Seniors Agenda


Corzine’s Six Point Seniors’ Agenda

Mayor Pucci, I want to take you on the road with me, you are smart and kind and generous, particularly for someone who does such an outstanding job leading. I’m honored to know that we have someone who really is compassionate and cares about the day-to-day lives and works to make sure that the people of this community have the best possible access to the kind of life that we…I’m thrilled to call him a friend and I’m grateful.

Charlie, thanks for having me here, and all of you are but I want to talk about today is a broad based agenda for seniors that I want to make sure that I lay down my marker so that you know where I stand and so people can understand the direction I will take as governor, the things that I hold valuable. I’m going to cover a little ground in this, and you might get a little antsy, some people might even say I might be signing up for the benefits by the time I get done it’s so long, but tough problems don’t come with easy answers, slogans, sound bites. They actually are very difficult issues, and we’re going to talk about a senior agenda that is wholesale, and I would encourage any of you that want ot get the framing of this, there’s a great article on the front page of the NY Times today that talks about senior issues, the costs of Medicaid and how we [inaudible], it really is very [inaudible].

[These problems] are complicated, and I believe that we need to accept, we have to be thoughtful, we have to think before we shoot, and we have to make sure that we follow through and put together holistic approach to the problems that you’re solving. We face some challenges, as I said earlier, the challenges we’ll face as the demography of this country changes, as we extend our lives, which is a great benefit, but as there are greater and greater members, individuals over 65 in our society, the length of life that women have relative to men, have different kinds of problems. But if we don’t think about them, if we don’t try to address them, they won’t get resolved. They’ll just become [inaudible] and I truly want to make sure that we do everything we can to make people’s senior years, their golden years, truly that, and I hope that we do that not only because it’s the right thing to do, but I think that we need to make sure that we say thank you to those who have built this country, who made sure that we had the prosperity that we have today. [inaudible] my mother, my father’s passed, but it was the greatest generation. They protected this country, fought for us, our veterans did an incredible job and faced enormous challenges, and we have a responsibility in my view to give back to those who have [inaudible].

And one of the things that I’m going to be talking about over and over again, you’ll probably get bored before the campaign is over, is an affordability agenda. This is an incredible state, it’s the wealthiest, it’s the most educated, the most diverse, it’s got more thought provoking industries, pharmaceutical industry, call kinds of high tech businesses, but it is one that is also the highest cost of living than the rest of the nation. And we need to make sure that our seniors are able obtain and own their homes, and access quality and affordable healthcare, we need to make sure that their grandchildren have access to the higher educational system that is the best in the country, and it’s important that we be able to make sure that everyone in the entire state can stay in their home, and that’s what I want to talk to you about, because while your incomes may be fixed, you know your costs aren’t, and we need to make sure that we’re addressing that [inaudible]. Although social security benefits grow about 2.5 percent per year over the last four or five years, New Jersey property taxes are up 6.5 percent each year, you know, that isn’t a potion for great comfort among those who are on fixed incomes. Medigap has grown much faster than inflation, and this year is the fourth year in a row that we’ve seen double digit growth in prescription drug costs; that does not make a potion for security for our seniors who are on fixed income, so I want to make sure that we give back and understand the pressures that go on on people, and we address your issues the same way you’ve addressed society’s, with high integrity and high principles over the years, providing for your family and always thinking about giving back [inaudible]. That’s why we have to do what I believe is important to help when you’re facing these costs.

I know that this is an agenda that I hope will deal with property taxes, will deal with long term care, will deal with the rising cost of healthcare in general and particularly with regards to prescription drugs, so I’m going to work very hard to deal with these tough problems and speak to them as you go through your day.

