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Senate Candidates Split on Seniors’ Issues

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State House Speaker Thom Tillis, (R) left, is challenging Sen. Kay Hagan (D). Photos courtesy of the candidates

By Michelle Crouch

Both of North Carolina’s candidates for the U.S. Senate say that it’s important to have a strong safety net in place to help older people, but they have different views on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how to protect Social Security and Medicare.

Incumbent Kay Hagan (D), a first-term senator, faces state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) on Nov. 4.

Hagan, 61, was elected in 2008 after serving a decade as a state senator. She worked at North Carolina National Bank (a predecessor to Bank of America) for 10 years, becoming a vice president in estates and trusts. She and her husband have three children and live in Greensboro.

Tillis, 54, who was elected to the state House in 2006, is credited with helping the Republicans take control in 2010. A former business executive, he rose to the position of partner at consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. He moved with his wife and two children to North Mecklenburg in 1998.

The candidates’ positions were drawn from emailed responses to questions from the AARP Bulletin and from their campaign websites.

  • Health care: Tillis calls the ACA “a cancer on our national economy” and would fight for its repeal. He said it “fails to adequately address its goal of decreasing rising health care costs and has led to the cancellations of millions of health insurance policies.”

    Tillis would replace the act with legislation that would “protect Medicare, increase accessibility, control rising costs and maintain the quality of care through market-based reforms.” He said it’s critical for any health-care reform to have backing from both sides of the aisle.

    Hagan has voted against repealing the act. “We can’t go back to a time when seniors paid more for prescription drugs and people could be denied care because of a pre-existing condition,” she said. Closing the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” for prescription drug costs, she said, saved older North Carolinians an average of $900 on prescriptions last year.

    Hagan said she is trying to make the law work better, including cosponsoring legislation that would allow people to keep their existing plans permanently.

  • Social Security: Hagan opposes privatizing Social Security, and she voted against a formula known as “chained CPI,” which likely would have reduced future cost-of-living adjustments by altering the way those COLAs are calculated.

    “We cannot balance the budget on the backs of the millions of North Carolina seniors who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits,” she said. She acknowledged the need for change to ensure Social Security’s long-term solvency and said, “Increasing the cap on income that is taxed for Social Security is something Congress could look into as a possible step to strengthen the system.”

    Tillis said he would protect current benefits for retirees and those nearing retirement age. But for future generations, he said, Congress needs to discuss potential changes such as means-testing—which would reduce benefits for those in higher income brackets—and incentives for people to retire later. Democrats “need to quit playing politics on Social Security and Medicare and actually work together with Republicans to save it,” he said.

  • Medicare: Tillis would encourage “a serious conversation” about Medicare reforms, including means-testing and cracking down on waste and fraud. “All options should be on the table to save Medicare,” he said, “but we must honor our commitments to those nearing the age of retirement.”

    Hagan said North Carolinians who have paid into the system “deserve affordable, secure health coverage upon retirement.” She said she strengthened Medicare by voting for the ACA, which, she noted, extends Medicare solvency by 10 years and includes tools to eliminate waste and fraud. She said she would oppose any plan that would turn Medicare into a voucher program.

For more information on state and federal candidates, consult the AARP North Carolina voters guide at aarp.org/yourvote. AARP does not endorse candidates, contribute to campaigns or favor political parties.
Michelle Crouch is a freelance writer based in Charlotte.

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