2010 October Newsletter


 


Subject: COMPREHENSIVE VETERANS' BENEFITS BILL PASSE CONGRESS

September 30, 2010            

COMPREHENSIVE VETERANS’ BENEFITS BILL PASSES CONGRESS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, praised his colleagues for supporting a comprehensive veterans’ benefits package now headed to the White House for President Obama’s consideration.  If signed into law, this bill will expand insurance options for disabled veterans, upgrade compensation benefits and employment protections, authorize VA construction projects, and allow VA to keep using private physicians to quickly and accurately provide veterans with disability evaluations.

“I commend my colleagues for supporting this bill to upgrade the benefits that veterans have earned through their honorable service.  I look forward to President Obama signing this important measure into law,” said Akaka, a key sponsor of this legislation. 


The Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010 (H.R. 3219, as amended), includes the following:

Raises an automobile assistance benefit for disabled veterans from $11,000 to $18,900.

Authorizes federal grants to provide job training, counseling, placement, and childcare services to homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.

Substantially increases the maximum levels of supplemental insurance for totally disabled veterans, as well as Veterans’ Group Life Insurance and Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance.

Provides retroactive Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance benefits for troops who were traumatically injured between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005, regardless of where their injury occurred

Clarifies that the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits wage discrimination against members of the Armed Forces.

H.R. 3219 passed the House late last night, after clearing the Senate on Tuesday, September 28.  The bill now goes to President Obama for his consideration.  A detailed summary of the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010 is available here: LINK

The full text of the bill, as amended by the Senate, is available here: LINK

HVAC Update 10:

A trio of bills ranging from therapeutic companion dogs to chiropractors for injured or emotionally troubled veterans was approved on 12 MAY by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The bipartisan-backed bills breezed through the panel by voice vote and will probably end up soon on the suspension calendar. One bill would provide chiropractic care and services to veterans and would be available first at 75 VA hospitals by the end of next year, and at all medical centers by the end of 2013. The services are intended to ameliorate the rash of muscular-skeletal injuries that have plagued veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A second bill would increase the money for continuing professional education provided for VA doctors and nurses, as well as add other healthcare workers to the ranks of those eligible for the assistance. Over the next five years, according to a committee chart, the total cost of the increase would be $42 million. The third bill would authorize a five-year pilot program in several VA medical centers to employ trained dogs to help relieve mental health and post-traumatic stress disorders in veterans.

VA Claims Backlog Update 39:

At a conference designed to help veterans service organizations better understand the issues their clients face, Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense tried to tie it up in a one-page document of new data from the Veterans Affairs Department: After looking at eight Veterans Benefits Administration regional offices in 2009 and 2010, VA’s inspector general found a 28% error rate. In fact, the San Juan, Puerto Rico, overall error rate stood at 41%t, while the Nashville office had made errors in 5 % of its post-traumatic stress disorder cases. In Baltimore, 55% of cases of diabetes in connection with Agent Orange had errors, and in Roanoke, Va., 49% of traumatic brain injury cases had errors. “VA has a very significant quality problem in adjudicating their claims,” Sullivan said. “VA’s own reports indict the place. VBA is the dam that holds veterans up from getting the medical care they need.” Sullivan spoke on a panel that detailed what roadblocks remain as service members transition from active duty to veteran status. He said Congress has focused so much on VA health care that the administrative end has gotten lost in the shuffle. “Some of their computers are older than I am,” said Sullivan, who served in the 1991 Gulf War and who used to work for VA. But Sullivan said the “fixes” aren’t that difficult, at least in concept. For example, the idea of a joint Defense Department/VA medical record system has been fussed about for more than a decade as VA and defense officials say their medical records are not compatible, or that the hand-off violates federal HIPAA rules. Other solutions seem simple: There is no undersecretary for benefits . “If there are no leaders, who’s running the place?” Sullivan said. “The agency is leaderless and rudderless.” "Most people at VA are good-hearted and trying to do their best for the veterans," Sullivan said. "Their own rules are tying them up. 

