2003 Straight Talk Archives

How the Medicare Drug Bill Will Help Beneficiaries
We Must Start Somewhere!
Chairman’s Message
A Personal Commentary by Ron Olbrysh - Nov. 29, 2003

As we have all heard, Congress has finally passed a long overdue drug benefit to Medicare. The legislation falls short of overall modernization of the program, but it will clearly provide an initial much-needed relief to millions of people, especially those most in need of assistance. It also contains some important reforms that will set consumer-friendly initiatives in motion.

If the bill is not signed into law, where would we be? A health policy think-tank in Washington, D.C believes we would probably be worse off. Next time, Congress would probably include fewer reforms and more political give-aways. The initiatives that provide a foundation for market transformation would likely vanish.

If future disasters with the Medicare program are to be averted, the process of change must begin. Major changes to our health care system will never happen overnight. We will evolve toward change through small steps. The bill that Congress just passed opens the door to those first steps that can lead to greater, more positive changes in the future.

Establishing a Foundation. Congress has established a Medicare drug benefit and allocated about $400 billion over ten years to help pay for the coverage. The benefit leaves substantial gaps in coverage for many people, but is an important foundation upon which further improvements can be made.

Modest Help With Drug Costs. Beginning in 2006, Medicare will pay for 75% of prescription drug costs, for most people, who choose to enroll, after a $275 deductible, up to $2,200.

Voluntary. This new Medicare benefit is voluntary. No one will be forced to enroll.

Solid Low – Income Assistance. People with low incomes get comprehensive drug coverage:

For beneficiaries up to 100% of poverty: No premiums, deductibles or gaps in coverage, and copays of $1 for generics and $3 for brand name prescription drugs.

For beneficiaries between 100% and 135% of poverty: No premiums, deductibles or gaps in coverage, and copays of $2 for generics and $5 for brand name drugs.

For beneficiaries between 135% and 150% of poverty: No premiums or gaps in coverage, a $50 deductible and a 15% copay for each prescription.

Protection for People with the Highest Drug Costs: Once a beneficiary spends $3,600 of their own money on drugs ($5,044 in total Rx spending) Medicare will pay 95% of the rest of their drug costs.

Generous Employer Subsidies to Maintain Current Coverage: The legislation provides $88 billion in subsidies for employers (both public and private) to retain existing retiree drug coverage.

All beneficiaries Have Access to Drug Coverage: The legislation ensures that Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country can get drug coverage.

Discount Card: Beginning next Spring, Medicare beneficiaries can get a discount card that offers some help with soaring drug prices and includes a $600 subsidy for those with low-incomes.

However, the negatives are serious: Putting Medicare on track toward healthy competition will be limited to demonstration projects starting in 2010. The bill creates a massive new entitlement and will shove trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities onto future generations.

Keeping private health plans in the program is key if there is to be a base to create the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan model program (Congress’s own plan!) that we hope will someday be in our future. In other words, why reinvent the "health care wheel" when there is already a viable national health plan in place for federal employees.

It is the administration’s belief that the new incentives in this recently passed bill will encourage many more private health plans to enter and re-enter the Medicare market.

And in 2006, when the drug benefit kicks in, there will be a solid base of millions of seniors who will be able to choose from among competing private health plans offering an integrated drug benefit. As others have said, wasn’t this the goal all along?

And finally, as the previously mentioned "think tank," the Galen Institute, has stated:

"It’s also important to remember that the Bush administration, not the Clintons, will be in charge of writing the implementing regulations. Instead of designed-to-fail MSA’s and Medicare+Choice rules, these new experiments are less likely to start out strangled in red tape. That can make a huge difference, especially after seeing the Bush administration’s heroic work on implementing the Trade Adjustment Act health care tax credits last year.

"Big changes evolve over time. Incentives matter. You must start somewhere."

Any thoughts, suggestions or comments on the Medicare Drug Bill can be emailed to: ron1061@comcast.net

In Memorium - George Calvin Potts - 83
 Public Relations Executive at Sears
November 29, 2003

George Calvin Potts, 83, died at his home November 26, 2003 after a long illness. A resident of Tucson since 1976, he was a former public relations executive at Sears Roebuck in Chicago.

