Sen. Martha McSally (R) of Arizona faces a tough reelection battle in November, running against Democratic candidate Mark Kelly, an astronaut and former U.S. Navy captain.
To understand how they plan to protect Social Security and Medicare, stimulate the economy, lower prescription drug prices and ensure that Americans have access to affordable long-term care, AARP Arizona asked each candidate to answer five key questions in 60-second videos. Here are their responses, with transcripts:
1. Social Security is a self-financed, off-budget program that half of all seniors rely on for more than 50 percent of their income. If elected, how will you ensure that current and future Social Security benefits are not cut as part of deficit reduction?
Kelly: I will always fight to protect Social Security. Arizona seniors have paid into this program their entire lives. And for so many of them, these benefits are the difference between a secure retirement and living in poverty. I will never let politicians in Washington take advantage of a crisis to break their promise to Arizona’s seniors by cutting Social Security. I also oppose plans to privatize Social Security or risk it in the stock market. And I oppose the proposal we’ve seen to cut or eliminate funding sources for Social Security, which could lead to insolvency in just a matter of years. Arizona seniors paid into Social Security on the promise that it would be there when they retired. I will always fight to keep that promise.
McSally: Social Security is the only source of income for so many retirees in Arizona and across the country. The majority of other seniors rely heavily on Social Security to pay for food, rent, health care and lifesaving drugs. Arizona seniors have paid into this vital program their entire working lives, and they deserve the benefits they earned. I promise to protect Social Security for seniors at or near retirement and preserve it for the next generations. If politicians in D.C. do nothing, then Social Security will not be solvent right around the time my generation retires, risking unnecessary cuts to hard-earned benefits for follow-on generations. So I am committed to bipartisan initiatives that always protect benefits for those at or near retirement while strengthening and preserving benefits for younger generations.
2. On average, health care already accounts for $1 out of every $6 spent by seniors. If elected, how will you protect Medicare from benefit cuts, lower health care costs and ensure seniors continue receiving the affordable care they have earned?
McSally: Arizona seniors have paid into Medicare their entire lives and deserve the benefits they were promised, including high-quality health care at an affordable cost. The rising cost of health care and prescription drugs is causing too many seniors to leave prescriptions at the pharmacy counter. This is unacceptable. I’ve been leading on efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs and have fought against harmful cuts to the successful and popular Medicare Advantage program. I’m a fierce advocate for legislation that will end surprise medical billing and increase access to telehealth services for Medicare recipients. We can do more to increase the quality and transparency of health care while reducing costs to seniors. I successfully led the effort to stop a costly Affordable Care Act cost increase by preserving the medical-expense deduction on your taxes. And I oppose a full government takeover of our health care system, which would end Medicare as we know it and be devastating for seniors.
Kelly: I’ve heard from so many seniors who rely on Medicare to get the health care that they need in retirement. Without Medicare, many seniors would be bankrupt by huge medical costs. Seniors have paid into Medicare their entire lives, with the promise that it would take care of them in retirement. I plan to keep it that way. I’d also oppose any efforts to turn Medicare into a voucher program, which would lead to seniors paying more out of pocket for worse coverage. I also understand that for many seniors, health care is still a strain on their budgets. That’s why I’d work to lower the cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D.
3. Unemployment during the coronavirus crisis reached the highest levels since the Great Depression, and older Americans have been disproportionately affected. If elected, how will you help Americans over the age of 50 recover economically from the effects of the coronavirus?
Kelly: As we rebuild the economy, we need to do it from the ground up. Unemployment insurance, food assistance and Medicaid have all been a vital safety net for so many Arizonans during this crisis. We need to ensure that these programs continue to help working Arizonans get back on their feet, especially older workers. And then we need to make investments that are going to raise wages and create good-paying jobs — like in infrastructure, science and technology — and job-training programs to ensure that Arizonans have the skills they need. I won’t allow this crisis to be used as an excuse to cut Social Security, Medicare or investments in job creation that are key to rebuilding our economy.