"He asked that:
• Benefits administration leaders be moved to offices near VA so they could communicate with other VA leaders.
• Conditions like traumatic brain injury fall into the presumptive service-connected injury category to streamline the benefits process.
• The veterans benefits paperwork be cut down from 23 pages to one page, as it is too complicated for veterans dealing with PTSD or brain injuries.
• The benefits administration hire more veterans

Military Compensation Review Update 06:

Defense Department officials 11 MAY announced the start of the congressionally mandated 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation. The review's focus, officials said, will be on combat pay, compensation for reserve-component servicemembers, caregivers and survivors and pay incentives for critical career fields. Thomas L. Bush, a recently retired senior executive who worked in the office of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and as the principal director for manpower and personnel in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, was tapped to lead the review. He will report to Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. The last review, released in two volumes in 2008, focused on housing allowance, retirement pay, Tricare health system premiums, pay incentives for health care professionals and quality of life. Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jan D. "Denny" Eakle chaired the 10th review and said upon its release that the first question for any quadrennial review of compensation is whether military pay is comparable to that in the private sector. The second is whether military pay is adequate to maintain the force.

William J. Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel policy, testified 8 APR before a Senate subcommittee that military pay is competing well against the private sector, as evidenced by the high rate of recruitment and retention. Using regular military compensation – basic pay with housing and food allowances and federal tax advantages – as a comparison, military members are paid higher than 70% of their private-sector peers of similar education and experience, Carr told the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel subcommittee. Carr also called specialty and incentive pays essential to maintaining the force, especially for special operations forces and people with medical, dentistry, mental health, aviation and nuclear backgrounds
.
The 11th review, which will take about two years to complete, will focus on:

• Compensation for service performed in a combat zone, combat operation, or hostile fire area, or while exposed to a hostile fire event;
• Reserve and National Guard compensation and benefits for consistency with their current and planned utilization;
• Compensation benefits available to wounded warriors, caregivers, and survivors of fallen servicemembers; and
• Pay incentives for critical career fields such as mental health professionals, linguists and translators, remotely piloted vehicle operators and special operations personnel.

Tricare Gray Area Retirees Update 05:

Retired National Guard and Reserve personnelmay be able to buy Tricare health coverage as soon as 1 OCT 2010. This is part of theNational Defense Authorization Act for 2010. Until this became law, reserve-componentretirees did not have the option of Tricare coverage until reaching the age of 60.

After the start-up date, which was given to NGAUS by an official with the Tricare Management Activity, these so-called “gray area” retirees who are not yet 60 may purchaseTricare Standard and Extra coverage. The law requires premium rates to equal the full cost of the coverage. This differs from Tricare Reserve Select for reserve members, who pay 28% of the cost of coverage. Premium rates are not yet available for the“gray area” retirees’ coverage. For more information, go to www.tricare.mil.

State Taxation:

In many states today you can get a haircut, consult a lawyer, or have a plumber clear your drain without paying a tax on services. But with state budgets facing massive shortfalls, some legislators are looking to tap into the $6.1 trillion Americans spend on such services each year. Pennsylvania is considering a tax on accounting and data processing. New York may tax haircuts, manicures, and pedicures. In 2009 Maine passed a law to tax dry cleaning and car repairs. If service taxes become widespread, they could increase the amount you pay for about two-thirds of you day-to-day expenses. Nebraska republican state Sen. Cap Dierks has introduced a bill that would tax more than 60 services, from equipment repairs to reflexology. “It would raise $250 million per year,” he says, “and help shift some of the tax burden from the property owners.” It remains to be seen how it would affect business. New taxes on goods and services have less impact on business than income and property taxes do, according to research by former government economist Richard Vedder. But the effect of any particular tax depends on the available substitutes. It’s relatively easy to skip a manicure, for example; it’s much harder to avoid calling a repair person if your refrigerator breaks. Pete Snipp of the national Taxpayers Union says new taxes could just shift the source of state revenue, rather than add to it. He argues that government should operate more efficiently rather than raise taxes. But given the size of the budget shortfalls, tightening belts may not be enough. Tax collections are down across the country and states need additional sources of income.

