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Senate Candidates Tim Ryan, J.D. Vance Talk Health Care, Social Security and More

Ohio Votes In Midterm Primary Election

Ohio voters choose a replacement for retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R) on Nov. 8, opting between a longtime congressman and a political newcomer. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D) has represented parts of northeast Ohio since 2003; he previously was a state senator. The Republican nominee is best-selling author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance.

AARP asked candidates about issues important to older voters. When live interviews were not possible, we allowed candidates to submit answers in writing. Vance participated in a phone interview; Ryan supplied answers in writing. Answers have been edited for clarity and space.

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?

VANCE: One of the most important ways of protecting Social Security is to ensure that you have a prosperous economy. ... As we’ve moved a lot of manufacturing jobs to China and transitioned a lot of people from work to welfare, you’ve created a situation where you just don’t have as many young workers paying into the system as you used to. ... We’ve got to, frankly, stop spending so much on welfare benefits and start having a lot more workers who are paying into the system.

RYAN: For nearly a century, the promise in this country has been simple: Anyone working hard has the right to a dignified retirement. I’m an original cosponsor on the Social Security 2100 Act, which would increase benefits for existing beneficiaries, expand eligibility and protect benefits for the future. In the Senate, I will continue to fight like hell to get more money into seniors’ pockets and make sure Social Security keeps up with the cost of living.

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

RYAN: I’ve always fought against efforts to cut and privatize Medicare. I’m proud to have voted for the Inflation Reduction Act, which will make historic investments in strengthening and expanding Medicare by providing free vaccines, capping the cost of insulin and capping out-of-pocket drug costs. I also support lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 and allowing people to buy in at 50, and expanding benefits to include vision, dental and hearing coverage. ... In the Senate, I will continue to protect and strengthen the Medicare coverage that so many older Ohioans rely on.

VANCE: I think we have to let Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices so that our seniors aren’t paying through the roof for prescription drugs. It’s just preposterous how much our seniors ... are paying for their prescription drugs. Secondly, we have to continue to promote more choice. I know that some people love Medicare Part D. Some people love traditional Medicare. And we have to keep on ensuring that our seniors have access to the coverage they need. Finally, we have to fight back against efforts to strip money from the Medicare program to pay for other things.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. How will you lower drug prices?

VANCE: In addition to allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, we need to allow American companies and pharmacies to import drugs from overseas. Europe pays way less for drugs, even drugs that were developed in the United States, than America pays. So a lot of Americans, especially American seniors, are subsidizing European health care. We have to have leaders who look out for our citizens first, and one of the ways is allowing drugs that are being sold at a certain price in Europe to come into our country to be sold at the same price.

RYAN: I have been a strong advocate for allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which I voted for, will finally allow Medicare to negotiate down the cost of 100 drugs over the next decade and requires drug companies to rebate back price increases higher than inflation. This would keep more money in Ohioans’ pockets while also saving hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars and helping sustain Medicare for generations to come. ... We also have to bring generic drug manufacturing back to the United States so that the supply chain for lifesaving medicine is secure and free from disruption from competing countries like China. 

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 continue working?

RYAN: I’m running for Senate to cut all workers in on the deal, and that includes fighting to make sure older Ohioans can continue to work. In the House, I voted for the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which would restore fairness to workers age 40 and older who experience discrimination in the workplace because of their age, and I’ll continue this fight in the Senate. 

VANCE: You’ve just got to make sure that our older workers have the legal tools to fight back against that stuff when it happens. You’ve got to make sure the equal employment opportunity folks aren’t just focused on racial discrimination—which of course is a problem when it happens—but they’re also focused on other kinds of employment discrimination. Sometimes we ignore that seniors and older Americans are subjected to discrimination. 

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?

VANCE: First, I think you’ve just got to protect Social Security, so that people who are in tough situations in old age actually have something to fall back on. And the second thing I’d say is that a lot of the tax benefits we give to people to put money in retirement … don’t touch a lot of workers. And so we’ve got to make sure that if we’re encouraging people to save for retirement—and we’re getting tax benefits for people to save for retirement—those tax benefits touch everybody, and not just a narrow slice of the workforce.

RYAN: Nobody who works hard their entire life should have to retire into poverty because they could not save while they worked. That’s why I’ve fought to raise workers’ wages so we can invest more in retirement, and why I’ve fought to pass the PRO Act, which will make it easier for workers to join a union and collectively bargain for better contracts with retirement benefits. I’ve also fought to shore up multi-employer pension plans and successfully worked with Sen. Sherrod Brown [D] to pass the Butch Lewis Act, protecting the hard-earned pensions of 100,000 Ohio workers and retirees.

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