White House for signature.

Resources:

Advocacy: The Conscience of the Government is at Stake

— by Katie O’Connell, PFAW Digital Communications Coordinator 

With three nominees stacked into one hearing today, it’s pretty clear that Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley doesn’t actually want us to know much if anything at all about the nominees for two lifetime court appointments and Eric Dreiband, who is being considered for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Because if we actually knew about what these nominees stand for, we wouldn’t want them in positions of power in the federal government.

Eric Dreiband has made a name for himself as the go-to lawyer for corporations accused of discrimination. But beyond that, he has devoted his personal time and energy to fighting against civil rights protections like fair pay for women and protections for older Americans challenging age discrimination in the workplace.

Simply put, Dreiband will actively work against the mission of the Civil Rights Division, which has been described as the conscience of the government.

The legacy of the Civil Rights Division must not be tarnished by a Trump/Sessions nominee who doesn’t believe in the mission of the job he was nominated for. This division has a truly remarkable history of seeking justice in the wake of violence and racism and protecting rights for vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Dreiband’s nomination to a division whose mission he has spent his career opposing isn’t an accident or oversight — it’s Trump’s STRATEGY to create an ineffective government that harms communities of color, women, LGBTQ persons, and other vulnerable communities.

Trump and the Republicans in Congress want to distract us with an onslaught of extreme nominees, damaging policy changes, and political drama. Let them know you’re paying attention and speak out!

Speak out and tell Nevada’s senators that they must oppose Dreiband for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Mid-Term Senate Races Matter: Heller’s High Water

U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) released the below statement after a right-leaning federal judge in Texas nullified the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor overtime rule.

“The former Obama Administration’s expansion of the federal overtime rule would have devastated Nevada’s business owners and job creators. Since the rule was issued last year, I have been strongly concerned about its impact because it would fundamentally change how employers compensate their workers, reducing Nevadans’ work hours and benefits. I’m pleased to see that a federal judge acknowledged the regulation’s harmful consequences and ruled it invalid today,” Heller said. “Today’s news is a relief for countless Nevada businesses and employers, and I commend Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt for his leadership in this fight.”

Heller has worked tirelessly at undermining the Obama-era overtime rule aimed at leveling the playing field for workers. Instead, he’s worked to bolster the bottom line of his corporate benefactors. Don’t believe me?  As evidence —

  • In February 2016 he wrote to Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez about this rule and what he claimed would be its negative impacts on corporations in the state of Nevada.
  • In March 2016, he followed up with yet another letter highlighting his concerns over the new policy change.
  • In the Senate, Heller expressed concerns with his Senate colleagues by writing to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related Agencies Chairman Roy Blunt and Ranking Member Patty Murray.

Heller also cosponsored S. 2707, the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, in the 114th Congress, legislation that would have cancelled the proposed DOL regulation to increase the salary threshold for workers eligible to receive overtime pay and require impact studies for future proposals of related rules.

Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act

S.2707 declared that the proposed or the final rule of the Department of Labor entitled “Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees” shall cease to have any force or effect. The rule revises the “white collar” exemption of executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and computer employees from minimum wage and maximum hour, or overtime, requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA).

If the proposed rule is a final rule on the date of enactment of S.2707:

  • the Dept of Labor would have been prohibited from enforcing it based on conduct occurring before that enactment date,
  • an employee would not have any right of action against an employer for the employer’s failure to comply with the final rule at any time before that enactment date,
  • any regulations that were amended by the final rule would have been restored and revived as if the final rule had never taken effect, and
  • nothing in S.2707 would have been construed to create a right of action for an employer against an employee for the recoupment of any payments made to the employee before the enactment of this bill that were in compliance with that final rule.

It also specified that the Dept of Labor could promulgate any substantially similar rule only if it had completed certain required actions; but any new rule could not contain any automatic updates to the salary threshold for purposes of exemptions to minimum wage and maximum hour requirements under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act).

The requirement that definitions applicable for such exemptions be defined and delimited from time to time by Labor regulations would have been construed to:

  • require Labor to issue a new rule through notice and comment rule-making for each change in any salary threshold it has proposed (creating more expensive and elongated rule-making processes); and
  • exclude any rule that would result in changes to any salary threshold for multiple time periods, including through any automatic updating procedure.

The Dept of Labor was also prohibited from promulgating any final rule that included any revision to duties tests for exemption from minimum wage and maximum hours requirements unless specific regulatory text for the provision was proposed in the proposed rule.

For clarity, here is the background on that “Final Rule” and what it did for WORKERS:

In 2014, President Obama directed the Department of Labor to update and modernize the regulations governing the exemption of executive, administrative, and professional (“EAP”) employees from the minimum wage and overtime pay protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA” or “Act”). The Department published a notice of proposed rulemaking on July 6, 2015, and received more than 270,000 comments. On May 18, 2016, the Department announced that it will publish a Final Rule to update the regulations. The full text of the Final Rule will be available at the Federal Register Site.