He was born in Evanston, IL and after serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in World War II, married and raised a family in Glen Ellyn, IL, a western suburb of Chicago where his wife, Edith, grew up.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Edith (Hookham) and his children, Ginny Thiersch, of Alexandria, VA; Betsy (Cary) Ajeman, of Willcox, AZ; Barbara (Donald) Baker of Lombard, IL; Richard (Lynn) Potts of Phoenix; Martha (Richard) Bell of Mt. Pleasant, IA; Nancy, of Phoenix and his sister, Marian Persson of St. Petersburg, FL. He will be greatly missed by his 14 grandchildren and great-grandson. He was preceded in death by his son, James. He was an avid reader.

In lieu of flowers, donations to your local library in his name would be appreciated. Arrangements by HUDGEL'S SWAN FUNERAL HOME.


Following private interment, a Memorial Service will be held at the First United Methodist Church at 424 Forest Avenue in Glen Ellyn, IL at 11 A.M. on Saturday December 13.

Following the service the family will host a reception at the old Main Street School (where my mother and I and my sister and brother went to grade school!) at Main St and Hill Avenue in Glen Ellyn.

Ginny (Potts) Thiersch
George's oldest daughter

Sept. 24, 2003

As recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, after the House and Senate passed sharply differing bills three months ago, to add a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare, their negotiators have made little progress in resolving such fundamental disputes as private companies’ role in the federal health-insurance program.”

Some are saying that the House-Senate conference committee is headed for collapse. “The most vexing problem for congressional negotiators is how to fashion legislation that reshapes Medicare sufficiently to satisfy House Republicans without  alienating so many Democrats that a bill can’t get through the closely divided Senate.” (The Wall Street Journal, 9/24/03, page A4.)

Now is the time to contact your Congressional  repre-sentatives. Let them know how you feel about adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

Below, is a proposed letter that you may send to your senators and representatives. We suggest you do this immediately! If your letter is e-mailed, please place NARSE on copy by sending it to Ron Olbrysh, Chairman, www.ron1061@comcast.net. If your correspondence is mailed, send to: Ron Olbrysh, 624 E. Central Ave., Lombard, IL 60148-4032. We would also appreciate receiving copies of any correspondence from your elected officials.

Time is of the essence. Contact your elected officials now!

Proposed Letter
for You to Send to Your Representative
or Senator

“Dear (Name of your Representative or Senator):

NARSE (National Association of Retired Sears Employees) needs your support.

The time is now to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

“The House and the Senate have passed Bills. Now it is time to make the final Bill better, and pass it. Million of Americans are counting on you, your colleagues and your support to finally make much-needed prescription drug coverage a reality in their lives.

A true prescription drug benefit won’t penalize those who want to stay in Medicare. It will give employers good reason to continue established retiree benefit plans, and will cover everyone in Medicare.

Please send me a letter indicating your support of the above objectives, so that it may be shared with the tens of thousands of our fellow Sears retirees nationwide.

Thank you, and best wishes.”

Contact Congress Now

September 17,2003

Congress is still considering adding drug coverage to Medicare. However, for many, this may not be the perfect solution. The proposals in both the House and Senate include an extremely complicated array of premiums, deductibles, co-payments and gaps in coverage.

This Congressional debate and final compromise could turn into a “no-win” situation. Failure to reach a satisfactory agreement this year could cause a backlash among seniors. On the other hand, passage of a drug benefit could backfire if it’s viewed as too complex or too stingy.

Changing the nation’s health care system will not be easy! But that does not mean our elected officials should compromise and select something less than perfect for the millions of seniors on Medicare.

Below, is a proposed letter that you may send to your senators and representatives. We suggest you do this immediately! If your letter is e-mailed, please place NARSE on copy by sending it to: Ron Olbrysh, Chairman, ron1061@comcast.net. If your correspondence is mailed, send to: Ron Olbrysh, 624 E. Central Ave., Lombard, IL 60148-4032. We would also appreciate copies of any correspondence from your elected officials.