Now, one of the reasons I feel so strongly about this, I really have been fortunate in my life. I have had to say, I’ve had as blessed a life as anyone could have, I had a loving family, a good education, the Mayor talked about that, strength and support from the community that helped me succeed. I, like the gentlemen here, served my country in the US Marine Corps, I was able to work my way from the bottom to the top of a great company. The American Dream is something I’ve lived. I’ve been honored to serve you all as your United States Senator; the American Dream is something that we have to perpetuate, and work on, and I believe one of the most important ways to do that is to make sure people who are retiring have a high quality of life. That’s why I’ve been so strongly outspoken in my views with regard to the privatization of Social Security. Leaving aside that that’s a political issue, it’s just flat out wrong that we want to cut benefits and move away from having a safety net for all our seniors; it’s just wrong and I think that we need fight it. I’ve led the Democratic caucus on that in 2003 and 2004, since I’ve taken on the task of running in New Jersey I’ve stepped back a little bit. There’s not a more important issue in our country than to make sure that we maintain Social Security and that safety net.

And as a governor, it’s even more important. Can you imagine what would happen if we go from [about] 41 to 42 percent down to about 20 percent of income? What would be the cost to the state at charity care and hospice, the pickup of the responsibilities in Medicaid and Medicare, it’s just wrong, it’s bad business, it makes no sense, and I hope, I know most of those who are present feel very strongly that we need to protect Social Security. I know we have to, I know we have to as a state, so I look forward to working with you and making sure that we do that. You know this is one of those things, covenants, that one generation to the next have made sure that we’ve agreed to. It’s an earned benefit, it is not an entitlement in the sense that people haven’t paid for it; it’s an insurance benefit that people actually went out and paid for. I feel very strongly that we shouldn’t be going back to the days of the 1960’s, where 35 percent of our seniors lived in poverty, 50 percent in the ’30’s, and now we’re down to 10 percent, and there’s a reason, and that’s Social Security, and I hope that we do the right thing and I hope that you all will stay involved, because politicians listen to seniors, and there’s a real reason why: you vote, and people pay attention. So send those cards and letters, not just to me, but anybody else that might be challenging that.

I also think we have some major issue with regard to our pension system in this country. We’ve seen lots of businesses walk away from their responsibilities in pension benefits; the airline industry, we’ve seen it in the savings and loan industry, there’s lots of various, the steel industry, where people go bankrupt so that they don’t have to take up their pension obligations. And then we have the problem at the federal level where the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. [inaudible]. This has got to stop. It is wrong, and I can be a voice on that as governor, but it is absolutely essential in the same way talking about social security. When those pensions go out the window, guess who picks up the tab? The state and local governments have a responsibility for people, and they care about them, and they pick up the tab. That’s why we have to win those fights in Washington, to make sure that the PBGC and all these other issues that are involved in assuring that pension obligations are fulfilled.

We have some of those same problems here in New Jersey. We have a $30-35 billion hole in our public employee pension funds. 30-35 billion. There are estimated holes in the operating budget, but we have not been living up to our responsibilities putting money into the pension system as time goes on. We’ve also had some abuse of the system: double-dipping, people taking advantage of the system, and I think there’s major changes. We haven’t actually invested effectively, I think we can strategically make better use of pension resources without having political influence come in. I’m a trustee of the University of Chicago’s investment fund, and the difference between what you see in our college and university endowments versus what we’re doing in the state is dramatic because when you diversify, it gives you a wider range of assets, more broadly presented. I can make real changes to this; we do have to stop those abuses, and you read about them, and they’re real, and I’m going to make sure that double dipping and all those kinds of things that run up costs, that we do with regard to the state fulfill its contractual obligation just like you might require the airlines to do theirs, or US Steel. So that’s a big issue that’s meaningful and I hope that in this pension and social security area we can work together at the state and federal level. I think because I know how Washington works that I will have a much stronger voice as far as [inaudible].