Although the FLSA ensures minimum wage and overtime pay protections for most employees covered by the Act, some workers, including bona fide EAP employees, are exempt from those protections. Since 1940, the Department’s regulations have generally required each of three tests to be met for the FLSA’s EAP exemption to apply:

  1. the employee must be paid a predetermined and fixed salary that is not subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of work performed (“salary basis test”);
  2. the amount of salary paid must meet a minimum specified amount (“salary level test”); and
  3. the employee’s job duties must primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties as defined by the regulations (“duties test”).

The Department last updated these regulations in 2004, when it set the weekly salary level at $455 ($23,660 annually) and made other changes to the regulations, including collapsing the short and long duties tests into a single standard duties test and introducing a new exemption for highly compensated employees.

This Final Rule updates the salary level required for exemption to ensure that the FLSA’s intended overtime protections are fully implemented, and to simplify the identification of overtime-protected employees, thus making the EAP exemption easier for employers and workers to understand and apply. Without intervening action by their employers, it extends the right to overtime pay to an estimated 4.2 million workers who are currently exempt. It also strengthens existing overtime protections for 5.7 million additional white collar salaried workers and 3.2 million salaried blue collar workers whose entitlement to overtime pay will no longer rely on the application of the duties test.

* Key Provisions of the Final Rule *
The Final Rule focused primarily on updating the salary and compensation levels needed for EAP workers to be exempt. Specifically, the Final Rule:

  1. Set the standard salary level at the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region, currently the South, which is $913 per week or $47,476 annually for a full-year worker;
  2. Set the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees (HCE) subject to a minimal duties test to the annual equivalent of the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally, which is $134,004; and
  3. Established a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every three years to maintain the levels at the above percentiles and to ensure that they continue to provide useful and effective tests for exemption.

Additionally, the Final Rule amended the salary basis test to allow employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level. The Final Rule made no changes to the duties tests.

Effective Date
The effective date of the Final Rule is December 1, 2016. The initial increases to the standard salary level (from $455 to $913 per week) and HCE total annual compensation requirement (from $100,000 to $134,004 per year) will be effective on that date. Future automatic updates to those thresholds will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020.

Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Senator Heller espouse and promote a nationwide move such as that just made by the Missouri GOP-led legislature which lowered the minimum wage from $10/hr to $7.70/hr (or, from $20, 800/yr to $16,016/yr for Missouri citizens.

Afterall, Senator Heller has made it exceedingly clear that he represents only his corporate benefactors and is a firm believer and double-downer in a failed trickle-down philosophy.

“Congress is ready to address tax reform, and that’s why I’m encouraged by the President’s comments today about bringing tax relief to all Americans. Nevada’s hardworking families and small business owners have been waiting for a simpler, fairer tax code for years now, and Congress and the White House are poised to make that happen,” Heller said. “I was honored to host Secretary Mnuchin earlier this week in Las Vegas for a meeting with Nevada employers and the message we received from these business leaders was clear – lowering rates will help boost the economy, create jobs and increase wages. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m looking forward to working with the Administration on this issue and having a seat at the table to make sure that the final product is what’s best for Nevada.”

Mid-term elections matter and we cannot let Dean Heller get re-elected to the Senate, nor can we let AG Laxalt get elected to the Governorship of Nevada.

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Democrats Introduce Bill to Stop Wage Theft & Boost Workers’ Financial Security

The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act would crack down on employers who steal wages from their workers — Employers steal more than $15 billion from workers every year, particularly from workers in low-wage industries

On Tuesday, August 1, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Al Franken (D-MN), along with Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act, to crack down on employers who unfairly withhold wages from their employees. This bill would give workers the right to receive full compensation for all of the work they perform, as well as the right to receive regular pay stubs and final paychecks in a timely manner. It would also provide workers with improved tools to recover their stolen wages in court and make assistance available to build community partnerships that enhance the enforcement of and improve compliance with wage and hour laws.

“It is simply wrong that employers are able to take advantage of their workers and cheat them out of their hard-earned pay, and all too often women, immigrants and workers of color are those who have to pay the price,” said Senator Murray. “While President Trump continues to break campaign promises and roll back worker protections, I’m going to keep fighting so every worker is treated fairly and paid what they’ve earned. I’m proud to introduce this bill as another step towards building an economy that works for all, not just those at the top.”

 “The biggest economic challenge facing our country is that too many people are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on. Across the country, some workers are putting in long hours and working for an honest day’s pay, only to have their employers cheat them out of their hard-earned wages. Wage theft is inexcusable and unconscionable, and our federal laws should hold employers who violate their employee’s right accountable,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act is comprehensive legislation that will strengthen current federal law and empower employees to recover their lost wages. Whether it is compensation for a day’s work, or overtime, employees should be paid what they earn. This legislation not only protects workers, but it will help our economy grow.”

 “Wage theft is just one of the reasons why Ohioans are working hard but have too little to show for it,” said Senator Brown. “We need to crack down on employers who don’t pay workers their full wages to restore the value of work and strengthen our economy.”

