Fiscal Cliff Deal: What It Means for Seniors
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Fiscal Cliff Deal: What It Means for Seniors

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January 15, 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%.

On the plus side, the legislation extends funding for efforts to find and enroll low-income individuals into Medicare programs that can help them pay their health care costs. NCOA led this effort and greatly appreciates the leadership of Sens. Baucus (D-MT), Rockefeller (D-WV), and Casey (D-PA) in securing this funding.

On the negative side, we're disappointed that the statute repeals the CLASS program, which was enacted as part of health reform and was designed to help people afford long-term services and supports. In its place, the bill creates a new Long-Term Care Commission that is charged with developing a comprehensive plan for Congress.

The legislation does not include significant cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. However, it is expected that Republican members will insist on cutting these programs in negotiations taking place over the next 2-3 months. NCOA remains very concerned about how these cuts may impact vulnerable seniors.

Below are more details on the final fiscal cliff bill:

Medicare physician payments

There will be a one-year delay in a scheduled 27% cut in Medicare physician payments.

Medicare help for low-income individuals

Funding for the Medicare Qualified Individual program is extended for a year. QI pays Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries with incomes between 120-135% of poverty.

Unemployment insurance

There is a one-year extension of emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Tax rates

The top income tax rate would return to 39.6% for singles with incomes above $400,000 and married couples with incomes above $450,000. Dividends and capital gains would be taxed at 20% for those with incomes above these levels, while it would remain at 15% for those below.

Estate tax

The rate increases from 35% to 40% for estates above $5 million in assets, adjusted for inflation in the future.

Payroll tax

The temporary cut that has been in effect for the past two years will expire for all taxpayers.

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