Expatriate Income Tax Update 02:

Frustrated with US taxation and reporting requirements, some 500 expatriates surrendered their US citizenship or permanent residency status in the last quarter of 2009. Although this number is small in comparison to the estimated 5.2 million expatriated Americans, it represents a dramatic increase over 2008 which saw 235 renounce their citizenship in the entire year. The United States is the only country to tax its citizens and deemed residents on worldwide income. Other nations consider residency the criterion for justifying worldwide income taxation. And although allowed a $91,400 foreign earned income exclusion against 2009 foreign earnings, American expatriates earning in euros or receiving investment income often find themselves being taxed stateside even though some of those earnings have already been taxed in their foreign country of residence. Today's tax code contains more than 60,000 pages. Filing instructions for even the most basic forms, 600 of which have been dedicated to Americans abroad, are often difficult to understand and follow which lead to increasing numbers of errors being committed and subsequent penalties being applied.

In order to reject US citizenship, one needs to be a citizen of another country. But should you after expatriating spend more than 30 days in a year in the United States, Uncle Sam can treat you as being a US citizen or resident for the entire year and subject to taxes on worldwide income. You'll have to certify past US tax compliance by filing IRS Form 8854 or else be subject to expatriate income tax as assessed on Form 1040NR. For those who renounced their US citizenship after 17 JUN 08, IRS may deem that person to have sold all his or her worldwide property for fair market value with the consequence that any substantial gain is subject to US tax at the capital gains tax rate. Surrendering US citizenship can be complicated. This article has only scratched the surface of the complexities involved. Still as IRS increasingly encroaches in the lives of Americans abroad, more expatriates will likely brave the hurdles of rejecting their US citizenship.

VA Application for Health Benefits:

Veterans will find it easier and faster to apply for their health care benefits now that the Department of Veterans Affairs has updated its online Form 10-10EZ, "Application for Health Benefits." This revised online application provides enhanced navigation features that make it easier and faster for Veterans to apply for their health care benefits. This new version also allows Veterans to save a copy of the completed form for their personal records. The most significant enhancement allows Veterans to save their application to their local desktop and return to the application at any time without having to start over. Previously, Veterans had to complete the form in a single session. This updated online form, along with the revised VA Form 10-10EZ, reduces the collection of information from Veterans by eliminating some questions. In addition, there are minor changes to simplify the wording of questions and provide clarity in the instructions. Further enhancements to the online application are expected to be delivered in increments throughout 2010. Veterans may complete or download the 10-10EZ form at the VA health eligibility website at https://www.1010ez.med.va.gov/sec/vha/1010ez. To have the VA Form 10-10EZ mailed to you or if you have any questions, call at 1-877-222-VETS (8387) or visit the VA health eligibility website at www.va.gov/healtheligibility.. Once you have completed the form, you may mail or fax the completed form (signed and dated) to your local VA Medical Center or Clinic which can be located at http://www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1.

PTSD Update 45:

Moved by a huge tide of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress, Congress has pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs to settle their disability claims — quickly, humanely, and mostly in the vets' favor. The problem: The system is dysfunctional, an open invitation to fraud. And the VA has proposed changes that could make deception even easier. PTSD's real but invisible scars can mark clerks and cooks just as easily as they can infantrymen fighting a faceless enemy in these wars without front lines. The VA is seeking to ease the burden of proof to ensure that their claims are processed swiftly. But at the same time, some undeserving vets have learned how to game the system, profitably working the levers of sympathy for the wounded and obligation to the troops, and exploiting the sheer difficulty of nailing a surefire diagnosis of a condition that is notoriously hard to define. "The threshold has been lowered. The question is how many people will take advantage of that," said Dr. Dan G. Blazer, a Duke University psychiatrist who has worked with the military on PTSD issues. PTSD, he adds, is "among the easiest (psychiatric) conditions to feign."

MMark Rogers, a longtime claims specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration, agrees. "I could get 100% disability compensation for PTSD for any (honorably discharged) veteran who's willing to lie," said Rogers, a Vietnam-era vet who is now retired. Some claims are built on a foundation of fake documents; in other cases, the right medals — plus a gift for storytelling — secure unearned benefits.
Consider:
• Gulf War veteran Felton Lamar Gray told a VA psychologist he was spattered with "blood and chunks of head" when his "best friend" was shot in the face in Iraq. But only after the VA rated Gray 100 percent disabled did anyone check into his stories — and discover the comrade he spoke of is very much alive and said he barely knew Gray.
• Thomas James Barnhart is a Coast Guard veteran who used forged documents to convince VA doctors he was an elite, much-decorated Navy SEAL. Barnhart's tales of daring rescues and of cradling a dying helicopter pilot in his arms won a congressman to his cause and helped him get a 30% PTSD disability rating from the VA, before he was outed by a watchdog group.
• Vietnam-era veteran Keith Roberts said he was traumatized when he was prevented from rescuing a friend being crushed under a Navy airplane, and was eventually granted 100 percent disability. But when the case was reopened, investigators could find no evidence that Roberts was even present when the accident occurred.