In May, the Economic Policy Institute published a new report finding that employers steal more than an estimated $15 billion from workers each year, with workers in low-wage industries at the greatest risk. A National Employment Law Project 2008 survey of 4,387 low-wage workers in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago found that low-wage workers experienced a range of wage and hour violations, with women, immigrants and minorities being disproportionately affected. Common examples of wage theft include forcing workers to work off the clock, refusing to pay the minimum wage, denying overtime pay to workers even after they work more than 40 hours a week, stealing workers’ tips, or knowingly misclassifying workers to avoid paying fair wages.

“Americans are spending more hours working, but all too often, because of wage theft, they don’t get the pay they’ve earned—and as a result working families suffer,” said Senator Franken. “While a majority of employers are playing by the rules, wage theft is a real problem. Our bill will combat this crooked practice by giving each worker the tools to make sure that employers aren’t shortchanging workers’ hours or overtime pay. Every worker in Minnesota and across our country should be paid for every hour they work and no less.”

 “When workers are not taking home the entirety of the pay they’ve earned because of wage theft, families suffer,” said Congressman Scott.“Unfortunately, wage theft is a persistent problem for low wage workers. A recent study from the Economic Policy Institute sampling the 10 most populous states found that 2.4 million workers lost $8 billion annually to minimum wage violations. The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act will give hardworking Americans the tools they need to fight back against unscrupulous employers and protect their hard-earned paychecks. In addition to raising the federal minimum wage and strengthening collective bargaining, combating wage theft is a critical part in boosting the wages of low wage working people and remedying income inequality.”

In addition to Senators Murray, Brown and Franken, other original cosponsors in the Senate include Durbin (D-IL), Markey (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Murphy (D-CT), Warren (D-MA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris (D-CA), Baldwin (D-WI), Leahy (D-VT), Booker (D-NJ), Sanders (I-VT), Hirono (D-HI), Van Hollen (D-MD), Casey (D-PA), Wyden (D-OR), and Stabenow (D-MI).

In addition to Representatives DeLauro and Scott, other original cosponsors in the House of Representatives include Boyle (D-PA), Clark, (D-MA), Clarke (D-NY), Conyers (D-MI), DeSaulnier (D-CA), Ellison (D-MN), Green (D-TX), Langevin (D-RI), Lewis (D-GA), Matsui (D-CA), McCollum (D-MN), Nadler (D-NY), Holmes Norton (D-DC), Pascrell (D-NJ), Pocan (D-WI), Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Schakowsky (D-IL), Serrano (D-NY), Slaughter (D-NY), and Velazquez (D-NY).

Text of the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act can be found HERE.
Fact sheet on the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act can be found HERE and below:

The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act

Today, across the country, many people are putting in long hours on the job and working hard for an honest day’s pay, only to have their employers cheat them out of their wages. While the vast majority of employers do the right thing and treat workers fairly, too many others force their workers to work off the clock, refuse to pay workers the minimum wage, deny workers overtime pay even after they work more than 40 hours a week, steal workers’ tips, or knowingly misclassify workers to avoid paying fair wages.

The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act is comprehensive legislation to combat wage theft in America. This bill will strengthen fundamental protections to allow workers to get the money they have earned through hard work and it will crack down on the corporations that subject workers to these abuses. Taking these steps will help ensure our country can work for all Americans, not just the wealthiest few, so our economy grows from the middle out, not the top down.

The bill would achieve the following:

  1. Require employers to pay all wages owed to an employee. Currently, workers can only recover wages at the minimum wage or, for overtime hours, 1.5 times their regular wage; for example, an employee may be hired at $9.00 per hour, but would only have the right to recover $7.25 of every $9.00 she was owed. This bill would help workers recoup the full compensation that employers have taken from them.
  2. Require employers to provide initial disclosures of the terms of their employment and regular pay stubs to all employees and create a civil fine for noncompliance of $50 for the first violation and $100 for each subsequent violation.
  3. Require employers to pay final paychecks within 14 days of separation or by the payday for the pay period, whichever is earlier; the employer will owe the employee in question her daily wage for each day beyond this period that the paycheck goes unpaid, for a maximum of 30 days.
  4. Create a civil penalty of $2,000 when employers violate minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and—for the first time—the protection guaranteeing workers their full compensation. The Act would also increase the existing civil penalty for willful or repeat violations to $10,000. Currently, the Department of Labor (DOL) does not have the authority to assess civil penalties for violations of the FLSA’s minimum wage or overtime requirements unless the employer is guilty of repeat or willful violations; even then, the penalty is set at just $1,100 per violation.
  5. Increase the damages that employees who are victims of wage theft are entitled to. The amount currently provided for by the FLSA is twice the owed wages. This bill would raise that amount to triple the owed wages amount, plus interest assessed on the original owed wages.
  6. Strengthen protections for employees who are illegally fired by their employer as retaliation for filing a complaint concerning wage theft or cooperating with a DOL investigation. This bill would increase the damages to which workers are entitled to quadruple the owed wages amount, plus interest assessed on the original owed wages.
  7. Strengthen the FLSA’s recordkeeping provision by creating a civil penalty of $1,000 for an employer’s first violation of the provision and $5,000 for each subsequent violation. Additionally, the legislation would give employees a right to inspect their employer’s records by requesting a copy of those records. Finally, if an employer violates the recordkeeping provision, the bill would allow an employee’s reasonable evidence regarding their hours worked to be used to create a rebuttable presumption that the employer engaged in wage theft, and to establish the exact amount of that wage theft. Under this bill, the employer would be allowed to rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence.
  8. Increase the time that employees have to bring a claim for owed wages from two years to four years (and from three years to five years for willful violations) from the date of the violation and temporarily suspend this time limit during any DOL investigation.
  9. Make it easier for employees to take collective action to recover their stolen wages. The bill would remove the current requirement that employees affirmatively “opt-in” to engage in a collective action under the FLSA. This will enable employees to pursue collective action cases in a manner similar to most class action cases, in which members of the “class” must affirmatively “opt-out” of the case in order to not be involved.
  10. Direct DOL to refer to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution those employers who comprehensively engage in wage theft by willfully stealing employees’ wages, falsifying records to hide the truth, and retaliating against employees when they try to speak up for themselves or cooperate with a DOL investigation.
  11. Create a grant program at DOL to assist DOL in its education, trainings, and enforcement of this Act through partnerships with organizations on the ground that fight wage theft.

