In Nevada alone, more than 348,000 people rely on Medicare for their health care. More than 354,000 collect Social Security, with the program serving as the only source of income for one in four Nevada residents age 65 and older. Social Security is an intergenerational program, too. Just 68 percent of those collecting Social Security benefits in Nevada are retirees; others include disabled people as well as spouses and children of deceased breadwinners who have paid into the system.
Both programs provide real peace of mind for real people – 47 million of them, including millions of AARP members. Cutting Medicare and Social Security through arbitrary spending limits will adversely affect real lives. And balancing the budget on the backs of our country’s most vulnerable reneges on a trusted American promise.
In these uncertain economic times, people need promises they can count on. They need to know that Medicare will guarantee affordable health care. They need to know that they can count on a Social Security check that will keep up with rising prices. And they need to know that a lifetime of hard work and hard-earned benefits will always be honored. What people do not need are broken promises from their government that leave them worried about whether they can afford to pay their rent or go to the hospital.
Older Americans recognize the urgency of reducing the deficit and the growing debt. They also understand that Medicare and Social Security need to be strengthened. But imposing arbitrary spending limits is not the way forward. Placing such limits on how much care Medicare will provide by creating a limited voucher system could force seniors to pay higher premiums and co-pays. It could cause older adults to go without necessary care. And trimming Social Security payments would deny many the critical income security they need.
On top of this, cutting Medicare and Social Security would break our nation’s promise to protect the benefits Americans have rightfully earned. Spending limits would change the rules, contradict that promise and leave current and future beneficiaries to foot the bill.
What political leaders must bear in mind is that to most people — especially seniors — Medicare and Social Security are much more than line items in the federal budget. They are pillars of stability. They offer millions health coverage and a stream of income to live on in retirement. The programs represent down payments on the American dream.
Recent proposals to adjust Medicare and Social Security are unfair to Americans who have earned the peace of mind these programs guarantee. It is simply not right to ask hard-working people to sacrifice a benefit they’ve already earned and depend on.
So, rather than target Medicare and Social Security as a budget balancing tactic, Congress would be wise to engage Americans in a national conversation about how to strengthen these programs for future retirees. Our members understand that the deficit and long-term debt require attention, and they know that Medicare and Social Security need to be strengthened to meet the needs of 21st century America.
The goal should always be to improve Medicare and Social Security, not to weaken them, because at the end of the day, they belong to the American people.
Carla Sloan is the Nevada state director of the AARP. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.