Each of these cases represents potentially millions of dollars in tax-free benefits over the veteran's lifetime — benefits that may continue while the veteran works and even into retirement. "There's pressure from the public to sympathize with veterans and treat them with respect," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig J. Jacobsen in Roanoke, Va., who prosecuted Barnhart and has handled other such "stolen valor" cases. "And you don't want to go questioning their stories unless you have a very good reason to do so. "PTSD is an undeniably real sickness whose symptoms — flashbacks, vivid nightmares, intrusive thoughts, exaggerated startle response, emotional numbness — can be debilitating. As of Fiscal Year 2009, nearly 390,000 veterans were receiving benefits for PTSD, making it the fourth-most prevalent service-connected disability, according to the VA. Authorities have tried to brace the public for a tidal wave of psychically damaged veterans from the current wars. Of the roughly 1.6 million troops who have served in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 134,000 had been seen at VA health care facilities for "potential PTSD" as of late last year, according to a government report. Researchers suggest the numbers of actual sufferers are much higher.

Veterans groups have sued the VA over an enormous backlog, complaining that claims take months and even years to be approved, and that some veterans had committed suicide as a result. Last year, U.S. Rep. John J. Hall (D-NY) introduced legislation to streamline the VA claims process, especially for veterans in traditionally noncombat roles. The claims process, he said, had become an obstacle to healing, "inflicting upon the most noble of our citizens a process that feels accusatory and doubtful of their service." VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki responded last summer with a proposed rule change. Until now, the agency has required independent proof that a traumatizing event or "stressor" occurred. Under the proposed changes, a veteran's "lay testimony" about what happened to him would suffice, as long as it "is related to the veteran's fear of hostile military or terrorist activity" and is "consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of the veteran's service." Already, VA officials are legally bound to resolve "any reasonable doubt" in the veteran's favor. And Rogers, the retired claims specialist, and others say the system is vulnerable to fraud because of the way it was designed: Doctors make diagnoses without fact-checking the veteran's story, and once that diagnosis is made, claims raters' hands are essentially tied.

No one knows the full extent of PTSD fraud. But there have been some hints. A 1990 law allows the Veterans Benefits Administration to crosscheck its rosters with federal tax and Social Security databases to find "unemployable" veterans reporting work-related income. In 2004, this program identified 8,846 such veterans who reported at least $6,000 in earnings, including 289 with income of $50,000 or more. "They'd rather pay and chase," said Jim Gaughran, a former VA program director for benefits fraud. Some critics complain that a lack of personnel, clinicians to do the evaluations and ratings specialists to handle the claims, slows down the claims process. But that same shortage makes it more difficult for examiners to make accurate diagnoses and catch frauds. And checking behind a patient, Blazer adds, "actually breaks the confidentiality of the doctor/patient relationship, putting (it) into a position of adversarial rather than cooperative." But claims raters are basing their decisions on diagnoses from psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. Once a diagnosis of PTSD is given, the rater is "prohibited from cross-examining the veteran," said Rogers, who worked at the VBA for nearly 30 years.

VBA workers say they are under enormous pressure to push claims through. Richard Allen, a Vietnam-era veteran who worked in the VBA's Wichita, Kan., office, recalls one manager telling him, "'You don't get it. Your job is to pay.'" When asked whether the new rule would throw open the doors to more fraud, Shinseki stressed the need for more research into PTSD and traumatic brain injury, the war on terror's other "signature" wound. "I know if we take your temperature and you're registering at 102 degrees, you've got a fever, and there are ways to cope with that," the VA secretary told the AP. "PTSD and TBI are in need of the same kind of metrics."

Federal Tax Law Changes Update 02:

Many of the tax breaks in recent tax-relief bills were designed to be phased in over number of years, or are indexed to inflation. To help you determine how these tax laws affect your long-term plans, the following explains the changes currently scheduled to come into effect in 2011 through 2017. Credit for Energy-Saving Home Improvements - The 30% tax credit of the cost of energy- saving home improvements reverts to 10% after 2010, and is capped at $500.