GOP Against Consumers Faring Better Using Class Actions—Vote to Repeal Consumer Protection Rule

News from Economic Policy Institute (EPI)

Many financial institutions use forced arbitration clauses in their contracts to block consumers with disputes from banding together in court, instead requiring each consumer to argue their case separately in private arbitration proceedings. Recently, members of Congress introduced legislation to repeal a new rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that restores consumers’ ability to join together in class action lawsuits against financial institutions.

Opponents of the rule have suggested that the CFPB’s own findings show consumers on average receive greater relief in arbitration than class action lawsuits. In a new fact sheet, EPI Policy Director Heidi Shierholz explains that this is enormously misleading. While the average consumer who wins a claim in arbitration recovers $5,389, consumers win only 9 percent of disputes. Overall, the average consumer who enters arbitration with a bank or lender is ordered to pay $7,725. Furthermore, Shierholz points out, evidence shows that allowing consumers to join together in court does not increase consumer costs or decrease available credit.

“The numbers couldn’t be more clear—class actions return hundreds of millions of dollars to consumers, while forced arbitration only pays off for banks and lenders,” said Shierholz. “Congress should side with the American people, not big banks, and vote down this capricious attack on consumer freedom.”


Fact Sheet • By Heidi Shierholz • August 1, 2017  Download PDF


The new arbitration rule from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) restores consumers’ ability to join together in class action lawsuits against financial institutions.

H.J.Res.111 – Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection relating to “Arbitration Agreements”.

This joint resolution nullifies a rule submitted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regarding arbitration agreements.

(The rule regulates the use of arbitration agreements in contracts for specific consumer financial products and services. It prohibits the use of a pre-dispute arbitration agreement to prevent a consumer from filing or participating in certain class action suits. The rule also requires consumer financial product and service providers to furnish the CFPB with particular information regarding arbitrations.)

ROLL CALL VOTE 412:

  • Republican Mark Amodei voted FOR passage to repeal and thus deny those Consumer Protection rights for not just his constituents, but ALL Americans to enable his Corporate benefactors to profit from their customer abuses.
  • Democrats Ruben Kihuen, Jacky Rosen and Dina Titus voted AGAINST passage — to protect consumer protection rights

Based on five years of careful study, the July 2017 final rule stems from a congressional directive instructing the agency to study forced arbitration and restrict or ban the practice if it harms consumers. Many financial institutions use forced arbitration clauses in their contracts to block consumers with disputes from banding together in court, instead requiring each consumer to argue their case separately in private arbitration proceedings.

In recent weeks, members of Congress have introduced legislation to repeal the CFPB rule and take away consumers’ newly restored right to band together in court. Opponents of the rule have suggested that the bureau’s own findings show consumers on average receive greater relief in arbitration ($5,389) than class action lawsuits ($32). This is enormously misleading.

While the average consumer who wins a claim in arbitration recovers $5,389, this is not even close to a typical consumer outcome. Why? Consumers obtain relief regarding their claims in only 9 percent of disputes. On the other hand, when companies make claims or counterclaims, arbitrators grant them relief 93 percent of the time—meaning they order the consumer to pay. If you consider both sides of this equation, in arbitration, the average consumer is ordered to pay $7,725 to the bank or lender. That’s right: the average consumer ends up paying financial institutions in arbitration.

But let’s consider the consumers who do win in arbitration. How do those numbers stack up against class action lawsuits? In an average year:

  • At least 6,800,000 consumers get cash relief in class actions—compared with just 16 consumers who receive cash relief in arbitration, according to available data.
  • Consumers recover at least $440,000,000 in class actions, after deducting all attorneys’ fees and court costs—compared with a total of $86,216 in arbitration.