Now, as I had mentioned, New Jersey residents will soon be receiving in the mail, if you haven’t already, information the Medicare prescription drug plan as formulated down in Washington. I have to tell you, this is one, I don’t feel that I have served as well as I’d like, because this is a bad program for the money we put down. It’s going to have more paperwork, more premiums and I think a lot of headaches for a lot of people, the red tape, [inaudible] brands, the co-pays, drug companies, I think once those get out there, Mayor Pucci you’re going to have people calling your office saying What the heck’s going on here, we feel like we’ve really been undermined. The way we have calculated it, 500,000 New Jersey seniors would get less benefits in the new program then they would in the old programs. Plans that are private care or state benefits, or PAADs, SeniorGold, I think it’s going to be a really really tough trying, I’m glad I’m not running for re-election in 2006 and having to justify this [inaudible]. [Inaudible] I encourage you to read the New Jersey section of the Star-Ledger, where it talks about PAAD and SeniorGold may have higher co-pays, and taxpayer responsibility, [inaudible] and I think it’s severely risky for the thousands of New Jerseyans who have these employer sponsored programs, because they’re actually getting benefits from their employers, there is every incentive built into this program to have the General Motors or the large corporations to drop their benefits and have the individual sign up for the prescription drug program and Medicare, and [inaudible], and I think it’s wrong, and I will do everything I can do to make sure that the state fills in those gaps where Medicare’s prescription drug program doesn’t work, try to make sure that our businesses do the right thing and stay [inaudible]. We’ve had that fight on the floor of the US Senate, now it’s going to come down to how the state fills in some of those unsure areas.

Now, another thing that I’ve worked on is cutting your prescription drug costs, and I see my veterans, VA has the best negotiating process with the pharmaceutical companies of anybody in the country. Something like Lipitor, they pay 4 times in [inaudible] what someone would pay in VA, that’s why everybody’s signing up for the VA, and you know, here in the state of New Jersey, we don’t have bulk buying for broad based purchases of pharmaceuticals for our seniors, for any of our programs. And I’ll tell you, this is wrong, and this is one change if I am governor. I love the pharmaceutical industry and the jobs it creates in New Jersey, but I also love our seniors, and our seniors deserve a fair price just as much as our pharmaceutical industry deserves a good return on capital. We have to make sure that we’re negotiating tough, prices with our pharmaceutical industry here at home, and I think we can make a real difference in the cost of your prescription drugs. That’s another area that I believe strongly that we need to work.

Another thing that relates to this is we also have to be pushing the edge of the envelope with regard to our research. I support Governor Codey’s initiative, ballot initiative, to move on life saving, life changing [stem cell research]. If you’re interested in dealing with Alzheimer’s and all of those degenerative diseases that are so prevalent in our society, we have to push the outer frontiers of science, and New Jersey ought to be the leader in that and we’re losing some of our edge because we’re not putting the resources into it. So I’m a strong supporter of that, I know that that has some controversy, but it can help make a difference in people’s lives, and we want to advance we need to make sure that we [inaudible] Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s and MS and all these other issues as we go forward, and I think Governor Codey’s done a great job on that.

Moving on, with my affordability agenda, I think a basic healthcare costs are an issue for everyone, not only for seniors but for society as a whole, and we have to go about making sure we’re getting maximum efficiency [inaudible]. And in some cases, which I’ve already identified, and I shouldn’t say I because so much research has been done on this, there is the presumption, the Rand Corporation has actually looked at New Jersey and they believe that we’ve got about 10 percent cost overrun in healthcare costs. There’s about maybe $4 billion a year in the state, we’d have savings of $1.2-2 billion; think what we could do if we had $2 billion to invest back in long term care, or invest back in making sure that we have senior services. I am going to go on a rampage as a business manager to make sure we get out those problems of waste fraud and abuse in our healthcare system. I know that money can be used to better serve the community [inaudible]. There is no [inaudible] for people abusing the system, particularly with some of the healthcare providers who, I sit on the Budget committee in Washington, and I hear this over and over, state after state, put in programs to change this and have been able to make major savings and it’s estimated we could make $100 per person in this state savings by managing our healthcare system better. I know it has to happen, and we can make it happen.

