On Saving Medicare, Social Security

Americans on Social Security and Medicare aren’t buying the argument that the two programs are facing a bleak future if changes aren’t made in both. Maybe down deep they know something should be done, but many are willing to pass the problems along to the next generation.

This country has managed in the past to find its way out of tough spots, and we always think we can do it again. So the attitude is, “Why worry?”

If you saw an editorial cartoon in Saturday’s American Press about China buying up assets all around the world, you know there is plenty to worry about. We have mortgaged our souls to a Communist government, and one of these days China is going to call in all of those IOUs.

The nation’s debt now stands at a record $14.3 trillion, and the country is headed for serious trouble. Onethird of all spending goes for Medicare and Social Security, and it can’t continue.

Medicare trustees said the program is projected to run out of money in 2024, five years earlier than predicted last year. The Social Security Administration said in May the program’s trust funds would run out of money in 2036.

Numerous solutions have been proposed. However, reality says the only sure way to fix the problems is to raise the age of eligibility, reduce benefits, increase taxes and premiums or try a combination of all of those.

A majority of Americans oppose all of those remedies. They don’t sense there is an emergency, since problems are a decade or more down the line.

Most are optimists

An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted May 5-9 showed 59 percent of those surveyed said it’s possible to balance the federal budget without cutting Medicare spending. And 59 percent said the same thing about Social Security.

Carolyn Rodgers, 74, of Memphis, Tenn., is still working, and her view is shared by many.

“It’s more a matter of bungling, and lack of oversight, and waste and fraud, and padding of the bureaucracy,” she said.

Most of us would agree with that assessment, but we can’t overlook the rising cost of health care. Consider what the AP said when it released its poll results.

A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 1980 would have expected to receive health care through Medicare worth $132,000 over their remaining lifetimes. The benefit for a similar couple retiring last year would be worth $343,000.

One of the problems is our inability to separate reality from politics.

President Obama and his Democratic Party pushed through the health care reform act, and it helped Republicans win control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Why? Because reform is being financed with increases in Medicare costs.

Republicans have come up with a solution for Medicare, and Democrats see it as a ticket to retaining the presidency and regaining control of Congress next year.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., is author of the plan. He is chairman of the House Budget Committee. The Ryan Plan advocates a system that would provide vouchers for senior citizens to purchase health care coverage from private insurance companies.

Upper-income Americans would receive lower subsidies and lower-income citizens would receive help to cover out-of-pocket expenses.

Medicare recipients hit the ceiling over the proposal, and many don’t even realize it would only affect Americans below the age of 55. Those 55 and older would see no changes in their current coverage.

No group or individual is safe when it comes to talking about reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits.

The AARP, the main lobbying group for older Americans, got in hot water with its members when it backed Obama health care. Now, it’s in trouble again for saying it is open to modest reductions in Social Security benefits for future recipients.

Two U.S. senators got quick reaction when they came up with a new plan.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., are proposing to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and increase monthly premiums of current beneficiaries. The plan would also call for some out-of-pocket payments for health care.

Democrats don’t like the idea, and Republicans didn’t seem enthusiastic, either.

Clean up mess

My view is similar to one expressed at a community meeting held by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.

Edwin R. Chubback, 88, a retired engineer, told Cassidy he isn’t concerned about his Medicare, according to a news report in The Advocate newspaper.

“But we don’t want to leave a mess for our offspring to clean up,” Chubback said.

That’s it exactly. I am both a Social Security and Medicare recipient. I want to see the fraud and waste eliminated first, but I see nothing wrong with making changes for persons 54 and younger. I could even accept some changes for people my age in order to save both programs.

We shouldn’t panic at the mere mention of reform. What if the forecasts we’ve heard about come to pass? Do we want to take a chance and perhaps deny those who come after us the same benefits we’ve enjoyed?

The future of my children and grandchildren is my No. 1 interest. The government got us into this mess, and I’m willing to at least listen to reasonable solutions. Congress has already wasted too much time.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com.



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