Banning consumer class actions lets financial institutions keep hundreds of millions of dollars that would otherwise go back to harmed consumers every year.

The financial industry often claims that arbitration is cheaper and faster for consumers. How do these claims stand up to the data?

  • Consumers pay an average cost of $161 to file a claim in arbitration. Consumers generally don’t pay anything to join a class action.
  • Consumers typically wait 150 days for a decision in arbitration, compared with a typical wait of around 215 days for a conclusion in most class actions.

Arbitration is certainly not cheaper—especially considering the average consumer pays a bank or lender $7,725 in the end—and only a couple months faster.

Finally, opponents of the rule argue that allowing consumers to join together in court will increase consumer costs and decrease available credit. This claim is contradicted by real-life experience. Consumers saw no increase in price after Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, and HSBC dropped their arbitration clauses as a result of court-approved settlements, and mortgage rates did not increase after Congress banned forced arbitration in the mortgage market.

The numbers are clear: class actions return hundreds of millions to consumers, while forced arbitration only pays off for banks and lenders.

Sources: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “New Protections against Mandatory Arbitration,” web page accessed July 31, 2017; Sylvan Lane, “GOP Lawmakers Introduce Measures to Repeal Consumer Bureau Arbitration Rule,” The Hill, July 20, 2017; U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, “Senators File Resolution Disapproving of CFPB Arbitration Rule” (press release), July 20, 2017; Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Arbitration Study: Report to Congress, pursuant to Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act § 1028(a), 2015; Adam J. Levitin, “Mandatory Arbitration Offers Bargain-Basement Justice,’ American Banker BankThink (blog), May 13, 2014.

Unless otherwise hyperlinked, the data in this fact sheet are EPI computations of data from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Arbitration Study: Report to Congress, pursuant to Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act § 1028(a), 2015

Cruz Amdt is a Disaster for Healthcare … Nationwide

In rare joint letter, insurers say the Cruz amendment to the Senate Healthcare bill is “unworkable in any form” and will lead to “widespread terminations of coverage.”


Trumpka on the GOP’s Gutting of Healthcare

— Richard Trumka — President, AFL-CIO

We are—and always will be—stronger together. You’ve proved that again by standing united in opposition to the GOP health care bill.

More than 400,000 working people like you signed petitions aimed at Congress. More than 26,000 people made phone calls to their senator or representative urging them to oppose a health care bill that will leave 22 million Americans without the care they depend on. And thousands more of you showed up at events across the nation to speak up for all working families’ freedom to have decent health care.

Despite all we’ve done, the fight is far from over. You can help keep up the momentum by sharing this image with your friends and family.

Not only does this plan put millions of working families at risk of losing their care, it also would destroy 1.45 million jobs in the health sector in order to pay for more tax breaks for the wealthy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t have enough votes today to guarantee a win if he brings this terrible piece of legislation to the floor for a vote, because working women and men continue to take action. It’s up to all of us to keep it that way. Sharing this graphic right now on social media is a great, simple way to do just that.

The CBO Report is Out—We’re Still Screwed!

— as Posted at the Website of the Congressional Budget Office on June 26, 2017


View the full CBO Report Here


The Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) have completed an estimate of the direct spending and revenue effects of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, a Senate amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.R. 1628. CBO and JCT estimate that enacting this legislation would reduce the cumulative federal deficit over the 2017-2026 period by $321 billion. That amount is $202 billion more than the estimated net savings for the version of H.R. 1628 that was passed by the House of Representatives.

The Senate bill would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to the number under current law, slightly fewer than the increase in the number of uninsured estimated for the House-passed legislation. By 2026, an estimated 49 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.

Following the overview, this document provides details about the major provisions of this legislation, the estimated costs to the federal government, the basis for the estimate, and other related information, including a comparison with CBO’s estimate for the House-passed act.

Effects on the Federal Budget

CBO and JCT estimate that, over the 2017-2026 period, enacting this legislation would reduce direct spending by $1,022 billion and reduce revenues by $701 billion, for a net reduction of $321 billion in the deficit over that period (see Table 1, at the end of this document):

  • The largest savings would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid—spending on the program would decline in 2026 by 26 percent in comparison with what CBO projects under current law—and from changes to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) subsidies for non-group health insurance (see Figure 1). Those savings would be partially offset by the effects of other changes to the ACA’s provisions dealing with insurance coverage: additional spending designed to reduce premiums and a reduction in revenues from repealing penalties on employers who do not offer insurance and on people who do not purchase insurance.
  • The largest increases in deficits would come from repealing or modifying tax provisions in the ACA that are not directly related to health insurance coverage, including repealing a surtax on net investment income and repealing annual fees imposed on health insurers.

Pay-as-you-go procedures apply because enacting this legislation would affect direct spending and revenues. CBO and JCT estimate that enactment would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027. The agencies expect that savings, particularly from Medicaid, would continue to grow, while the costs would be smaller because a rescinded tax on employees’ health insurance premiums and health plan benefits would be reinstated in 2026. CBO has not completed an estimate of the potential impact of this legislation on discretionary spending, which would be subject to future appropriation action.

