While Presidential candidates and Washington politicians continue to claim “we can’t afford Social Security and Medicare”, few-- if any--want to talk about what their proposals will actually mean for millions of middle-class Americans who depend on these programs.  Columbia Journalism Review’s Trudy Lieberman wrote a memo to political journalists urging them to start asking some tough questions so that voters can understand what their plans to cut benefits will actually mean for our nation.
Last week, speaking to business leaders in Detroit, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned that Medicare-eligible Americans ought to wait longer for their benefits. The media glossed over Romney’s remarks; but I kept thinking about them as I was chatting with a woman who had one leg, amputated because of complications from diabetes. And they stayed in my mind as I talked to another woman—a 67-year-old who had a stroke last year, and had had to quit working as a presser for a local dry cleaner ten years ago, when she was 57. She had a seizure, and a hot press fell on her hand. A long scar shows how her work life ended. She qualified for a Social Security disability check—all of $795 a month that’s been her only income ever since. How on earth could someone like her pay for medical care if she had had to wait a few more years? A CNBC blog picked up an AP story which noted that Mitt had said the federal health reform law was too expensive; that it raised taxes and cut $500 billion from Medicare. Not another half truth! For the fourteenth time, the law did cut payments to hospitals and to sellers of Medicare Advantage plans, but it did not cut basic benefits for seniors. Yet the GOP keeps using the number to scare seniors into voting for them. The blog post linked to a CNBC primer on Medicare and Medicaid, which at least offered some basics. For the record, the CNBC primer didn’t correct that misperception. Please indulge me in a digression. Research from respected sources like the Kaiser Family Foundation has challenged the notion that raising the age for Medicare benefits saves money. Kaiser found that lifting the age from 65 to 67 would reduce Medicare spending by $7.6 billion. But before you run with that number, you need to know that cost would merely be shifted to employers and individuals, who would have to pay more for health coverage to replace the lost Medicare benefits. It would mean spending $10.1 billion in the private sector to save $7.6 billion for the government. How’s that for bending the nation’s cost curve?
You can see the Kaiser Family Foundation report here.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also looked the costs of raising Medicare’s eligibility age here.