En español | One of the hottest issues in Florida this summer is the future of Medicare. Much has been said already, but a top AARP Florida leader says that, oddly, some aspects of the proposals seem to have almost disappeared from the discussion.
For example, many older Floridians may think the current debate is only about a plan by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-WI – and that the debate only affects those 55 and younger, says Jeff Johnson, AARP’s interim Florida state director. Those Floridians may want to take a second look at the issue, Johnson says.
“Older Floridians are just now realizing that some in Congress are really serious about imposing harmful cuts on Medicare and Social Security as part of a political deal to pay the nation’s bills,” Johnson says. “These cuts could end up shifting the spiraling cost of health care onto older people and put at risk the bedrock guarantee of a foundation for secure retirement that Social Security has offered for 75 years.”
For example, many older Floridians have already reacted with dismay to the U.S. House’s vote for a plan by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-WI, that would turn Medicare into a private insurance program. Americans younger than 55 would receive limited government “premium support” to help pay premiums. Many people recognize that as their health costs spiral, the proposed support would not keep pace, shifting massive costs from the government to their wallets.
“Since Americans 65+ already pay 30 percent of their income for health care, this indeed would be a scary proposition,” Johnson said. It is worth noting that Rep. Ryan’s proposal has been defeated in a Senate vote. Technically, it is no longer a “live” legislative proposal.
Yet many older Floridians may not have realized that other proposals now under consideration could also have profound implications for today’s Medicare’s beneficiaries.
To cite one example among many, several plans now under discussion in the Senate include proposals for arbitrary limits in federal spending. Under these arbitrary-limit plans, if federal spending goes over a certain fixed limit, the government would be forced to impose across-the-board cuts.
Most such plans call for cuts for everyone in Medicare as part of an arbitrary spending limit. (Such a provision was included in the Ryan budget plan, for example.)
So if a limit went into effect, the resulting across-the-board cuts could reduce physician or hospital reimbursements for all in Medicare, even those receiving benefits today.
“None of us want to believe that our doctor might be forced to turn us away if we became ill. But our doctors may simply have no other choice – he or she may not be financially able to treat us,” Johnson notes.
“If you’re ill, you need to be able to see your doctor – not be forced to scramble for alternative care because Washington can’t wring the waste out of federal spending,” he says.
Some versions of Congressional proposals even target Social Security for arbitrary cuts. “You actually could see your Social Security check shrink because Congress has not weeded out waste and fraud and kept spending below an arbitrary limit,” Johnson says.
Washington observers are saying that Congress is likely to act on this important matter by early August, so only weeks remain for older Floridians to raise their voices.
“As the national discussion over reducing our budget deficit goes forward, it is very important that you raise your voice in this debate,” Johnson says. “Call 1-888-722-8514 to be connected to your member of Congress toll-free and urge them to protect Medicare and Social Security.
You also can send a message to Congress.
“No one disputes that deficit reduction is very important. But older Floridians worked a lifetime for the benefits they receive,” Johnson says. “They deserve to be able to count on them.”