Some politicians in Washington refer to Social Security and Medicare as entitlements. I don’t use that word—simply because they’re not. They are programs that seniors paid into while they were working and have earned upon their retirement. Social Security and Medicare are investments and social insurance. We can solve America’s deficit problem without creating an even greater deficit of resources for America’s seniors.
Since the 1940s, Social Security checks have been paid in full – and have never been late. Since 1965, Medicare has made a major difference in the lives of Americans from all walks of life. And today, the new health law has meant lower prescription drug costs and free cancer screenings for more than 1.2 million Ohio seniors.
Clearly, the debate on the debt and the deficit will mean tough choices for all of us—on where to cut and where to invest. But we can strengthen Social Security and Medicare—while ensuring that they continue to serve older Americans without cutting crucial lifelines.
When it comes to Social Security, we must protect against all attempts to turn this vital safety net over to Wall Street. And we must protect it without raising the retirement eligibility age. Raising the eligibility age is a bad idea – especially for Ohioans who stand on their feet all day working retail, at a manufacturing facility, at a hair salon, in construction, or at a diner.
I believe that the Washington politicians who have proposed raising the retirement age for seniors should share in the sacrifice they ask of seniors. That’s why I introduced the Shared Retirement Sacrifice Act, which would tie the age at which Members of Congress can collect their pensions to the age at which American seniors can collect Social Security.
We must also ensure that Social Security keeps pace with the rising costs faced by seniors. Although this year marks the first cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase for seniors in more than two years, I still believe it’s less than it should be. The COLA increase is based on a formula that calculates the cost of living for a younger, working adult. To fix the COLA, I introduced the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act, which would change the calculation to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). This legislation would make a commonsense change to account for older, retired adults with typically higher healthcare costs.
We also need to protect and strengthen Medicare. And that means saying “no” to turning Medicare over to the insurance industry through private vouchers. Our seniors deserve the Medicare they paid into, not the plan passed by the House of Representatives that would end Medicare as we know it for future retirees and replace it with under-funded vouchers that would force seniors to purchase health insurance from the private insurance industry.
Instead of dismantling Medicare, there are commonsense steps we can take to reduce costs. We can lower costs for seniors—and for the government—by giving the Secretary of Health and Human Services the ability to negotiate bulk prescription drug discounts for seniors, just like the Veterans Affairs Department does for veterans. We can allow for the safe reimportations of prescription drugs from countries with rigorous safety standards such as Canada and Australia. These represent steps that would reduce Medicare costs while strengthening the program.
Thankfully, Ohio seniors are beginning to see the benefits of health care innovation. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 1.2 million Ohio seniors on Medicare received free preventive services such as annual wellness exams and cancer screenings last year. And Ohio seniors who have reached the so-called “donut hole” – the cost range in which their private prescription drug plans no longer provide coverage – have seen their prescription drug costs cut in half – saving more than $164 million for Ohio seniors. But while this is a step in the right direction, there’s much more that needs to be done.
We have to do a better job of making sure seniors have the resources needed to live with health and dignity. Seniors have worked too hard for too long to have their country turn their backs on them.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.