Mention “Medicare” in a roomful of young people and most eyes will glaze over. Some listeners might even fall asleep.
We get it. Medicare is complicated. It’s boring. And it’s for old people.
But here’s the thing: Sooner or later we all get old — if we’re lucky.
Another thing: Even if you’re far, far removed from the Medicare age bracket of 65-and-over, your parents or grandparents may not be. Cuts to Medicare could adversely affect their financial health and, by extension, your financial health as well.
So wouldn’t you think that any threat to Medicare — no matter how nebulous — would be met with instant outrage? But that hasn’t been the case in the runup to tax “reform.”
Could it be that there are so many other awful parts to these tax proposals that it’s been hard to focus on just one thing?
There is a lot to digest in the tax bills. No more deductions for state income taxes. An end to the health care mandate. An estimated deficit of over $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
It’s overwhelming, which is why we’re breaking off just a small piece: Medicare, which covers 44 million people — 15 percent of the U.S. population. That’s expected to rise to 79 million by 2030.
Here’s what scares us: To afford $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, Medicare may have to take a huge hit, to the tune of $25 billion.
According to the New York Times, other programs — including farm aid, student loans and funds for crime victims — could suffer too, under the 2010 pay-as-you-go law that mandates automatic reductions when spending limits are exceeded.
But there is an out: Congress can prevent the mandatory cuts by passing special legislation but that, too, is scary, since it means pay-as-you-go is essentially a sham. So tough luck with that deficit you’ll inherit, millennials.
But back to Medicare. According to Congressional Republicans, we shouldn’t worry about it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently assured Sen. Susan Collins — the Maine Republican who voted to keep the Affordable Care Act — that it’s safe.
“I met with Senator McConnell just yesterday,” Collins told reporters on Thursday, “and he has assured me that (Medicare cuts) will not be allowed to happen. If it were going to occur, I would not even be considering voting for this (tax) bill.”
Well, that’s comforting. Except it doesn’t jibe with what Sen. Marco Rubio was telling Politico reporters on Wednesday: “We have to do two things,” he said. “We have to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.”
Is it any wonder AARP has come out against the tax proposal?
Health care already is a major expense that many older people on meager fixed incomes already can’t afford.
Medicare Part B insurance costs $134 per month for individuals earning $85,000 per year or less, and there’s typically a 20 percent copay for treatment.
That may not sound like much, but consider this: According to RetiredBrains.com, the average 65-year-old couple who retired with Medicare insurance in 2015 will need $276,000 to cover their medical expenses over their lifetimes. That doesn’t include dental care or long-term care.
Here’s another sobering statistic: Thirty-seven percent of baby boomers have saved less than $50,000 for retirement, while only 24 percent have saved $300,000 or more. So after paying for medical expenses, housing and transportation, there’s not much left for other stuff, like food.
Congress should not consider any proposal that could leave millions of seniors even worse off than they are now.
We understand the Republican majority is hellbent on passing corporate tax breaks in the hope of growing the economy. Like the majority of Americans, we don’t like it. But as the saying goes, elections have consequences.
We can’t sit silently by, though, and see seniors and other vulnerable Americans used as guinea pigs in this experiment in trickle-down economics.
We implore members of Congress — are you listening, Kevin McCarthy? — to reconsider what tax cuts for the wealthy will do to their constituents who depend on Medicare, Social Security and other critical programs to survive.