Another area is making sure that we have the best technology [inaudible] how we’re working our healthcare system. Medical errors, duplication cost us literally hundreds of billions of dollars and more tragically, as I think most of you probably followed this case of the killer nurse, when we don’t monitor safety and security and records and processes that go on, folks can take advantage of the system in an enormous way. It has tragically cost people’s lives, but it also costs huge resources on duplication. 20 percent of the tests are estimated to be duplications in our healthcare system; the technology, state of the art technology can change that, we have to be working with the best here in New Jersey. That’s why I [inaudible] resources to [inaudible], and we ought to get our hospitals coordinated, how many times have you gone to a hospital, and you go up to a different doctor or a different department and you have to go through the same list of checkoffs of what medicines do you take, do you have a knee problem, do you have a back problem, when’s the last time you had surgery. All of those things are expensive to do, and they’re all paper focused and technology focus would provide an enormous amount of savings moving forward with that, so I hope that, I know that we can do better in this area, making it more safe, making it more affordable. I think the last thing I’d say in this particular area is that we also have to accelerate what we’ve done with the veterans homes. Now I’ve been around the state to Menlo Park, to Vineland, to Paramus; these are great institutions, we just don’t have enough beds; we just don’t have enough rooms for our disabled and aged veterans. This is another place where you’re required to have additional resources to go forward. I know we can do it, use that technology [inaudible]. And we start making sure that we have the kind of preventative care, that I know restricts costs. So if we do that, we have more resources, we have more [inaudible].

Now let me sum this all together. New Jersey, right now is ranked 43rd in the nation on healthcare quality; all of these things that I just talked about, these initiatives, we have to take to change that. And if I’m elected, four years from now if we haven’t moved that up into the 30’s or the 20’s, I will felt I have failed as your governor. If I’m graced enough to be a little longer than that, we will be the best, the top ten. We need to have objectives and we’re going to do that; the only way to do that is to change the technology and end the waste fraud and abuse. [inaudible]. Now I know those things can happen if we really work at them. I encourage you to go to; I’ve laid out all of this in great detail [inaudible]. But we’re going to work on these things.

Now, apart from healthcare there are other things that seniors are interested in. I look at this great local facility, [inaudible] we need to make sure that we have essential programs that our senior citizens can use as well. Senior centers, [inaudible] those are areas where we can make the quality of life much higher than where we are today, and I know even where we have problems, we don’t communicate with people about what they are. We need to make sure that everybody knows what’s available so we’re not leaving services on the table that people want to be using, and right now there’s a New Jersey program [inaudible] and we need to make sure that they have the knowledge that they can be able to take advantage of the systems and I will make sure that we have a [inaudible] for every senior to find out what services are available and make sure that is available to our seniors across the state.

The second is, we have to make sure that we think about seniors when we’re making investments back into our community. The mayor knows, when you’re talking about development you need to talk about sidewalks, you need to think about disabilities, other kinds of lighting, extending crosswalks, [inaudible] for senior citizens that make the society work. And I will make sure that there are no [actions taken] without people thinking about what the implication is for our seniors going forward. We need to make sure our public parks and spaces are senior friendly for everybody’s ability to have a higher quality of life. You know I know we can make that happen; so if you help me on these kinds of agendas, we will make a big difference, and I think we can also take that [inaudible].

The last area I want to talk about is long term care. People in our state often think that we have two choices about long term care: people are living into their late 80’s, this is a real issue, and it’s nursing home care or no care at all, that’s often the choices, for, particularly middle income families, and we need to do something about it. We also need, in my view, a very fundamental premise, that we ought to encourage people to stay in their homes as long and as much as possible. And we need to make investments to allow that happen. And I think the simple [inaudible], installing a rail, or a chairlift, a railing for the tub; you can make life actually work better for people so that they can stay in their homes. The state should facilitate that, there’s a very real reason: it costs 30 percent less for a person to stay at home, which is where they want to be generally, where they’re happier in their surroundings, but the cost of living in your own home relative to going to a nursing home is extraordinary. We need to make sure that everything [inaudible], and those are things that I talked about that are simple like ramps, lifts, and railings in tubs; all that needs to be organized through [inaudible] and we need to make sure that it’s a priority, it’s not something you just talk about we’ve got to make sure it happens, and again the information needs to get out.