McSally: When the coronavirus hit, I acted swiftly, as your senator, to help craft and pass the CARES Act. This bill provided swift relief to hardworking Arizonans who became unemployed through no fault of their own. We saved more than 1 million Arizona jobs and 86,000 small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program. We sent stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits to prevent people from falling into food and housing insecurity, as they were asked not to work to save others’ lives. Before this once-in-a-century pandemic, we had 50-year lows in unemployment for all demographics of workers, including a 3.3 percent rate for workers age 55 and up. When COVID hit, that number spiked to 13.6 percent in April. The CARES Act has helped our economy and the job market start to recover. The unemployment rate for workers 55 and up was down to 8.8 percent in July, but there’s still more work to be done. One thing we don’t need in the middle of this recovery is a tax increase — something my opponent supports. I voted to cut taxes on Arizona families by $2,000 and will keep fighting for lower taxes and pro-job policies.
4. Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. If elected, how will you cut prescription drug prices for all Americans?
McSally: Lowering prescription drug prices has been one of my top priorities since I’ve been in the Senate. In 2017, AARP Arizona reported that 26 percent of our residents stopped taking their medications as prescribed due to the cost. I won’t accept that statistic, and that’s why I’ve worked in a bipartisan manner to bring down the cost of drugs and help Arizonans save more of their money. Earlier this year, I authored my own prescription-drug-pricing bill. The legislation will lower costs for all Americans by allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prices of drugs that are past their original patent expiration but still maintain a monopoly for that drug. The bill also curbs the ability of drug companies to prevent cheaper alternatives from entering the market. And it caps the out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare Part D. It would also provide real-time benefit tools for seniors on Medicare. So you know what is covered and what the costs are right there in your doctor’s office.
Kelly: One of the things I hear most when I’m talking with Arizonans is the concern over the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. I’ve spoken to seniors who have had to make choices between buying groceries and paying for all of their prescriptions, and that is unacceptable. Here is what I would do to lower prescription drug costs for seniors: I’d lower the cap on out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare Part D, direct Medicare to negotiate the prices they pay for all drugs and work to make cheaper generics available more quickly by cracking down on how big pharmaceutical companies abuse the patent system. This will be one of my top priorities in the Senate: to lower the costs of prescription drugs for Arizona seniors.
5. COVID-19 has caused death and suffering for too many older Americans who require long-term care. If elected, how will you make sure seniors can access safe and affordable long-term care at home and in nursing homes and assisted living facilities?
Kelly: No one has been hit harder or is more vulnerable during this pandemic than seniors with long-term care needs, particularly those in nursing homes. There must be transparency about COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, and those facilities need to have all of the resources necessary to protect seniors. I will protect and strengthen Medicaid funding, which has allowed many seniors to get the care they need. We also must take steps to allow more seniors to live at home rather than entering a nursing home by supporting programs that provide in-home care and help caregivers. I support a tax credit for family and informal caregivers who spend more than 20 hours per week caring for the needs of their older loved ones.
McSally: Through the CARES Act, I worked to secure more than $65 million to cover additional operating costs for Arizona nursing homes during the pandemic. As we continue to combat this virus, we must work to provide nursing homes with funding to purchase more PPE, more infection-control activities, and more testing for residents and staff. We’ve got to protect the most vulnerable. I’m also urging HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] to expand available funding to assisted living facilities. The telehealth waivers and flexibilities granted by CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] during the pandemic have provided safe and affordable care delivery for seniors at home and in long-term care settings. This has allowed residents to connect with their providers before potentially more serious, costly conditions arise. I believe strongly we should make these permanent. Lastly, more seniors prefer to receive care in the comfort of their home. Home-based care is also less costly than long-term care facilities. We should provide sufficient funding for home- and community-based services and work to ensure more seniors, including older veterans, can get the support and services for the care they need in their homes.