Guest Column

Protect the promise of Social Security and Medicare

June 23, 2011

By Greg Marchildon

There are proposals being considered by U.S. Congress right now that would make harmful cuts to Medicare and Social Security as part of a deal to pay the nation’s bills. These proposals would place arbitrary limits on federal spending requiring cuts that could dramatically increase health care costs for today’s seniors (55 and over), threaten their access to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes, and reduce the benefit checks they rely on to pay their bills.

We’re not just talking about budget numbers here. We’re talking about action by Congress that will have a disastrous effect on real people. Here’s something else that’s straightforward: American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) will do everything in our power to prevent Congress from making these harmful cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

What lawmakers need to do is start making the right decisions about our nation’s future priorities. At the top of these priorities must be the health and financial security of older Americans.

There’s a better way to reduce the deficit: Congress should cut wasteful government spending and close special interest tax breaks for companies that make billions of dollars in profits – but pay little or no taxes – before considering harmful cuts to programs that are a lifeline to millions of older Americans. Tax breaks and loopholes cost the federal government an estimated $1 trillion each year.

And, perhaps most important, we need to tackle ever-rising health care costs. If we really want to reduce health care costs, Medicare should not be singled out. We need to improve the way we deliver health care in Medicare and throughout the entire system – including a greater focus on prevention, better care coordination for people with chronic illnesses, and incentives that reward doctors and hospitals for providing high quality care instead of ones who see the most patients or run the most test.

Vermont has taken some important steps in this direction and leads the nation in addressing both health care cost control and access for all. Other steps we can take to reduce Medicare costs are cracking down on costly hospital readmissions, overbilling by providers, and standing up to the drug companies, who are costing Medicare billions of dollars in high priced drugs and by preventing less costly generic drugs from hitting the market.

And, let’s be clear: Social Security did not cause our nation’s budget problem, and Social Security should not be weakened to fix it. There is no immediate crisis. Social Security can pay 100 percent of benefits for the next 25 years. In fact, the only “crisis” on the horizon is what Congress may do to Medicare and Social Security benefits as they attempt to reach a deal to pay the nation’s debts.

AARP’s members have worked their entire lives to earn their Medicare and Social Security benefits. That’s why we’re going to keep fighting to stop Congress from making a deal to pay the nation’s bills that includes harmful cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Greg Marchildon is the state director for AARP Vermont.