Federal Legislative Overview
Medicare, Social Security, prescription drug prices, and robocalls were top issues highlighted by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., at a Senior Issues Forum held on October 3, 2019, in Woodbridge, Virginia. Representatives from AARP, the Social Security Administration, the Prince William Area Agency on Aging, and the Certified Financial Planners Foundation joined Connolly during the forum, which was held at Westminster at Lake Ridge, a continuing care retirement community.
In his introductory remarks, Connolly emphasized Medicare’s important role in providing a level of security and comfort to more than 57 million Americans, including over 1 million Virginians. With respect to Social Security, the congressman listed several legislative suggestions for protecting the trust fund – raising the eligibility age, lifting the income cap, and reexamining how inflation is calculated for seniors.
“The good news,” Connolly said, “is that Social Security lends itself” to some solutions that are not very complicated.
Connolly also discussed proposed federal legislation to control unwarranted increases in prescription drug prices. It’s one thing to try to recoup the costs of developing a new drug, but it’s another to suddenly jack up the price of a well-established, lifesaving drug like insulin, he pointed out.
Moving on to robocalls, Connolly said Congress is considering stringent legislation to curb them. The pervasiveness of robocalls is a problem not only for seniors, but for everyone. Holding up his officially issued cell phone, Connolly joked: “Almost every call I get is not from [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi. It’s from someone asking for my Social Security number.”
Panelist David Melton, a Public Affairs Specialist with the Social Security Administration, provided a three-point update on issues relating to Social Security.
First, Melton said, on June 17, 2019, Andrew Saul was confirmed for a six-year term as commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Melton said Saul is committed to improving public service – in particular, to reducing wait times on the telephone and in the offices. Melton noted that almost 600 people a day visit the Social Security Administration’s three offices in Northern Virginia.
Second, Melton said that scams are the hot topic of the day and scam operators have changed their tactics.
“They no longer represent themselves as being from the IRS – now, they say they’re from Social Security,” Melton said. The Social Security Administration is addressing this by raising public awareness that these calls are taking place and that consumers should exercise caution. Suspected fraud can be reported to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). For information on how to contact the OIG online or by mail, fax, or phone, visit https://oig.ssa.gov/contact-oig.
Melton urged audience members to protect their personal information, including their Social Security numbers. On occasion, an employee of the Social Security Administration may call a person at home, but generally only in response to an inquiry from that person.
“If you have any question about the validity of a phone call, you can contact Social Security to verify the call is legitimate,” Melton said.
Third, Melton explained that the Social Security Administration provides online options for service delivery, such as the option to receive statements and letters electronically rather than by mail. By creating a personal “My Social Security” account at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/, you can have your Social Security information available online any time you want it, he said.
Financial Planning and Tax Preparation
Certified Financial Planner Jim Simos provided tips for safe use of financial planning and tax preparation services. Simos noted that the field of financial planning is highly unregulated. Certified Financial Planners operate under a fiduciary standard that obligates them to act in the best interest of their clients, but other financial planners may not.
“Be aware that there are people who want to sell products to you that are not appropriate for you,” he said.
Simos is also an Enrolled Agent qualified to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. Simos urged caution when considering whether to accept a “tax refund loan” – early access to the amount of one’s tax refund – from a tax preparation business. These loans often carry an interest rate as high as 38 percent, he said.
Simos provided handouts about Metro Washington Financial Planning Day, sponsored by the Foundation for Financial Planning and the Financial Planning Association of the National Capital Area. Certified Financial Planners will offer free personalized financial advice on October 12, 2019, at VA Tech Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church, Virginia. More information is available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/metro-washington-financial-planning-day-tickets-70665958785.
Resources in Prince William County
Sarah Henry, the Director of the Prince William Area Agency on Aging, provided information on local resources and assured audience members that “you have an advocate at the local level.”
Services include an intake number where citizens can call for referrals to appropriate services; free counseling on Medicare enrollment; senior centers; legal services provided in partnership with Legal Services of Northern Virginia; support services for veterans and for caregivers; and telephone reassurance through daily phone checkup calls.
Henry said that her agency and AARP Virginia are co-hosting a Scam Jam where consumers can learn how to avoid common scams and frauds, as well as bring documents to be shredded for free. The Scam Jam will take place on October 26, 2019, at the Ferlazzo Building, 15941 Donald Curtis Drive, Woodbridge, Virginia. For more information, visit https://aarp.cvent.com/Oct26.
Henry also discussed the 2020 United States Census, noting that while it’s important to protect one’s personal information, “the count for the census is so important and it’s important to share information” for that purpose. Her agency and others are developing a messaging strategy to ensure that everyone is aware of the census and is counted.
AARP and Prescription Drug Prices
Natalie Snider, AARP’s Associate State Director of Advocacy in Virginia, provided an overview of AARP’s “Stop RX Greed” advocacy campaign to lower prescription drug prices.
“The average annual cost of prescription drugs has more than tripled in the past decade,” Snider said, adding that this increase is not sustainable.
AARP’s overall goal is to obtain comprehensive legislative reform on pricing and transparency at both the federal and state levels, Snider said. AARP is urging Congress to pass legislative proposals that would allow Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, help seniors with high drug costs by capping out-of-pocket costs, and ban certain drug company practices that slow the availability of lower-cost generic drugs.
“With common-sense tactics and legislation, we think we can make a change and bring down these prices,” Snider said.
Wide-Ranging Questions from Audience
Questions from audience members covered a wide range of topics, from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on campaign financing in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to how scammers find out your age.
In response to an audience member who asked about changing the outcome of Citizens United, Rep. Connolly said there’s no chance for a constitutional amendment to overturn it “in our immediate lifetime,” but “the good news is that we’ve gotten a lot of people power” with millions of ordinary people now contributing to political campaigns.
Another audience member asked about mail solicitations by an organization seeking donations for efforts to protect Social Security. David Melton of the Social Security Administration said that such solicitations “are preying upon your fears that your Social Security will go away.” The bottom line, he said, is that “Congress will address needed changes without soliciting dollars from you.”
Connolly observed that a healthy dose of skepticism is always in order when dealing with solicitations by letter or phone. “Do some digging” and research any solicitor, he urged.
Continuing on the subject of scams and frauds, an audience member asked: “Where do the scammers get your age when they call?”
Natalie Snider of AARP answered that it depends on the type of scam. For example, some scammers troll social media, others take things from un-shredded documents in the trash.
“Scammers are bound and determined to get people’s personal information,” Snider concluded, emphasizing the importance of taking steps to protect your information.
This story is provided by AARP Virginia. Visit the AARP Virginia page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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