By Kathleen Connell, State Director
Published September 1 in RI Senior Digest
Today in Rhode Island, some 193,000 people over 65 and individuals with disabilities are covered by Medicare for their health care. Nearly 218,000 65 and older are already receiving Social Security. Rhode Islanders earn their benefits through a lifetime of hard work.
I don’t have to tell you how important this is to people who want to age with dignity and confidence. They are around you every day and, as a Senior Digest reader, you may well be one of them.
Thankfully, a deal that was struck with Americans in 1965 – pay into Medicare throughout your working life and you will be guaranteed health benefits when you turn 65 – has held strong for more than half a century.
- Today, some 60 million Americans have access to comprehensive, affordable health care.
- The program provides free health screenings, from mammograms to colonoscopies to prostate cancer exams.
- And in 2006, Congress added coverage for outpatient prescription drugs so Medicare beneficiaries didn’t have to choose between putting food on the table or paying for life-saving medicines.
What many people don’t realize is that Medicare has historically been a more efficient program than private health insurance, with administrative costs of under 2 percent – much less than private plans. But we must not take Medicare for granted.
AARP has led the way in making sure Congress keeps its promise to support and improve this vital program so that millions of older Americans get the health care they need, allowing them to live with dignity and financial security as they age.
Within a few short years, Medicare won’t have the money to pay the full hospital bills of beneficiaries. The financial pressure on the program is immense:
- Health costs continue to climb.
- Critical advances in medical technology are expensive.
- Prescription drug costs continue to skyrocket.
And all of this is happening as the number of enrollees in Medicare is expected to increase more than 20 million by 2030.
This is why we must all hold our elected representatives accountable for enacting policies that will:
- Improve the coordination of patient care
- Lower prescription drug costs
- Reduce hospital readmissions
- Improve the use of technology in patient care
Social Security’s strength over eight decades is a credit to its financing system and the commitment of past congresses and presidents to work cooperatively to secure its financial future. Payments to current and soon-to-retiree beneficiaries are safely on schedule. Still, the prospects are bleaker for the long-term unless national leaders take needed action. Currently, Social Security can pay full benefits for just over 15 years. But if nothing is done to make the program financially sound for the long term, benefits will be cut by about 25 percent in 2034, according to the trustees who oversee Social Security.
Many experts also believe Social Security should be updated to meet changing realities. Life expectancy is increasing, people are having fewer children, and there are more women in the workforce than when the program was created. Policymakers also need to be cognizant that current benefit levels are modest and that people rely heavily on Social Security benefits – even though the retirement landscape has changed, with fewer people having guaranteed pensions.
Surely, keeping Social Security strong and solvent for current and future generations is too important to be lost in the fog of campaign season.
This year, critical issues like Medicare and Social Security – as well as support for family caregivers, and prescription drug costs – are all on the line. That’s why your voice matters.
We need to send a message to candidates in the upcoming election that Rhode Islanders 50 and older will hold them accountable.
You can do so by taking the “Be the Difference. Vote” pledge to vote in November. You can do so online at www.aarp.org/RIVote.
But please do more. Register to become an AARP “Be the Difference Vote” volunteer. We’re holding a meeting on Tuesday, September 18, at 10 a.m. at the Rhode Island State Office,10 Orms St., Providence, RI 02904. Parking is free. Register for the meeting also at aarp.org/RIVote or call 8770926-8300
Regardless, please Be the Difference. Vote.