Medicare and Social Security

Beware, anyone who is old or disabled or might ever get old or disabled. If the Republicans in the United States House of Representative have their way, Medicare is going to be destroyed. The Paul Ryan plan, the so-called Path to Prosperity, privatizes Medicare and turns it into a voucher program that would hurt the old, the future old, and the disabled. As USA Today reporter Catalina Camia wrote on April 12th, “Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities, would be turned over to private insurers under Ryan's budget plan and would end up costing beneficiaries more money or give them less in services.”

Why would our Republican members of Congress do this to the old and the vulnerable?  They claim that it will save seniors money and allow them to choose. However, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says it will actually cost seniors more. How much more? The CBO says that it would double the cost of insurance for seniors. And that is just for starters. My mother is 87 and very ill. How in the world is she supposed to “shop around” for a good insurance deal, and what for-profit company would ever choose to insure her?  Under Medicare, my mom already gets to choose. She has chosen her doctors, her hospital, and her hospice. The Republicans are deliberately misleading people about this.

Republicans also claim that this will somehow drive down costs because they claim that Medicare issues blank checks and does not try to control costs. That also is false. Medicare operating costs run between 3-7% for overhead, while private insurance companies have been passing their overhead costs of up to 37% to their customers.   As the April 18th USA Today Editorial stated about Medicare, “In fact, it delivers coverage for lower costs. Doing away with the most efficient system hardly seems the best way…” Medicare also has set reimbursement rates for hospitals and providers, which helps save money.  Still, they must do better with our money, so I am pleased that the new health care law gets tougher on waste, fraud, and inefficiency. Improving a great system is better than destroying it, but our members of Congress voted to destroy Medicare.

Paul Ryan and our members claim this does not hurt seniors or those who are 55 and over. This, too, is false. Their plan slashed Medicaid, and the elderly who cannot afford to pay for nursing home care use Medicaid. As a matter of fact, 25% of Medicaid dollars are spent on seniors, and 42% is spent on the disabled. That equals 67% of the Medicaid budget! This opens up another problem for middle-class Americans. If the Federal Government is not going to help pay for the nursing home, where will the money come from?  Most hardworking middle class families will not be able to pay for their parents and pay for their children’s educations. The squeeze will just be too much, so this Medicare and Medicaid slashing will hurt all ages.

Here is the ugliest part of all. This budget plan that both of our New Hampshire Congressmen voted for hurts the old and the disabled and the middle class, and our representatives admit it by saying there has to be “shared sacrifice.” However, the money that they save will not be used to pay down the deficit. No, it will be used to cut taxes for the very rich. That’s right—the very rich will see their taxes reduced while you or your loved one see essential services reduced. 

Is this what Americans really want? Apparently, it is not. Across the country, good people of all parties—Republicans, Democrats, and Independents—are showing up at town halls and telling their members to leave Medicare and other essential programs alone, that they want to support programs that help their neighbors and communities, that they care about each other. House Republicans miscalculated when they figured that most people only care about themselves, so seniors would not speak up for others. Turns out they were wrong.

Just as I have always believed, we are a great nation full of great people who help each other. It is the American way. So is Medicare. Leave it alone, House Republicans. Find the money to pay down the debt by voting against tax loopholes, taxpayer subsidies for oil companies and other huge conglomerates, by cutting waste, and by campaign finance reform, which will clean up abuse. But leave Medicare alone.

Don’t Scrap Our Social Security

Social Security had its 75th Birthday last year. While Americans celebrated this vital program that has provided economic support and dignity to seniors, disabled people, and children of deceased workers, there were members of Congress and a political party who were laying plans to change and jeopardize the program. The Republican Party leaders, who previously tried to privatize Social Security in 2005, decided to "save" Social Security from the very people who have spent a lifetime paying into the program. Their Chairman of the Budget Committee introduced "The Path to Prosperity," which included raising the qualifying age and, yes, privatizing it. It is particularly grating to read the language from Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's plan—"Further, even if the current system could be sustained, it is no longer a good deal for American workers"—because he, more than most, knows better. His father died young, and Paul Ryan rightfully became eligible for help from the federal government. He collected Social Security benefits as a minor. He saved those federal government checks to pay for college. This shows why we need to protect Social Security from the now educated and financially secure Paul Ryan and his party—because Social Security provides economic support and, for the young, economic and educational opportunity. 

Here are some facts about Social Security. First, more than 90% of Americans 65 and over receive Social Security. More than 6 million children receive benefits due to a parent's death or disability, and a deceased worker's spouse collects if there are children under the age of 18.  Millions rely on it to survive. While almost half of all seniors would be poor without it, women would be hurt even more than men, because women earn lower wages and generally live longer than men. More than half of all elderly women would live in poverty.

This would have an enormous economic impact on middle class families with aging parents. Already struggling adult children would have to care for themselves, their kids, and their parents.  Without Social Security, families would have to make devastating decisions about living arrangements, health care, education, transportation, etc, as they tried to divide resources between the young and the old. Also, reducing future benefits or privatizing Social Security would not be a "shared sacrifice.” As former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers recently wrote in Vanity Fair, "The top 1% of Americans now take home nearly a quarter of all income and control more than 40% of the country's wealth—roughly the same as the bottom 90%." Not exactly shared sacrifice. Therefore, we must stop Paul Ryan and New Hampshire's Republican Representatives from dismantling this program.  

Both of our Republican Representatives have attacked Social Security. One supported the Bush plan. The other said, at a May 2009 rally with Glen Beck's 9/12 group, "…future generations should seek different private sector solutions and have personal responsibility start to lead the way."

Why are Republicans doing this? Is there really a problem with Social Security? Right now, there is actually a surplus. As Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in USA Today on 22/21/11, "...the problem is not with Social Security, but with the rest of the budget. In 2001 and 2003, Washington cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and later expanded Medicare without paying for it. Blaming Social Security for our fiscal woes is like blaming you for not saving enough in your checking account because the bank lost all depositors' money."

Social Security will have problems paying at today's rate in 26 years, but it can be fixed if the Congress would do what Reagan did in 1983—fix it. First, raise the cap. Right now, people who earn under $106,800 pay tax on every single dollar they earn. People who earn over that do not pay on every dollar, just the first $106,800. This amounts to a hidden tax cut as their income rises. This is not fair. We also need to stop the Social Security tax “holiday” that was enacted last year, which reduced workers' payments 2%. This denies the fund essential resources.

As President Roosevelt said about Social Security in 1941, “We put those pay roll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”  We need to tell our leaders again--don't scrap our social security program!

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