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Conversation With Senator Susan Collins

Maine senator, 60, talks about critical issues looming in 2014

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En español | Q: You were a key player in ending the recent government shutdown, reaching out to women of both parties. Is there something about the governing style of women that might lead to consensus-building in Washington?

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A: From my experience, women tend to have a more collaborative approach and be more focused on solving problems. Now, we certainly don’t think alike and we range from very liberal to very conservative, and some of us are right smack in the middle, but I think all of us are united by a determination to show the American people that we can govern.

Q: As the leading Republican on the Senate Aging Committee, tell us one of your key priorities.

A: I firmly believe that we need to have a major investment in research into Alzheimer’s disease. We have over 5 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s, and I’ve seen firsthand the toll that Alzheimer’s takes, not only on the victims but on their families. We’re spending $200 billion a year caring for people with Alzheimer’s — $142 billion of that is from Medicare and Medicaid — and yet we invest a measly $500 million in research into Alzheimer’s. That makes no sense whatsoever.

Q: Some are concerned that Social Security will be targeted in the next round of budget talks. There are concerns that a change to the so-called chained CPI will erode benefits.

A: Well, I think we have to be very careful as we take a look at the Social Security and Medicare programs. If we change the consumer price index, we could not do so without increasing the minimum benefit for Social Security. I also think that any savings in Social Security needs to be reinvested in the Social Security program to keep it strong.

Q: What can be done to help those facing the costs of long-term care

A: Long-term care is enormously expensive … and yet very few people have long-term care insurance. I think that we need to have tax incentives to encourage the purchase of long-term care insurance, and we need to have some sort of incentive to help family caregivers be able to care for their loved ones at home. 

Q: Are you open to rebates for Medicare drugs?

A: My impression is that the current system where the pharmaceutical companies are negotiating directly with the drug plans have led to pretty good pricing, but in this environment with the strains on the Medicare program, I think we should look at every idea that’s been brought up. I certainly would not take it off the table. 

Q: Would you back a bill to prevent discrimination against older workers?

A: I am very much for ensuring that there is not discrimination against older workers. As we’re living longer, part of the answer to retirement security may well be working longer for individuals who are healthy enough to do so, and we don’t want discrimination in the workplace.

Q: What can be done about high energy bills for those with fixed incomes? 

A: Maine has, in addition to an aging population, the oldest housing stock in the nation, and so we have a lot of homes where the windows are leaking, the insulation is poor and the heating costs are extremely high. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is one that I’ve always strongly supported. Unfortunately, the administration’s [proposed] budget cuts it sharply again this year. 

Q: You’re a member of a shrinking political class of moderates. What can people do if they want to see a government that reflects your values?

A: I believe that most Americans are in the center. They need to speak up. They need to be engaged. They need to be sure to not only vote, but make their voice heard. People should never underestimate the power of their involvement. It really does make a difference.

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