Effects on Health Insurance Coverage

CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 15 million more people would be uninsured under this legislation than under current law—primarily because the penalty for not having insurance would be eliminated. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 22 million in 2026. In later years, other changes in the legislation—lower spending on Medicaid and substantially smaller average subsidies for coverage in the non-group market—would also lead to increases in the number of people without health insurance. By 2026, among people under age 65, enrollment in Medicaid would fall by about 16 percent and an estimated 49 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.

Stability of the Health Insurance Market

Decisions about offering and purchasing health insurance depend on the stability of the health insurance market—that is, on the proportion of people living in areas with participating insurers and on the likelihood of premiums’ not rising in an unsustainable spiral. The market for insurance purchased individually with premiums not based on one’s health status would be unstable if, for example, the people who wanted to buy coverage at any offered price would have average health care expenditures so high that offering the insurance would be unprofitable.

Under Current Law. Although premiums have been rising under current law, most subsidized enrollees purchasing health insurance coverage in the non-group market are largely insulated from increases in premiums because their out-of-pocket payments for premiums are based on a percentage of their income; the government pays the difference between that percentage and the premiums for a reference plan (which is the second-lowest-cost plan in their area providing specified benefits). The subsidies to purchase coverage, combined with the effects of the individual mandate, which requires most individuals to obtain insurance or pay a penalty, are anticipated to cause sufficient demand for insurance by enough people, including people with low health care expenditures, for the market to be stable in most areas.

Nevertheless, a small number of people live in areas of the country that have limited participation by insurers in the non-group market under current law. Several factors may lead insurers to withdraw from the market—including lack of profitability and substantial uncertainty about enforcement of the individual mandate and about future payments of the cost-sharing subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket payments for people who enroll in non-group coverage through the marketplaces established by the ACA.

Under This Legislation. CBO and JCT anticipate that, under this legislation, non-group insurance markets would continue to be stable in most parts of the country. Although substantial uncertainty about the effects of the new law could lead some insurers to withdraw from or not enter the non-group market in some states, several factors would bring about market stability in most states before 2020. In the agencies’ view, those key factors include the following: subsidies to purchase insurance, which would maintain sufficient demand for insurance by people with low health care expenditures; the appropriation of funds for cost-sharing subsidies, which would provide certainty about the availability of those funds; and additional federal funding provided to states and insurers, which would lower premiums by reducing the costs to insurers of people with high health care expenditures.

The agencies expect that the non-group market in most areas of the country would continue to be stable in 2020 and later years as well, including in some states that obtain waivers that would not have otherwise done so. (Under current law and this legislation, states can apply for Section 1332 waivers to change the structure of subsidies for non-group coverage; the specifications for essential health benefits [EHBs], which set the minimum standards for the benefits that insurance in the non-group and small-group markets must cover; and other related provisions of law.) Substantial federal funding to directly reduce premiums would be available through 2021. Premium tax credits would continue to provide insulation from changes in premiums through 2021 and in later years. Those factors would help attract enough relatively healthy people for the market in most areas of the country to be stable, CBO and JCT anticipate. That stability in most areas would occur even though the premium tax credits would be smaller in most cases than under current law and subsidies to reduce cost sharing—the amount that consumers are required to pay out of pocket when they use health care services—would be eliminated starting in 2020.

In the agencies’ assessment, a small fraction of the population resides in areas in which—because of this legislation, at least for some of the years after 2019—no insurers would participate in the non-group market or insurance would be offered only with very high premiums. Some sparsely populated areas might have no non-group insurance offered because the reductions in subsidies would lead fewer people to decide to purchase insurance—and markets with few purchasers are less profitable for insurers. Insurance covering certain services would become more expensive—in some cases, extremely expensive—in some areas because the scope of the EHBs would be narrowed through waivers affecting close to half the population, CBO and JCT expect. In addition, the agencies anticipate that all insurance in the nongroup market would become very expensive for at least a short period of time for a small fraction of the population residing in areas in which states’ implementation of waivers with major changes caused market disruption.

Effects on Premiums and Out-of-Pocket Payments

The legislation would increase average premiums in the non-group market prior to 2020 and lower average premiums thereafter, relative to projections under current law, CBO and JCT estimate. To arrive at those estimates, the agencies examined how the legislation would affect the premiums charged if people purchased a benchmark plan in the non-group market.

In 2018 and 2019, under current law and under the legislation, the benchmark plan has an actuarial value of 70 percent—that is, the insurance pays about 70 percent of the total cost of covered benefits, on average. In the marketplaces, such coverage is known as a silver plan.

Under the Senate bill, average premiums for benchmark plans for single individuals would be about 20 percent higher in 2018 than under current law, mainly because the penalty for not having insurance would be eliminated, inducing fewer comparatively healthy people to sign up. Those premiums would be about 10 percent higher than under current law in 2019—less than in 2018 in part because funding provided by the bill to reduce premiums would affect pricing and because changes in the limits on how premiums can vary by age would result in a larger number of younger people paying lower premiums to purchase policies.

