Comment from Kim K: Is making Medicare solvent dependent upon controlling health care costs in general?
David Certner, AARP: Excellent point. Medicare is just one part of the health care system, and the high cost of health care also drives higher costs in Medicare. We need to hold down costs across our inefficient health care system to best hold down costs in Medicare.
Comment from Dan Johnson: It seems to me that a sensible approach to fund Social Security for the future would be to increase the maximum taxable income for Social Security purposes to somewhere around $180,000, as advocated by Robert Reich [secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton]. What measures does AARP advocate as a means to ensure the long-term health of both SS and Medicare?
David Certner, AARP: Thanks, Dan. While AARP has many principles and positions on issues, our You’ve Earned a Say initiative this year is based on providing information about the options that are being discussed in Washington and getting feedback from our members and other Americans. We believe you have contributed to these programs throughout your working life, and you deserve to be heard. As to your suggestion, there are several proposals on the table in Washington to raise the payroll tax cap or eliminate it altogether as a way of helping to fund Social Security in the future. Right now, as you may know, the Social Security payroll tax is applied to the first $110,100 of earnings, or 84 percent of all covered wages. Raising the cap back to its previous level of 90 percent of wages (similar to your suggestion) is estimated to fill about one-third of the future funding gap. If all earnings were immediately subject to the Social Security tax, the new revenue would fill most of the funding gap. For more information about this and other proposals on the table in Washington, check out the June 2012 issue of the AARP Bulletin.
Comment from Ronald Young: Are future changes in Social Security going to affect present recipients?
David Certner, AARP: Most of the changes that are being discussed would be phased in over time, but there are some proposed changes that would impact current seniors. In particular, some would change the calculation of the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) so the COLA would be lower every year. This is sometimes referred to as moving to a "chained CPI" — a new way of calculating the COLA that would affect current beneficiaries.
Comment from Elizabeth Borg: Is the COLA Social Security gives out (at least this year) based on the total income of the receiver or the amount received per month from Social Security. Or is it something else?
David Certner, AARP: Social Security’s annual cost of living adjustment — or COLA — is based on the increase in the consumer price index (CPI), a calculation of price increases on goods and services throughout the economy. The benefit amount that each individual receives is increased by the CPI. Recently, there were two years with no COLA because, given the recession, the CPI did not increase.
Comment from Meta Kirby: I want to know why the fraud in Medicare and Medicaid has not been more effectively enforced? There is a ton of money there we could use to help shore up Medicare and Medicaid if they would just go after the fraud. I know they are starting to do that in Houston. However, when I sent a letter to Medicare three years ago giving them names, companies, etc., of people who were committing fraud, to this date (after two more letters), Medicare has not even bothered to reply! I know they got them because they were sent certified, and I received the green cards back.
David Certner, AARP: Thanks, Meta, for raising this question. We agree that fraud in the health care system continues to be a problem, and that is true for the Medicare and Medicaid programs as well. Recently, the law was changed to provide more tools to fight fraud, and there is other legislation pending. Medicare is also becoming more aggressive in fighting fraud, which costs both individuals and the government more money, recovering over $4 billion in 2011. I applaud you for joining the fight to stop Medicare fraud, and we can all help in this effort. For more information, you can go to AARP.org/fightfraud, or participate in our free webinar on June 12 (AARP.org/webinars). You can also report Medicare fraud by calling 1-800-MEDICARE. In addition, the Senior Medicare Patrol can help, as can the Medicare & Medicaid Services website for fraud and abuse.