Higher Tax Rates -

Beginning in 2011, tax rates in effect prior to 2001 spring back into effect. The top income tax rate returns to 39.6%, and the special low 10% bracket is eliminated. Whether this will actually happen will be at the heart of a spirited battle in Congress.

Estate Tax Revived - For individuals dying after 2010

The federal estate tax returns with a $1,000,000 exemption and a 50 percent maximum rate. This assumes that Congress allows the estate tax to disappear in 2010, which is unlikely.

Increase in Capital Gains and Dividend Tax Rates -

The tax rate reductions for long-term capital gains and dividends is scheduled to expire. In 2011, the maximum long-term capital gains tax rate goes back up to 20% from 15%. A lower 10% tax rate is used by individuals who are in the 15% tax bracket. Their long-term capital gains had been tax-free since 2008. In 2011, dividend income (other than capital gain distributions from mutual funds) is taxed as ordinary income at your highest marginal tax rate.

Child Tax Credit -

The credit of $1,000 per eligible child reverts to $500 after 2010. After 2010, none of the child tax credit will be refundable to taxpayers unless their earned income is more than $12,550. This is one of the many Bush tax cuts currently scheduled to expire after 2010.

Payroll Tax Credit -

Starting in 2011, the partial credit for payroll taxes paid is no longer available.

Decreased Section 179 Expense Deduction -

Taxpayers who purchase qualifying business property may elect to deduct the cost of the property (new or used) in the year that it is placed in service. This is referred to as a Section 179 deduction. In 2009 and 2010, the maximum amount of property that may be taken as a Section 179 deduction is $125,000,as indexed for inflation. In 2011 and future years, the maximum deduction drops to $25,000.

College Savings Plans

Beginning in 2011, 529 Plans can no longer be tapped tax-free to pay for a computer or Internet access.

Tax Credit for College Tuition.

The Hope credit is again limited to the first two years of college and is capped at $1,800. None of the credit is refundable if it is more than your regular income tax liability. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Temporary increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit for filers with three or more children and the higher income levels for the phase-out of the credit are repealed.

Home Foreclosure Tax Relief.

Starting in 2013 tax relief for taxpayers who lose their homes due to foreclosure expires. Also, debt forgiven in connection with the foreclosure of a principal residence will once again be considered taxable income (unless you are in bankruptcy or insolvent).

Mortgage Insurance Premiums.

The special itemized deduction for mortgage insurance premiums paid on mortgages taken out after 2006 expires after 2012. Credit for Residential Energy-Efficient Property. The credit for 30% of the cost of installing solar water heating equipment, photovoltaic or fuel cell equipment, geothermal heat pumps or wind turbines in your primary residence or a second home does not apply after 2016.

Medicare.

The "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," signed into law on 23 MAR 10, increases the Medicare tax imposed on an individual's wages or earned income. Beginning in 2013, the law increases the Medicare tax from 1.45% to 2.35% on wages or earned income in excess of $250,000 for married taxpayers or $200,000 for single taxpayers. In addition, The "Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010," signed into law on 30 MAR 10, imposes a new 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income (interest, dividends, royalties, rents, annuities and capital gains). Beginning in 2013, the law will impact married taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income in excess of $250,000 and single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income in excess of $200,000. As a result of both laws, dividends could be taxed at a federal rate as high as 43.4% (39.6% + 3.8%) and long term capital gains at 23.8% (20.0% + 3.8%) before you consider state income taxes. Thankfully, the taxes will not apply to income not subject to regular income tax (interest on state and municipal bonds or the portion of gain from the sale of your residence that is not subject to tax).

Foreign Financial Assets.

For tax years beginning after 18 MAR 2010, the "Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act" imposes information reporting requirements on any U.S. individual who holds interests valued in the aggregate at more than $50,000 in (1) any depository or custodial account maintained by a non-U.S. financial institution, (2) any stock or security issued by a non-U.S. person, (3) any interest in a foreign entity, and (4) any financial instrument or contract with a non-U.S. counterparty not held within a custodial account maintained by a financial institution. A taxpayer's failure to report the assets, absent reasonable cause, will be subject to a penalty of $10,000, and additional penalties (up to $50,000) if the failure continues after being notified by the IRS.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts.