In New Jersey, we have 83 percent of our seniors staying in nursing homes after age 75; in Oregon, that’s 50 percent. Other states have made major efforts to try to keep people in their homes on a positive basis, and it’s with the result of 30 percent savings, so we’ll get more resources by making good choices about how we make policy [inaudible].

There are other things that you need to do, speed up Medicaid approval process for home based care, guarantee that we get benefits for home care workers, make sure that we have an educational system[inaudible], but I know that those are the kinds of things that can change the quality of life, and we really have [inaudible].

Let me just end with a discussion of all of those things. Only about 8 percent of our seniors have long term care insurance, and in my view that’s just not good enough. Some of it is going to be the next generation of people, the sort of 45-65 year olds, although we ought to encourage people to stay in long term care, and many of you may remember last spring in the US Senate we talked about long term caregivers and health insurance, [inaudible] sponsored an [inaudible] tax credit [inaudible]. [inaudible]. And we’re not making that happen in this country, we’re just not spending the proper [inaudible] on it. Nor are we putting money in our [inaudible] to pick up long term care insurance policies. I have worked in the Senate for this, and I will work here in the state of New Jersey. [inaudible] nationally. We had a $250 tax credit for anyone who takes up long term care policies and we’re going to make sure that we have what are called partnerships policies, which will allow them to keep their homes and transition into Medicaid if they’ve actually taken up these long term care policies 10 years, 15 years. A number of states have actually encouraged the insurance industry to make it happen. It will be an enormous benefit for our families, retaining their resources, and an enormous benefit for our society as a whole. I think that in this state, where 75 percent of our seniors own their own homes, 75 percent here in New Jersey own their own homes, we have to do everything we can to make sure they can retain them, and long term care is one of the most [inaudible].

The other thing that I think we need to do on that score is property tax relief. I think property tax relief ought to go to those who need it most, and people on fixed incomes need it most. This is not a political sap, we want to target what limited resources we have toward property tax relief to seniors. We want this rebate program renewed, average is a little under $1200 for seniors in 2004; I would like to renew that and grow it 10 percent a year over the next 4 years, that’s 40 percent for those of you with those calculators it’s 47 percent compounded interest. We can make that happen [inaudible] $1800, and for average individuals [inaudible] $5000 [inaudible] 35 percent. As soon as we can make that something that will be [inaudible] policy, we’ll do it. We have to do some technology investments, but we can make that happen. I believe property tax relief ought to go to those who need it most, and seniors [inaudible].

There are a whole bunch of other things that we need to work on, making sure that the senior tax credits for energy and efficiency and use of [inaudible] at home, we need to make sure that we have an incredible reverse mortgage purchasing program, that [inaudible] the hands of predator lenders that allows for seniors to capture the value of their homes, we need to work with housing finance agencies to provide sensible [inaudible] programs along those lines, I worked with [inaudible] on that, but we need to make sure that all of these things fit together in a holistic manner. We can save Social Security, if we can dress up our prescription drug plan, if we can get long term care, if people can live comfortably in their homes, if we make sure that property tax relief goes to the people who need it most, we can make a difference in people’s lives, and that’s why I want to be your governor. That’s why we have a responsibility to work to build this agenda, I know you all have given so much to our society, it’s time for us to stand up and [inaudible] those values that you’ve given to us as we go forward. I truly appreciate all of you being here, I appreciate the council, I just want to leave this last thought. You know, when I led Goldman Sachs it was one of the 10 best places in the country to work, and I was proud of that as a leader; I want to make this state one of the best places to live for people to [inaudible] retire, stay here, everyone should have that chance[inaudible].