Like many Americans, Deborah Hearn Smith, 64, is uneasy about the future. The CEO of an Indianapolis nonprofit organization, she is taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to her retirement and planning for it.
"Current trends," she said, "make health care [coverage] a major concern."
Programs face challenges
Mounting costs coupled with the projected growth in the number of Americans 65 and older — led by 77 million boomers — have prompted public debate about strengthening the future finances of Social Security and Medicare. Proposals have included reducing coverage; raising the eligibility age for full benefits; increasing the amount of income that's subject to payroll taxes; and changing the cost-of-living adjustment.
Unless changes are made, Social Security is expected to be able to pay full benefits until 2033 and about 75 percent of scheduled benefits thereafter. Medicare's hospital trust fund is expected to fall short by 2024.
Although most proposals to shore up the retirement safety net would exempt today's beneficiaries, and those nearing retirement, from cuts, Smith said she is "not secure." She also expressed concern about her children and members of her agency's 90-person workforce who could be affected. "Who knows what will come of this?" she said.
Washington isn't expected to significantly alter the programs before the elections.
The debate is critical in Indiana, where roughly 1.2 million people receive Social Security benefits. Two-thirds of recipients 65 and older depend on the program for 50 percent or more of their income. Medicare beneficiaries total about 1 million. The proportion of Indiana's population over 65 — now 13 percent — has been projected to rise to slightly more than 19 percent by 2025.
Smith said she is closely watching the election-year debate. So is Joe Everett, 60, of Indianapolis, a member of the AARP Indiana executive council and one of 17 volunteers who are moderating community conversations about Social Security and Medicare as part of You've Earned a Say. Each moderator has been asked to lead at least one conversation per month before the election.