Published in the May 2012 issue of The Fifty Plus Advocate.
It’s no secret: For the last year, Congress has been debating cuts to Medicare and Social Security as part of a deal to reduce the federal deficit. But, what Washington hasn’t been discussing is how to make sure Medicare and Social Security can continue to provide the health and economic security that older Americans count on.
Albertha Herbert of Roxbury has a message for our elected leaders. She says, “My hope for you is that your legacy will be the protection, preservation and sustaining of Social Security and Medicare. But the people need to be part of the process. I think you should go and meet the people where they live, and talk with them in the language they speak. Knowledge of the people gets things done, the right way.”
Like millions of AARP members across the country – and right here in Massachusetts – Albertha wants to make her voice heard. That’s why AARP recently launched a national conversation about Medicare and Social Security, called You’ve Earned a Say. Our goal is to take the debate about Medicare and Social Security out from behind closed doors in Washington and into communities across the country so that all Americans have a voice in the discussion.
Just the Facts
Here are the facts: Social Security can pay promised benefits through 2033 with no changes to the system. After that, 75 percent of benefits can be paid. And, Medicare’s hospital trust fund, which pays for inpatient and skilled nursing care, as well as the program’s administration, is expected to fall short in 2024.
President Obama said in his State of the Union address that he “is prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid and strengthen Social Security so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.”
On the campaign trail, some candidates have suggested substituting private retirement accounts for some or all of Social Security. Others have called for raising the retirement age, decreasing benefits for better-off older adults, or increasing the amount of income subject to the payroll tax. Proposed changes to Medicare have included raising the eligibility age, reducing benefits, increasing copayments, establishing a voucher system or reducing payments to Medicare providers.
You’ve Earned a Say
It is time to give voice to the people who have a vital interest in the future of these programs as well as to those who earned their Medicare and Social Security benefits through a lifetime of hard work.
Irene Euchler of Springfield says, “We need to save Medicare and Social Security. It scares me half to death to see what might happen. If it wasn’t for Social Security, I wouldn’t have any money at all; absolutely none. I need Social Security desperately, and I know many other men and women who need it desperately as well.” Euchler also relies on Medicare for her health care, as she battles serious illness.
Meanwhile, Ruth Villard of Dorchester says, “Please, keep Medicare and Social Security alive and well. It’s very important to me and for my grandchildren – and grandchildren to come.”
In Massachusetts, nearly a million seniors count on Social Security to help pay the bills, and on Medicare for guaranteed health care coverage. The average Social Security benefit is $14,000 a year, and in the Bay State, seniors typically rely on Social Security for more than half (56%) of their income. At the same time, the commonwealth’s seniors pay about $6,800 out of pocket annually for Medicare premiums, co-payments and deductibles.
Jane Ahern-DeFillippi of Melrose says, “I am a nurse of 42 years. I’ve worked in long-term care facilities and community hospitals, where I’ve seen elders who cannot afford their own private insurance. I’ve also seen workers who’ve had to take early retirement because their jobs were eliminated; and they have no retirement funds and no insurance options. We need to protect Medicare and Social Security.”
Especially in this election year, we need to ask the tough questions, and hold politicians accountable for their views on Medicare and Social Security. The next President and the next Congress may well determine the future of these two pillars of retirement security. And, we all deserve to know where they stand.
As citizens who have paid into Medicare and Social Security throughout our working lives, it’s no secret: We’ve earned the right to have our voices heard so we can protect today’s seniors and keep Medicare and Social Security strong for future generations. We’ve earned a say. You’ve Earned a Say.
Visit You’ve Earned a Say online to make your voice heard. To participate in local listening sessions, community conversation or other You’ve Earned a Say activities, visit aarp.org/ma.
Linda F. Fitzgerald is the volunteer state president of AARP Massachusetts, which serves more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the commonwealth. This editorial appears in the May 2012 edition of the Fifty Plus Advocate, the statewide mature market newspaper.