Time is of the essence. Contact your elected officials now!

EEOC Proposal

Your Health Benefits are in Jeopardy !!!!

A Message from Ronald Olbrysh, NARSE Chairman
September 7, 2003

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with protecting the rights of older workers, has recently made a proposal that will significantly impact workers/retirees age 65 and older. Unfortunately the deadline for public comments is this Friday, Sept. 12, 2003.

Under current law, employers must continue to provide benefits to Medicare eligible retirees (those 65 and older), but can save money by including Medicare and providing a "wrap-around" benefit. Most employers who provide retiree health plans today, such as Sears, already do this.

The EEOC's proposed rule would make it legal for an employer to reduce or deny retiree health benefits if a retiree is eligible for Medicare (age 65 and older), even if the employer's retiree health benefit is substantially better!

If the EEOC's rule becomes law, employers will be able to simply drop the age 65+ retirees from their retiree health plans altogether, leaving them with substantially less benefits than they are currently entitled to receive.

NARSE urges you to contact the EEOC in Washington, D.C. to withdraw a proposed rule that would allow employers with retiree health plans to reduce or eliminate benefits for anyone 65 or over.

Comments can be sent to either AARP or the EEOC directly. In either case, please place NARSE on copy. E-mailed comments can be sent to my attention at:  ron1061@comcast.net.

Or mailed to:

Ronald Olbrysh, NARSE Chairman
624 E. Central Ave., Lombard, IL 60148-4032.

You can send your comments to EEOC by going to: www.aarp.org/legislative  
and clicking on "Protect your Health Benefits."

Or, you can send written comments directly to EEOC to the attention of:

Frances M. Hart, EEOC
1801 L St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20507

Or you can fax them to Ms. Hart (no more than 6  pages) to:

Even if you are not 65 yet, this proposed rule, if it becomes law, will certainly impact you when you are eligible for Medicare.

Medicare Legislation in 2003
(July 13, 2003)

NARSE recently published the results of its Second Retiree Survey in the June issue of Straight Talk. Among other topics, health care availability and affordability are vital issues for retirees. AARP recently published a full page statement in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers in major cities across the country about what effective Medicare legislation should include.

NARSE supports this AARP statement and recommends you contact your Congressional representatives and senators and let them know how you feel.

To have truly effective Medicare legislation, AARP said:

"Please take time to call Congress and let them know that you are not going to be satisfied with the current Medicare proposal until they:


Make certain that proposed coverage does not threaten the stability of the benefit.


Make certain that coverage is universal, regardless of where people live.


Make certain that people in Medicare won't be faced with unaffordable increases in premiums and deductibles.


Enact a drug benefit that doesn't penalize those who remain in traditional Medicare.


Make sure the proposal will not deny benefits based on income.


Guarantee the Medicare drug benefit to seniors who are also eligible for the low income Medicaid program.


Provide incentives for employers to continue private retiree health benefits that work in conjunction with the Medicare prescription drug benefit.


Make every effort to reduce major gaps in coverage.

Please call 1-800-795-5336 and
 let Congress know how you feel."

Away Go Employee and Retiree Benefits
 . . . Down the Drain!

From the Office of Senator Cantwell

February 5, 2003

Mr. Gordon Muschett
12610 Southeast 49th Street
Bellevue, Washington 98006

Dear Mr. Muschett:

Thank you for contacting me about the taxation of Social Security benefits. I appreciate hearing from you on this issue.

Until 1984, Social Security was exempt from the federal income tax. To help restore the program's solvency, in 1983 Congress made up to 50 percent of benefits taxable for taxpayers whose income plus 50 percent of their benefit exceeds $25,000 for individuals or $32,000 for couples. The proceeds are credited to the Social Security trust funds.

