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Be Fearless: Let's Strengthen Social Security and Medicare

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We need to be fearless in finding innovative, responsible solutions to strengthen Social Security and Medicare.
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As 2014 comes to a close, we look ahead to 2015 with great anticipation and a multitude of opportunities to disrupt aging.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. It also is the 80th anniversary of Social Security. And with events throughout the year, the White House Conference on Aging, held once a decade, will look ahead at issues facing Americans as they get older.

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We celebrate these anniversaries because these programs have dramatically improved the lives of older Americans and, in doing so, have made life better for all of us. But we also celebrate them to shine a spotlight on the need to make sure they remain strong for future generations.

In my first AARP Bulletin column in October, I wrote that I would be unapologetic in fighting for the wants and needs of people 50-plus, and that I need you to be fearless with me. So, what does that mean?

Since early 2012, we have engaged Americans in a conversation about the future of Social Security and Medicare. Millions of you responded by telling us that you rely on Social Security and Medicare for financial and health security — and that you want these programs to remain strong, not just for yourselves but for your kids and grandkids.

As one AARP member in Georgia wrote, "I am 84 years old, and both Medicare and Social Security have served me well. I want the same for my children. There has to be a way to make both work for them." Therein lies the challenge — making these programs work for them.

Being fearless means standing up to those who simply want to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, those who refuse to support the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act and the services it provides, such as Meals on Wheels, in-home care, transportation and elder abuse prevention.

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Being fearless also means recognizing that if our goal is to keep these programs strong, especially for our kids and grandkids, we need to make responsible changes in them to ensure they remain strong.

Both Social Security and Medicare face long-term solvency issues. We need to be aggressive in finding innovative, responsible solutions to make sure these programs remain solvent and provide adequate benefits for today and tomorrow.

The status quo doesn't get us there. We have to make changes, but we have to make sure we make the right ones.

At AARP, we spend every day fighting for individuals and equipping them to live their best lives.

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We want an America where people 50-plus have access to the care, information and services they need to lead healthier lives. That means a strong and sustainable Medicare and Medicaid and access to the services the Older Americans Act provides.

We want an America where people 50-plus have the financial resources and opportunities to match their longer life expectancy. That begins with a solvent Social Security program that provides adequate benefits.

We want an America where people 50-plus are seen as an integral and inspirational asset to society. What better way to do that than by disrupting aging — by becoming part of the solution to addressing these issues.

This year, the last boomers turned 50. Next month, the Gen Xers begin turning 50. Ten thousand people a day are turning 65, and that will continue for the next 16 years. These are people who have paid into Social Security and Medicare their whole working lives, and now they are about to begin receiving the benefits they've been promised and they've earned.

As we celebrate the milestone anniversaries of these programs and shine a spotlight on aging issues in 2015, let's do all we can to make sure these programs will be there to toast in another 50 or 80 years.

Jo Ann Jenkins is the chief executive officer of AARP.

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