Focus on protecting Medicare

By: By Teresa Arnold - Contributing Columnist

With more than a baker’s dozen of candidates in the race, things are heating up in South Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District Special Election to fill former Congressman Mick Mulvaney’s vacated seat. On behalf of our 81,000 members in CD-5, AARP South Carolina wants to know where these candidates stand on protecting Medicare for the future and their specific position on “premium support” (a.k.a. Medicare vouchers).

So what are Medicare vouchers?

Proponents in Washington say they’re a money-saving measure to combat rising costs, but our view in the Palmetto State is that a Medicare voucher system would take senior health care in precisely the wrong direction. In fact, giving seniors an annual stipend to shop for their health needs actually could push up costs for current and future retirees and erode guaranteed protections that South Carolinians have earned through countless years of hard work and taxes coming out of every paycheck.

In particular, vouchers pose troubling risks for 895,000 South Carolinians who are currently in Medicare, not to mention the 984,000 age 50-and-older turning to Medicare in the next 15 years, since they would break Medicare’s basic promise: providing a guaranteed health benefit in retirement.

Under “premium support,” that guaranteed promise could be tossed aside as seniors would instead get a fixed dollar amount to help pay for their care in the open marketplace. If that stipend turns out to be insufficient, tough luck. Seniors and future retirees could face paying thousands of dollars out of their own pockets at a time they can least afford it. The median personal income for South Carolinians 65-and-older was $20,800 in 2015. Raising their health care costs could be disastrous, forcing many to choose between going to the doctor, picking up life-saving prescription drugs and paying for other necessities.

During last year’s campaign, President Trump promised to protect Medicare and Social Security, at one point telling older voters: “I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare. You made a deal a long time ago.”

Interestingly, voters 50 years of age and older represented 56.1 percent of all those casting ballots in CD-5 last November. They not only helped decide the General Election; they’re now counting on Congress to abandon this proposal. Moreover, we expect nearly two-out-of-every-three voters in the upcoming Special Election to be 50+. So if you live in one of the 14 counties making up the Congressional District stretching from Spartanburg County to Gaffney, and from Rock Hill and Lancaster down to Camden and Sumter Shaw, you should know where your candidate stands on this critical concern. Clearly, the risks posed by a voucher system, go against President Trump’s previous commitment to protect Medicare.

Yes, Medicare needs to be strengthened for future generations, but shifting costs to seniors and those who’ve paid into the system their entire working lives is the wrong approach. We can put Medicare on stable ground with common-sense solutions, such as clamping down on excessive drug prices, improving coordination of care and use of technology, and cutting out over-testing, waste, fraud, and other financial abuse.

AARP South Carolina is committed to talking to all the candidates in the CD-5 race so that voters will know where they stand on protecting Medicare, and we hope they confront these challenges head on with responsible solutions. On behalf of our 620,000 members statewide and 38 million across the nation, AARP will continue to champion a Medicare system that delivers on the deal Americans have counted on and deserve. That’s a guaranteed promise! To learn more, call AARP South Carolina at 1-866-389-5655.

Teresa Arnold is the state director for AARP South Carolina. AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older to choose how they live as they age.

By Teresa Arnold

Contributing Columnist