What the fiscal cliff deal means for seniors

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act on Jan. 1, solving at least part of the "fiscal cliff" dilemma of significant spending cuts and increased taxes. The legislation includes both positives and negatives for older adults.

To start, the statute delays for two months the automatic, across-the-board cuts that were scheduled to take effect with the new year. These would have cut "discretionary" programs like the Older Americans Act, Section 202 Housing for the Elderly, and low-income energy assistance (LIHEAP) by over 8%.

The legislation extends for one year funding for efforts to find and enroll low-income individuals into Medicare programs that can help them pay their health care costs. The Medicare Qualified Individual (QI) program pays Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries with incomes between 120-135% of poverty.

Also related to Medicare, the act institutes a one-year delay in a scheduled 27% cut in Medicare physician payments.

The act takes the final step of repealing the CLASS program, which was enacted as part of health care reform and was designed to help people afford long-term services and supports. The CLASS program was all but abandoned by President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in October 2011. Click here to read more about this decision.

In its place, the bill creates a new Long-Term Care Commission that is charged with developing a comprehensive plan for Congress. The commission, made up of 15 appointed members, will be charged with developing a plan for the establishment, implementation, and financing of a comprehensive, coordinated, and high-quality long-term care system to serve the elderly, individuals with cognitive or functional limitations, individuals who need assistance with activities of daily living, and individuals who want to plan for future long-term care needs.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act includes no significant cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. That could change, however, as negotiations continue over the next two to three months. 

Source: National Council on Aging