On Oct. 12, more than 500 AARP members from 23 states converged on Capitol Hill to tell Congress that older Americans are more than line items in a budget. "We are here because of Social Security and Medicare. We don't want them to touch it," said Eunice Naugle, 72, of Linwood, Pa., who attended the rally with her husband, Paul, 72, a retired mechanic.
Millions of you feel the same way. Yet a super-committee of Congress established to reduce the federal budget deficit is considering proposals behind closed doors that would shift health care costs onto older people, threaten their access to doctors and cut their Social Security checks. We support the effort to reduce the deficit. It is an important goal. But it should not be done by cutting the benefits that seniors have earned and rely on for security.
One proposal would cut Social Security by $112 billion over a decade and cost beneficiaries thousands of dollars over their lifetime. Another would raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67. This would threaten the quality of health care for younger retirees, increase out-of-pocket spending for 65- and 66-year-olds by an average of $2,200 a year and increase health care costs for businesses because workers would stay on employer plans longer. It could also further increase the number of Americans without health insurance (currently at 18.5 percent) and push more people into poverty.
This is exactly the wrong approach if we want to restore prosperity to the middle class. As pensions disappear and medical costs rise, Medicare and Social Security have become increasingly important for middle-class families — especially for security in retirement. Social Security is the cornerstone. Instead of cutting it, Congress and the super-committee must find the combination of measures that would strengthen it.
Similarly, our nation's seniors can't afford harmful cuts to Medicare. The real culprit is the growth of health care costs. Worker contributions for health insurance premiums alone have increased 182 percent over the last two decades, adding even more economic stress to middle-class family budgets. If we focus on lowering the growth rate of costs throughout the health care system, we will not only ease the stress on families, we will also lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid.
The super-committee and Congress must understand that we can't just shift higher costs to older Americans by cutting Medicare or raising the eligibility age. Seniors already pay too much for their health care. We have to make it work more efficiently at less cost.
Congress has an important task. But cutting the deficit must be done with an eye on fairness and common sense. Congress can cut waste, attack fraud and eliminate tax loopholes without harming today's older people and undermining future generations' opportunity to attain long-term health and financial security.
That's the part of the debate our elected officials need to hear over and over. And that's the message we must continue to send to our elected officials in Washington. We need your help.
Also of interest: Latinos rely on Social Security benefits. >>
Tell A. Barry Rand what you think. Send him an email at CEO@aarp.org.