Congress is contemplating imposing a ten year minimum term for Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts ("GRAT"). The legislation is contained within "The Small Business and Infrastructure Jobs Tax Act of 2010" (H.R. 4849). If enacted, the legislation would also preclude future use of a "zeroed out" GRAT and a declining annual payment to the creator of the GRAT during the first ten-years of its term. A ten-year minimum GRAT term would prevent any estate tax savings unless its creator survived to the end of the term.

VVA Chiropractic Care Update 03:

Chiropractic care would have to be available at a minimum of 75 veterans’ medical centers by the end of 2011 and at all 153 medical centers by the end of 2013, under a bill passed 29 APR by a House subcommittee. Passed by voice vote by the health subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the bill, H.R.1017, marks a major step in a 10-year fight in Congress to make chiropractic care and services available to veterans. Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), the veterans’ committee chairman, is the chief sponsor. Chiropractic care was first provided at Veterans Affairs Department facilities in 2004 under a pilot program at about 25 locations, where the VA either hired chiropractors or contracted for care. Just getting the pilot program launched after it was first authorized was a three-year effort. Expansion of care to all VA facilities has been one of the top priorities of the International Chiropractic Association. Expansion of military and veterans’ treatment programs is part of what they are calling the “Adjust the Vote” campaign, in a bit of chiropractic humor. Filner’s bill goes further than a veterans’ health care bill passed by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this year. That bill, S.1237, Homeless Veterans and Other Veterans Health Care Authorities Act of 2010, requires that comprehensive chiropractic services be available in at least two locations within each of the 21 veterans’ integrated services networks. The veterans committee passed the bill in January but it has not yet been brought to the Senate floor for debate. Every network has at least one center with chiropractic services today, but 12 have only one location, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimates it would cost about $8 million over five years to provide 12 more centers. No cost estimate was available for Filner’s bill.

Social Security Notch Reform:

This year, Social Security benefits received no Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for the first time since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975. While current beneficiaries perceive themselves to be harmed, they were compensated by receiving a higher-than-normal 5.8% COLA payment in 2009.

However, a quirk in Social Security's benefit formula will produce lower benefits for new retirees, presenting a stronger case for Notch reform legislation.

The term "Notch" refers to the disparity in Social Security benefits paid to people born in a specific year or years and those paid to people born before and after them with similar work and earnings records. Social Security's formula for granting COLAs, interacting with a spike in inflation during 2008, could reduce benefits for individuals born in 1947 by around 2.6% relative to the average benefits received by the 1930-1946 birth cohorts, costing a typical couple over $12,000 over the course of their retirement.

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, policymakers should consider adjusting benefits for these individuals and implementing longer-term reforms to reduce the likelihood of future "notches."

A new brief released 24 MAY from the center describes the Social Security notch of the 1970s and explains how Social Security's benefit formula works.

The brief also takes a look at how the experience of 2008 has created a new type of notch, and how replacement rates vary for different birth cohorts -- concluding that some adjustment for the 1947 cohort is both popular and sensible.

To read the full brief ( 8-page PDF), go to: http://crr.bc.edu/images/stories/Briefs/ib_10-9.pdf [Source:

Health Care Reform Update 34:

Starting this week, Medicare beneficiaries across the country should begin receiving copies of a brochure “Medicare and the New Health Law – What it Means for You” in their mailboxes.

The mailing from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) outlines key provisions of the Affordable Care Act for people with Medicare as well as members of their families.

The mailing is being sent in both English and Spanish. It encourages beneficiaries to log on to www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-633-4227 to get their questions about Medicare or the Affordable Care Act answered and reminds them to be on the alert for possible scams.

The first benefit that many people with Medicare will receive as a result of the passage of the new law is a one-time check for $250, if they enter the Part D donut hole and are not eligible for Medicare Extra Help.

Beginning next year, the Affordable Care Act ensures that Medicare beneficiaries will get free preventive care services like colorectal cancer screening and mammograms, in addition to a free annual wellness visit. The law also includes new tools to help fight fraud by helping Medicare crack down on criminals who are seeking to scam seniors and steal taxpayer dollars. You can view the brochures online at http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/pdf/11467.pdf


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