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Senate Candidates Mark Kelly, Blake Masters Talk Health Care, Social Security and More

Flag USA and Arizona

Arizona voters head to the polls Nov. 8 to decide between incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly and challenger Blake Masters. Kelly, a retired astronaut and a Democrat, was elected to the Senate in November 2020 to finish the term of Sen. John McCain, who died in August 2018. Masters, a venture capitalist and author, won the Republican primary in August. A newcomer to politics, he served on Donald Trump’s transition team after the 2016 election. AARP asked both candidates about issues important to older voters. Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. If elected, how would you lower prescription drug prices for all Americans?

KELLY: We have to continue to do things that help cheaper generic drugs get on the market more quickly. So that means cracking down on big pharmaceutical companies who abuse the patent system in a number of different ways. … They’ll sometimes just pay off generic drug manufacturers. So we’ve got to continue to crack down on these things, especially in a time when Arizonans are seeing costs of everyday goods go up. … So I’m going to continue to advocate for this in the Senate, whether it’s capping out-of-pocket expenses for seniors under Medicare Part D [something that recently became law] or finding other opportunities to get cheaper generics on the market quicker.

MASTERS: I think we have to be tough with Big Pharma. I appreciate that pharmaceutical companies are businesses … but we just have to hold them accountable. We have to lower out-of-pocket expenses. We don’t want Big Pharma just putting their thumb on the scale, preventing rivals from developing cheaper alternatives. We need to put caps on lifesaving medicines. I’m tired of hearing stories from people who have some rare condition, and then they just tell me it’s thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars per month. … The government needs to step in and prevent that.

Social Security is the largest source of income for most older Americans. If elected, how would you protect earned Social Security benefits for the future?

MASTERS: Social Security is, I think, the primary source of income for most Arizona seniors, folks who’ve paid into it their whole lives. And under no circumstances can we pull the rug out from under seniors. So I’ve pledged time and time again never to cut Social Security. … So, protect Social Security for this generation, and we also need to shore it up for future generations. And that means bipartisan commonsense solutions, so that we make sure that it’s always there as a backstop for our seniors.

KELLY: It’s important to recognize what you said in that these are earned benefits. You know, it’s not something that’s given to anybody, right? Seniors have paid into Social Security their entire lives with an expectation that it would be there for them when they retire. And so they earn these benefits and they rely on them. I’m not going to stand for any plan that cuts this critical program for Arizona seniors or seniors across the country.

Older workers often face age discrimination in getting or keeping jobs. If elected, how would you combat age discrimination and help older workers who need or want to work?

KELLY: If you want to or need to keep working, you should be able to do that if you’re capable—free of any judgment about your age. ... My focus in the Senate has been on creating good-paying jobs and making sure that workers have the skills they need to fill those jobs, regardless of what education they have. And that works well for older Arizonans getting skills at any age to perform the jobs of the future. … We need tens of thousands of folks to work in the semiconductor industry and all kinds of positions that don’t require a four-year degree.

MASTERS: I think age discrimination is terrible. Literally, it’s against the law—although I know it still happens, and that’s disgraceful. Seniors have a right to work and earn a living. I’d love to see more seniors—if they choose to work—have access to jobs that take into account their skills and wisdom that they’ve accrued working over the years. We have to enforce our laws on the books and ensure seniors aren’t discriminated against ... and make sure that any senior who wants to work is treated just the same as anyone else.

Millions of American workers have no way to save for retirement through their jobs. If elected, what steps would you take to help American workers save for their retirement?

MASTERS: Most Americans don’t have savings. And that’s really crazy when you think about it. Why? It’s because everything’s getting more and more expensive, while median household income in the past few decades has remained stagnant. The government, of course, only makes this problem worse, usually by spending trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars. So we’ve printed ourselves into a recession. And I think we need to course correct. But I do think the government has a role to play in incentivizing savings—let people open special savings accounts tax free. I know we already have IRAs and Roth IRAs and all that. Maybe we increase the contributions, so people can actually save for retirement and build wealth through investments. I’ve always been clear: Social Security—that’s always going to be there as a backstop. We owe that to our seniors. And it would also be great if more Americans could save and enjoy even more wealth in their golden years. 

KELLY: I've heard this a lot from folks across the state that it gets hard to keep up with rising costs. And when you can’t make ends meet, there’s nothing left over to save for retirement, outside of what you get from Social Security. So one thing I’ve been focused on is getting costs down, whether it’s gas or groceries or anything that has a semiconductor chip in it. That’ll allow them to have—if we can get lower costs—more expendable income to put towards retirement to save. I’m on the Senate Committee on Aging, and I’ve worked on this issue. … We know that folks are more likely to save if they have a little bit of a push from their employer that will help them do this. But it’s clear: We need to do a lot more to incentivize folks to save, especially at a younger age. 

Medicare provides critical health coverage for older Americans. If elected, how would you strengthen it for the future?

KELLY: I've worked to let Medicare negotiate the prices of lifesaving prescription drugs. … I'm on the side of trying to do more, to continue to reduce the costs for seniors. As I travel around Arizona, I hear just way too often that drugs cost too much. Seniors aren’t buying groceries because they have to pay for their medication. Or they’re cutting that medicine in half—pills in half. That shouldn’t be how it is. … Those seniors that I met will now be able to buy groceries, or they'll be able to take their entire correct prescription, instead of half of the prescription. 

MASTERS: Every Arizonan and every American deserves access to high-quality, affordable health care. That’s the goal. The problem right now is there’s so much opacity in the system. It’s not transparent enough. We need to lower the price of lifesaving drugs. I think partially, we do that by increasing price transparency, and making sure that the various monopolies and cartels in the health care industry don’t just get to charge whatever the heck they want. We’ve got to have a laser focus on lowering overall health care costs of those benefits that seniors have earned.

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