In 1993, Congress considered a proposal that up to 85 percent of Social Security benefits be taxable (the proportion said to be the least anyone would pay under the rules applying to other pensions). The 1993 omnibus budget reconciliation bill (P.L.103-66) limited the measure to recipients whose threshold incomes exceed $34,000 (single) or $44,000 (couple), with proceeds from this measure going to Medicare.

As you mentioned, Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX) introduced the Social Security Benefits Tax Relief Act, H.R. 122. This legislation seeks to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the 1993 income tax increase on Social Security benefits. This bill has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means where it is awaits review. It may interest you to know that Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) introduced a similar version of the Social Security Benefits Tax Relief Act in the form of S. 237. This legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance where it awaits further review. Please be assured that should I have the opportunity to vote on this or similar legislation on the floor of the U.S. Senate, I will do so with your views in mind.

During my campaign, I signed a pledge to defend and strengthen Social Security and Medicare for the 21st Century. On March 13, 2001, I voted to impose procedural obstacles to legislation designated to spend social Security and Medicare surpluses for purposes other than those programs. Unfortunately this amendment, which needed a 60 vote majority in order to be accepted, was defeated 53 to 47. You can be sure that I will continue to fight to preserve both Social Security and Medicare.

Again, thank you for contacting me regarding taxes on Social Security benefits. Please don't hesitate to contact me if I may be of any assistance in the future.


Maria Cantwell
United States Senator

In Memorium - I. Paul Brna, 77
Former Sears Director of Community Affairs

By Brad Webber - Tribune staff reporter
February 4, 2003

For many years, I. Paul Brna was the face of Sears, Roebuck and Co. to many Chicago organizations.

As the retailing giant's director of community affairs and as secretary of its contributions committee, Mr. Brna spearheaded the company's outreach effort to benefit groups serving schools and minorities, former colleagues said.

Mr. Brna, 77, of Northbrook and formerly of Park Ridge, died Saturday, Feb. 1, in Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview.

"He was multitalented," said Robert Buecker, a retired Sears executive.

He was a deacon of Chicago United, a business group formed in response to racial riots of the late 1960's to forge bonds between local corporations and African-Americans.

"He had a great interest in people, in trying to identify their common interests and trying to do the best he could to help them in social and economic projects," Buecker said.

"He was very important in maintaining good relations with residents of the West Side," he said, particularly those living near the old corporate headquarters at 925 S. Homan Ave.

"Where he interfaced with various parts of the public affairs process, he was always respected," said Charlie Ruder, a retired Sears vice president of corporate public affairs.

Mr. Brna was born in Chicago and graduated from Austin High School before he enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1943. He was stationed in Michigan, Texas and Florida and received pilot training, said his wife, Blanch. He was discharged in 1946.

He then attended Wright Junior College in Chicago, where he received a certificate degree with magna cum laude honors in 1948. In 1950 he obtained a bachelor's degree in education from Northwestern University, from which he also received a master's degree in business in 1958.

From 1951 to 1953, Mr. Brna worked as an English and history teacher at a high school in Paxton, Ill.

Mr. Brna in late 1953 took a job in Chicago at Sears, where he spent nearly 36 years, his wife said.

"He loved teaching high school," she said. "The salary when he started was $2,500 for a year. He didn't see any way to support his family and get ahead that way.

"He remained devoted to educational causes, she said, particularly in his role as Sears' liaison to the Chicago Public High Schools Academic Olympics. After one such event in 1988, Brna told the Tribune that the company wanted to recognize classroom achievement. "They are becoming the heroes in school along with the athletes," Brna said of the participants.

An avid singer, Mr. Brna also took lead roles in "Guys and Dolls," "The Pajama Game" and "Oklahoma!" with the Divine Infant Variety Club parish troupe in Westchester.

Mr. Brna is also survived by a son, Dr. John; a brother, Miro; and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be held 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in Zidek & Son Forest Glen Chapels, 5265 N. Elston Ave., Chicago. Visitation also will be held 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesday in Trinity Lutheran Church, 5106 N. La Crosse Ave., Chicago. A service will begin there at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune


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