In 2020, average premiums for benchmark plans for single individuals would be about 30 percent lower than under current law. A combination of factors would lead to that decrease—most important, the smaller share of benefits paid for by the benchmark plans and federal funds provided to directly reduce premiums.

That share of services covered by insurance would be smaller because the benchmark plan under this legislation would have an actuarial value of 58 percent beginning in 2020. That value is slightly below the actuarial value of 60 percent for “bronze” plans currently offered in the marketplaces. Because of the ACA’s limits on out-of-pocket spending and prohibitions on annual and lifetime limits on payments for services within the EHBs, all plans must pay for most of the cost of high-cost services. To design a plan with an actuarial value of 60 percent or less and pay for those high-cost services, insurers must set high deductibles—that is, the amounts that people pay out of pocket for most types of health care services before insurance makes any contribution. Under current law for a single policyholder in 2017, the average deductible (for medical and drug expenses combined) is about $6,000 for a bronze plan and $3,600 for a silver plan. CBO and JCT expect that the benchmark plans under this legislation would have high deductibles similar to those for the bronze plans offered under current law. Premiums for a plan with an actuarial value of 58 percent are lower than they are for a plan with an actuarial value of 70 percent (the value for the reference plan under current law) largely because the insurance pays for a smaller average share of health care costs.

Although the average benchmark premium directly affects the amount of premium tax credits and is a key element in CBO’s analysis of the budgetary effects of the bill, it does not represent the effect of this legislation on the average premiums for all plans purchased. The differences in the actuarial value of plans purchased under this legislation and under current law would be greater starting in 2020—when, for example, under this bill, some people would pay more than the benchmark premium to purchase a silver plan, whereas, under current law, others would pay less than the benchmark premium to purchase a bronze plan.

Under this legislation, starting in 2020, the premium for a silver plan would typically be a relatively high percentage of income for low-income people. The deductible for a plan with an actuarial value of 58 percent would be a significantly higher percentage of income—also making such a plan unattractive, but for a different reason. As a result, despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan, CBO and JCT estimate.

By 2026, average premiums for benchmark plans for single individuals in most of the country under this legislation would be about 20 percent lower than under current law, CBO and JCT estimate—a smaller decrease than in 2020 largely because federal funding to reduce premiums would have lessened. The estimates for both of those years encompass effects in different areas of the country that would be substantially higher and substantially lower than the average effect nationally, in part because of the effects of state waivers. Some small fraction of the population is not included in those estimates. CBO and JCT expect that those people would be in states using waivers in such a way that no benchmark plan would be defined. Hence, a comparison of benchmark premiums is not possible in such areas.

Some people enrolled in non-group insurance would experience substantial increases in what they would spend on health care even though benchmark premiums would decline, on average, in 2020 and later years. Because non-group insurance would pay for a smaller average share of benefits under this legislation, most people purchasing it would have higher out-of-pocket spending on health care than under current law. Out-of-pocket spending would also be affected for the people—close to half the population, CBO and JCT expect—living in states modifying the EHBs using waivers. People who used services or benefits no longer included in the EHBs would experience substantial increases in supplemental premiums or out-of-pocket spending on health care, or would choose to forgo the services. Moreover, the ACA’s ban on annual and lifetime limits on covered benefits would no longer apply to health benefits not defined as essential in a state. As a result, for some benefits that might be removed from a state’s definition of EHBs but that might not be excluded from insurance coverage altogether, some enrollees could see large increases in out-of-pocket spending because annual or lifetime limits would be allowed.

Uncertainty Surrounding the Estimates

CBO and JCT have endeavored to develop budgetary estimates that are in the middle of the distribution of potential outcomes. Such estimates are inherently inexact because the ways in which federal agencies, states, insurers, employers, individuals, doctors, hospitals, and other affected parties would respond to the changes made by this legislation are all difficult to predict. In particular, predicting the overall effects of the myriad ways that states could implement waivers is especially difficult.

CBO and JCT’s projections under current law itself are also uncertain. For example, enrollment in the marketplaces under current law will probably be lower than was projected under the March 2016 baseline used in this analysis, which would tend to decrease the budgetary savings from this legislation. However, the average subsidy per enrollee under current law will probably be higher than was projected in March 2016, which would tend to increase the budgetary savings from this legislation. (For a related discussion, see the section on “Use of the March 2016 Baseline” on page 15.)

Despite the uncertainty, the direction of certain effects of this legislation is clear. For example, the amount of federal revenues collected and the amount of spending on Medicaid would almost surely both be lower than under current law. And the number of uninsured people under this legislation would almost surely be greater than under current law.

Intergovernmental and Private-Sector Mandates

CBO has reviewed the non-tax provisions of the legislation and determined that they would impose intergovernmental mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) by preempting state laws. Although the pre-emptions would limit the application of state laws, they would impose no duty on states that would result in additional spending or a loss of revenues. JCT has determined that the tax provisions of the legislation contain no intergovernmental mandates.

