Washington, DC) – Despite our nation’s recent partisan political divisions, two surveys by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) found high levels of consensus on five proposals that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare funding and benefits. The proposals would decrease Medicare out - of - pocket costs on prescription drugs for beneficiaries and provide modestly higher, and more adequate, Social Security benefits. “There are more areas of agreement from retirees of different political persuasions than many might believe,” says Mary Johnson, a Social Security and Medicare policy analyst for The Senior Citizens League.
The findings come as the nation finds itself in a growing a retirement crisis. Even before the coronavirus - caused recession, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that about 48 percent of households headed by people aged 55 and over had no retirement savings. That situation has been made even worse in 2020 and 2021 as older workers have lost jobs or seen their work schedules reduced due to the pandemic.
“The loss of a job not only means the loss of income, but it also can mean the loss of healthcare benefits, and both employee and employer contributions to retirement accounts,” Johnson notes. Depending on how long older workers remain out work, a growing number may turn to Social Security and file claims for benefits earlier than originally planned. That can mean permanently reduced benefits for people who haven’t reached their full retirement age.
At the same time that Social Security and Medicare rolls are increasing, the funding for Social Security and Medicare, which depend on payroll taxes withheld from wages, has fallen. Payroll taxes are not withheld from people who have no earnings.
“The question becomes how we can strengthen the retirement security of today’s retirees, while strengthening funding for both Medicare and Social Security at the same time,” Johnson says.
The Senior Citizens League’s surveys in 2020 asked about support for currently debated proposals to change Social Security and Medicare benefits. The five top areas of consensus include the following:
- Congress should allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices by tying U.S. prices to prices paid in other industrialized countries like Canada, Great Britain and Japan where prices are lower. — 85 percent support, 13 percent not sure, and only 2 percent opposed.
- Congress should restrict price increases of prescription drugs to no more than the rate of inflation. — 83 percent support, 13 percent not sure, and only 5 percent opposed.
- Congress should prohibit “surprise medical bills. Congress should require healthcare providers and insurers to accept fees no greater than 20 percent more than the Medicare approved fees as settlement. — 82 percent support, 15 percent not sure, and only 4 percent opposed. (Legislation passed in December would provide relief from surprise medical bills but stopped short of tying payments to prices paid by Medicare and Medicaid which are often lower than other rates negotiated by other insurers.)
- Congress should strengthen Social Security benefits by boosting benefits about 2 percent (about $30 on average) and tie the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) which, in most years, would yield a modestly higher COLA. — 83 percent support, 12 percent not sure, and 5 percent opposed.
- Congress should change the law to apply the Social Security payroll tax to all earnings, instead of the first $142,800 of earnings, to strengthen program funding. — 72 percent support, 19 percent opposed, and 9 percent favored other types of revenue increases.
"Even though our new Congress may remain divided, these five areas of broad agreement could be potentially used as a legislative roadmap that would provide greater retirement security and reduce needlessly high Medicare costs,” Johnson says. The Senior Citizens League is working for passage of legislation that would boost Social Security benefits, and supports efforts to lower Medicare costs.
With 1.2 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan seniors’ groups. Its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of The Retired Enlisted Association. Visit www.SeniorsLeague.org for more information.