If you were going to send a message about Medicare and Social Security to the president and Congress, what would you say?
AARP volunteer Carl Erickson asked an audience that same question at the organization’s “You’ve Earned a Say” community conversation event Monday at the RISE Learning for Life classrooms at Rio Salado College in Surprise.
“They both have their unique challenges,” Erickson said of the programs.
The AARP events, which have been conducted around the state, aim to make sure the organization’s members’ voices are heard by politicians in Washington D.C. who are looking at possible ways to cut the nation’s budget, possibly at the expense of Medicare and Social Security, Erickson said.
“We want to have an opportunity for our membership to let them know how they feel about the programs,” Erickson said. The community conversation events are just the first step of that process, he added. AARP will analyze the opinions it collects and then work with political candidates to make the organization’s positions clear. Finally, by 2013, AARP will follow up with those politicians for accountability.
Erickson and his fellow volunteer Don Ritchie gave short presentations about the history and facts behind Medicare and Social Security, soliciting opinions from the group of more than 30 people.
Both programs are the pillars of financial security for seniors, Erickson said, and as for Medicare, Erickson said about half of seniors in the country spend 17 percent of their incomes on health care, but within 12 years, the Part A program, which covers hospital costs, will not be able to pay off the full amount of costs.
More than that, Erickson added, the number of people on Medicare is expected to double between 2000 and 2030, with federal spending on the program reaching $1 trillion by 2022.
The situation for Social Security is similar, Ritchie said, with the program providing 50 percent or more of family income for more than half of older Americans, but it will face a funding shortfall in 20 years. By 2033, it will only be able to pay 75 percent of all benefits, Ritchie said.
Erickson and Ritchie asked the event participants in a quick survey how important their Medicare and Social security benefits were to them as seniors, and an overwhelming majority chose “very important” over “somewhat” or “not important.”
The biggest challenges facing both programs include rising costs in health care, not enough funding, fewer workers paying into the programs and the growing senior population, according to surveys completed at Monday’s meeting.
As for solutions, the survey takers told AARP that a possible increased eligibility age, means testing for benefits, changing the practice of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” when it comes to borrowing from both program, and making politicians live on Medicare and Social Security, would all be solutions to the problems in each program.
Other people can share their opinions with AARP by calling 1-888-OUR-AARP or taking the survey online at www.earnedasay.org.