11/02/2012

Medicare, Social Security at stake in this election

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With the election right around the corner, AFT retired members are talking about the Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare and Social Security and how it could affect retirees and their families. In response to the debate about the federal debt and deficit, Romney-Ryan and other Republican candidates have proposed reducing federal spending by cutting Medicare and Social Security. Here's how they would do it:

Medicare

The Romney-Ryan plan would change traditional Medicare from a defined set of benefits to a voucher system. Under their plan, the federal government would end the traditional Medicare guarantee, in which the government insures seniors and people with disabilities for their healthcare costs. Instead, under the Romney-Ryan plan, these individuals would receive a voucher—basically a coupon from the government—that would be used to purchase insurance from the private insurance market. This plan gives beneficiaries a fixed amount for their medical care, leaving them on their own if the voucher does not cover their medical costs. The plan would leave eligible beneficiaries with additional out-of-pocket healthcare costs of $6,300 on average by 2023.

Republicans will tell you that ending Medicare as we know it is necessary to save Medicare. That is not true. Medicare's growing costs are entirely due to runaway costs in our healthcare system. In fact, Medicare is significantly better than private health insurers at controlling healthcare costs. The answer is to limit the growth of healthcare costs, not cut Medicare recipients' benefits.

Social Security

For many years, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has advocated making radical changes to Social Security, including support for privatization. Consistent with that goal, the Romney-Ryan plan would make major cuts in Social Security benefits. Gov. Romney has said, time after time, that he will raise the retirement age, decimate middle-class benefits, and even means-test Social Security benefits. At the Detroit Economic Club this past February, he said: "When it comes to Social Security, we will slowly raise the retirement age. We will slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees."

Raising the retirement age by two years amounts to a 13 percent across-the-board benefit cut, at whatever age you claim benefits. "Slow the growth in benefits" is insider code for a proposal put forward by President George W. Bush, which would drastically cut benefits for the middle class so that over time, every beneficiary would get the same poverty-level benefit, unrelated to prior earnings. And means testing would convert Social Security from wage insurance, based on work and contributions, into welfare, based on need. Meanwhile, Romney is against making fellow multimillionaires pay the same percentage of their total earnings into Social Security, like everyone else has to do. When asked if he would eliminate the cap on taxable earnings for Social Security, Romney responded: "I'm not going to raise taxes. That's my answer."

Social Security belongs to you, and people like you, who have worked hard all of your lives and contributed to the system. It is not a program that politicians can use to provide tax cuts to the rich. The federal deficit was not caused by Social Security; it did not contribute one penny to the deficit. In fact, Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus today—paid for by workers and employers. The average monthly check a retiree receives is about $1,200, which is not even minimum wage. Its benefits are modest by any measure, yet vital for virtually all who receive them. [Lauren Luchi]

Nov. 2, 2012