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Older Americans Need Health Care and Retirement Security

Without lifeline programs, more would face poverty

Recently an AARP member in Pittsfield, Mass., sent me this letter: "Social Security will be my main source of income when I retire, if I ever get to. I have a 401(k) also, but it has been hit hard, and I don't think I can catch up again by the time I am 65. Without Medicare, I will never be able to retire. Please do not eliminate or cut those benefits to those of us who have already put in hard-earned dollars all our lives."

See also: Deficit panel folds without a plan.

Over the last several months, we have received thousands of similar emails and letters from AARP members across the country expressing their frustration, anger and fear over the prospect of Congress cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits in order to reduce the federal budget deficit. We have also collected more than 6.5 million petitions urging members of Congress not to make these cuts.

Congress is still wrestling with a deficit reduction plan, but one thing is clear: Older Americans, many of whom live on less than $20,000 a year, cannot afford to have these lifeline programs cut. To do so would create an even greater hardship for the one out of every seven seniors who now lives in poverty and would push millions of older Americans and their families out of the middle class and into poverty.

We have also heard from our members and people 50-plus that we as a nation need to strengthen and improve these programs, not treat them as a piggy bank for deficit reduction. Our members are extremely frustrated with the inability of Congress to address these concerns.

We have a better idea. We need a national discussion to develop the tools and strategy for strengthening health care and retirement security and for restoring prosperity to the middle class.

As one AARP member in Dallas put it, "We need solutions now; 20 years ago would have been better, but we can't wait any longer. We're long overdue."

Many members agree with him that Congress should be able to reduce the deficit without jeopardizing the health care and retirement security system that citizens depend on, that they have worked for and paid into all their lives. Lawmakers could begin by cutting wasteful spending — including in our health care system — attacking fraud and eliminating tax loopholes. Their failure to date has made our members and people 50-plus even more cynical about the ability of government to come to grips with these issues.

They want a national conversation that will lead to answers and action. They are anxious to hear solutions that address the problems faced by real people. They want to hear ideas that would lead to more jobs, bring efficiency, economy and fairness to health care and provide greater financial security.

Next month, AARP will kick off a serious national conversation focused on finding ways to strengthen health care and retirement security and restore prosperity to the middle class. We want to hear your ideas. We want to hear what you think about the options already being discussed, especially what they would mean to you and your family. We all need to understand the impact these options would have both today and tomorrow.

As I have said many times before: Our goal is to ensure that current and future generations receive the benefits they've earned over a lifetime. With your ideas, your input and your involvement, we can achieve this goal.

Also of interest: Deficit-cutting plan raises taxes on millionaires. >>

Tell A. Barry Rand what you think. Send him an email at CEO@aarp.org.

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