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Sen. Coats or Sen. Ellsworth? Your Choice

Where the Senate candidates stand on retirement, health issues

On two issues of interest to older voters — Social Security and Medicare — Indiana's candidates for U.S. Senate say changes are needed. But they differ broadly on what those changes should be.

Democrat Brad Ellsworth and Republican Dan Coats are competing Nov. 2 for the seat left open by retiring Sen. Evan Bayh, D.

Ellsworth, 52, is a two-term congressman serving Indiana's 8th District since 2007. Ellsworth's background is in law enforcement, and he was sheriff of Vanderburgh County from 1998 to 2006.

Coats, 67, hopes to recapture his former Senate seat. A lawyer and Army veteran, he represented Indiana's 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1989, then served as senator until retiring in 1999. He was ambassador to Germany, and then worked as a lobbyist for Google, Sprint Nextel, Roche Diagnostics, Amgen and others.

On the issues:

  • Ellsworth said some people have exaggerated the long-term woes of Social Security to "push ideologically driven changes to the program, such as privatization." He said the system will be able to meet its obligations in full for the next 27 years but said both parties need to work together to deal with the projected shortfall.

Ellsworth opposes converting Social Security into private investment accounts because it would "expose seniors' financial security to the ups and downs of Wall Street." He opposes ending Social Security payments to high-income earners.

He said automatic IRAs would help workers save for retirement, and he supports tax credits to smaller companies to ease administrative costs.

On Medicare, Ellsworth said Congress should devise a new payment formula for doctors to fix the recurring problem of threatened cuts in their reimbursements. Such a formula should reward physicians who provide quality care, he said.

Ellsworth, who voted for the federal health care law, said it will spur economic growth, giving "billions in tax relief to businesses struggling to provide health insurance for their workers and families trying to afford quality coverage."

  • Coats criticizes the increasing national debt and calls for repeal of the health care law. On his website, Coats said the law "will put America deeper in debt, cost Hoosier jobs and raise health care costs on families." After repealing the health care law, he said, "Republicans and conservative Democrats need to work together incrementally" to make affordable changes. Coats' health care plan includes: allowing health care providers to compete across state lines, encouraging states to create their own health insurance plans, capping liability awards that contribute to high insurance premiums, increasing coverage through association health plans, and expanding health savings accounts.

Coats has said little specifically about Medicare and Social Security, although he calls for "structural change" in the federal government. He supports entitlement reforms proposed by others who advocate privatizing both programs.

Indiana experts cautioned against rushing into privatization.

"As most democracies have done, we will need to subsidize health care and retirement security," said Eleanor DeArman Kinney of the Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis.

Added Fred Mittelstaedt of the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame, "When people recommend privatizing Social Security, I worry about the safety net for low-income retirees."

The candidates have agreed to three televised debates sponsored by the Indiana Debate Commission: Oct. 11 in Indianapolis, Oct. 22 in Fort Wayne, and Oct. 25 in Vincennes.

For additional information, check out the AARP voters' guide.

Nancy Johnson is a freelance journalist in South Bend, Ind.

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