JCT and CBO have determined that the legislation would impose private-sector mandates as defined in UMRA. On the basis of information from JCT, CBO estimates that the aggregate cost of the mandates would exceed the annual threshold established in UMRA for private-sector mandates ($156 million in 2017, adjusted annually for inflation).

Resources and Related Links

Al Franken Speaks: It’s Simple, If AHCA Passes—People Are Going to Die

Sen. Al Franken discusses how dangerous Trumpcare actually is:

 

The GOP’s AHCA, if enacted, will strip people of their protections, not so much in the language as written striking those protections directly, but through the granting of “waivers.”  Various states, specifically “red” states, want to be able apply for waivers such that they don’t have to provide healthcare plans that provide coverage for any “essential healthcare benefit” identified in the ACA that they don’t particularly like.  That means MEN in GOP-dominated legislatures who don’t think “maternity care” should be an essential benefit because MEN don’t get pregnant, can seek waivers for having to provide plans that cover maternity care.  The same might hold true for those opposing inclusion of Emergency Room care, or prescription drugs, or 1st-day expenses associated with a hospital admission (the most expensive day), or cancer screenings, etc. Similarly, waivers could be sought regarding annual or lifetime limits of coverage.  We already know that they’re seeking an amendment that would block all coverage for 3-months should someone come up short after getting fired from a job and miss a payment to their healthcare insurer.

If the AHCA passes in the Senate and goes back to the House for a vote, the House could choose to short-circuit the process and end their struggle to “repeal and replace” by merely voting to accept the Senate-passed bill and it would head to interloper in the White House’s desk for his glorious 2″ tall signature in some binder he can hold up for all to see.

One thing all of us need to understand is that enactment of the AHCA will be the first step in the race to the bottom for ALL of us (not just those on medicaid or those buying insurance via exchanges) — even those who currently have employer-based insurance will be dramatically impacted.  You see, employers already buy insurance “across state lines” because they typically have plans that insure employees in multiple states.  That means, they’ll be looking at which states sought waivers and for what type of coverage they sought waivers that will drive their cost of insuring their workforce down.  When they start buying insurance from waivered-state insurance providers, those essential health benefits you’ve become accustomed to having and using are going to start disappearing.  Your costs/cost-sharing/deductibles/etc. are all going to dig deeper into your pockets, and that’s before all those age-rated factors start kicking in, or your workplace becomes too hostile for you to tolerate any more as they lean on you more heavily attempting to get you to leave so they can hire a less expensive to insure younger employee.

Those of us who live in rural America already know how hard it is to obtain services or to even find a healthcare insurer … at any price.  Corporations have no interest in doing business in rural America where doctors are fewer, where hospitals and clinics serve smaller populations and where serious emergency cases have some seriously high transportation costs associated with getting them to the nearest trauma center.  It can only get worse for us.

Bottom-line?  People are going to lose their ability to afford insurance.  AND … people are going to needlessly die early deaths.

On the AHCA Secrecy and the Character of our Country

by Barack Obama, POTUS-44

Our politics are divided. They have been for a long time. And while I know that division makes it difficult to listen to Americans with whom we disagree, that’s what we need to do today.

I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party. Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did.

We didn’t fight for the Affordable Care Act for more than a year in the public square for any personal or political gain – we fought for it because we knew it would save lives, prevent financial misery, and ultimately set this country we love on a better, healthier course.

Nor did we fight for it alone. Thousands upon thousands of Americans, including Republicans, threw themselves into that collective effort, not for political reasons, but for intensely personal ones – a sick child, a parent lost to cancer, the memory of medical bills that threatened to derail their dreams.

And you made a difference. For the first time, more than ninety percent of Americans know the security of health insurance. Health care costs, while still rising, have been rising at the slowest pace in fifty years. Women can’t be charged more for their insurance, young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26, contraceptive care and preventive care are now free. Paying more, or being denied insurance altogether due to a preexisting condition – we made that a thing of the past.

We did these things together. So many of you made that change possible.

At the same time, I was careful to say again and again that while the Affordable Care Act represented a significant step forward for America, it was not perfect, nor could it be the end of our efforts – and that if Republicans could put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I would gladly and publicly support it.

That remains true. So I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there’s a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it’s to make people’s lives better, not worse.

But right now, after eight years, the legislation rushed through the House and the Senate without public hearings or debate would do the opposite. It would raise costs, reduce coverage, roll back protections, and ruin Medicaid as we know it. That’s not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of all objective analyses, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 23 million Americans would lose insurance, to America’s doctors, nurses, and hospitals on the front lines of our health care system.

The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely.

Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?

To put the American people through that pain – while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return – that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

That might take some time and compromise between Democrats and Republicans. But I believe that’s what people want to see. I believe it would demonstrate the kind of leadership that appeals to Americans across party lines. And I believe that it’s possible – if you are willing to make a difference again. If you’re willing to call your members of Congress. If you are willing to visit their offices. If you are willing to speak out, let them and the country know, in very real terms, what this means for you and your family.

After all, this debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It’s about the character of our country – who we are, and who we aspire to be. And that’s always worth fighting for.