Published in the November 2011 issue of The Fifty Plus Advocate
As the race for our nation’s next president begins to heat up, we’re hearing about where candidates stand on Social Security and Medicare – from support for the programs to calls for elimination. While the news headlines often focus on this rancor and rhetoric, it is important to note: The most imminent threat to Medicare and Social Security is not from the current presidential candidates – but the so-called “Supercommittee”.
See Also: Bay Staters Speak Out
This past summer, in response to the “debt ceiling” debate, Congress passed legislation to establish a bipartisan Supercommittee, tasked with identifying spending cuts to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. The Supercommittee is made up of 12 U.S. Senators and Representatives, including Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Its recommendations to Congress are due in November.
While we fought successfully this summer to stop Congress from cutting Medicare and Social Security, the victory was just a first step. Today, the stakes remain high. Still on the table for the Supercommittee: Possible cuts to these benefits middle class Americans have earned through a lifetime of hard work.
In fact, some proposals under consideration could require cuts to Medicare and Social Security that would dramatically increase health care costs for today’s seniors, threaten access to doctors, and reduce the benefit checks that older Americans rely on to pay their bills. Such cuts could have a disastrous effect on real people – seniors, their families, loved ones, friends, neighbors.
The benefits of Medicare and Social Security are absolutely vital to the well-being of middle class seniors. Here in Massachusetts about one million residents rely on both programs.
Keep in mind: Medicare and Social Security benefits are far from lavish. Even with these programs, half of those age 65 and older have an annual income of less than $18,500 per year. And, those in Medicare pay an average of $5,500 a year out of their own pockets for medical expenses; this out-of-pocket share is rising every year.
We all know that Congress must make some tough choices to address the nation’s growing debt. But, in these tough economic times, Washington shouldn’t be cutting the benefits middle class Americans have worked for over their entire lives – and must depend on to meet a middle class standard of living.
AARP member John from Wakefield said, “I was unable to continue in my job as a pest control technician. It was a painful decision to retire but it would not have been possible without Social Security and Medicare. I worked from when I was a teenager until I turned 65 years old. I should not have something taken away from me that I worked hard for most of my life.”
Patricia from Billerica added, “I have seen my family and friends struggling to make ends meet in this economy. One more hurdle put in their paths would only increase their struggles. We work hard and put our faith in our government to help us build a future for our old age.”
In fact, the vast majority of Massachusetts residents age 50 and older say Medicare (88%) and Social Security (85%) are very important to them, yet they have concerns about the programs meeting their needs in the future.
Bottom line: There are better ways to reduce the deficit than targeting Medicare and Social Security. Congress should begin by cutting wasteful government spending and closing tax loopholes – before considering harmful cuts to programs that are a lifeline to millions of older Americans and their families. These tax breaks and loopholes, alone, cost the federal government an estimated $1 trillion each year.
Further, instead of shifting health care costs to seniors, we need to improve the way we deliver health care throughout the entire system, including greater focus on prevention, better care coordination for people with chronic illnesses, and incentives that reward doctors and hospitals for providing high-quality care – instead of seeing the most patients or running the most tests.
Too many Americans count on Medicare and Social Security, as benefits they’ve earned, for the President and Congress to rush in and make harmful cuts as part of another Washington budget deal. These programs should be strengthened as part of a thoughtful, reasoned, and broader conversation about retirement – and American values.
So, we continue to fight. I ask you to raise your voices in support of Medicare and Social Security. Contact Sen. Kerry – as a member of the Supercommittee – Sen. Brown, and your U.S. Representative – tell them what Medicare and Social Security mean to you. Visit aarp.org/protectseniors for more.
Deborah Banda is the state director of AARP Massachusetts, which serves more than 800,000 members age 50 and over in the Bay State. This editorial appears in the November 2011 edition of the Fifty Plus Advocate, the statewide mature market newspaper.