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Online Chat: The Future of Medicare and Social Security

Missed the May 23 conversation? Read the transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

AARP: We know you care about the future of Medicare and Social Security. After all, you’ve worked your whole life and these are your hard-earned benefits. But if you're anything like us, you probably have a lot of questions about the future of these programs. What are the challenges ahead for Medicare and Social Security? What proposals are politicians in Washington considering? We’re very lucky to have David Certner, AARP’s legislative policy director, with us today to answer your questions.

David Certner, AARP: Hi, everyone. I’m glad to be here today. You can ask a question below or Tweet your question using the hashtag #askYEAS. Let’s get started!

Comment from Jane M: How secure is our Social Security?

David Certner, AARP: The latest report from the Social Security Trustees — who each year make a 75-year projection for Social Security — states that Social Security can pay full benefits until 2033, and then it can pay about 75 percent of currently promised benefits beyond that time. The sooner we can act to address the long-term shortfall, however, the more modest the adjustments we will need to make, and the longer the time to phase in any changes so people can properly plan. Thanks for the good first question!

Comment from Conne Novak: How can information be given out that Medicare is not free? We paid into it all of our working years and I still pay a monthly fee. I ask this because a young woman asked if I was retired and I said yes. She proceeded to say, "Oh, you don't have to worry about medical insurance because you have free Medicare." I told her that to meet my expenses I carry a supplemental plan. She then said, "You must have made a lot of money." I explained I ended my career in 2008 at a little over $41,000 a year and live on a very careful budget. How do we stop this thinking that seniors get Medicare for nothing?

David Certner, AARP: Thanks, Conne. You raise an excellent point, and it is one that we are trying to reinforce with all of our materials and communications. The typical Medicare beneficiary has income of just over $20,000 per year. Most people don’t realize that Medicare only covers about half of a senior’s medical costs, and that roughly 20 percent of their income goes to health care costs, including premiums, co-payments and deductibles. And as you note, that’s in addition to the contributions seniors have made to the Medicare program throughout their working years.

Comment from Reine: I would like to know if Medicare and Social Security are going to be better in the years to come, and what are they debating about in Washington to help elders with reducing the cost of prescription medications?

David Certner, AARP: Social Security and Medicare both face challenges in the future, primarily because of demographics (more people over age 65), and in the case of Medicare, high health care costs. But it’s important to address these challenges to ensure that Social Security and Medicare will continue to provide health and financial security. Part of the debate today is how to address these challenges. It’s important to make the best decisions today to strengthen these two critical programs for the future. Our effort this year is to hear from all of you about the various options that have been discussed.

Comment from Susan Taylor: Why hasn't any administration been forced to pay back the money taken out of the Social Security account to make their budgets seem smaller? All they've left behind are IOUs. How come they have never been paid back?

David Certner, AARP: Susan, we hear this issue come up all the time. The Social Security trust funds hold about $2.7 trillion dollars of Treasury bonds — some call them IOUs, but most consider them the safest investment in the world. The bonds pay about 4.5 percent interest to Social Security, and similar to any Treasury bondholder, we expect that the government will continue to honor all the bonds and interest income owed to Social Security. The problem is that the rest of the government has run up large debt, making it more difficult to repay all bondholders, including Social Security. However, we agree Social Security must be paid back and that Social Security should not be cut in order to address the deficit in the rest of the federal budget.

Next: Is Medicare solvency dependent upon health care costs? »

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