A Dangerous New Year for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
At a family gathering over the holidays in Florida, the conversation inevitably turned to politics. Some of the seniors at the table who voted for Trump expressed their certainty that no one in Washington will really touch their earned benefits. “Trump’s not going to let the Congress cut Social Security,” said a Great Aunt in her 70s. “Paul Ryan’s not really going to mess with Medicare,” insisted her husband. Of course, these beloved family members could not be more wrong.
Their complacency (or, in this case, complicity) sets up a dangerous opportunity for the GOP-controlled 115th Congress, which was just sworn in yesterday. Claiming a mandate that most certainly does not exist, Congressional Republicans are rolling out proposals that will destroy Social Security and Medicare as we know them, not to mention deep cuts to Medicaid and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. These actions will hurt not only the seniors at the holiday table, but their children and grandchildren, too. As we have been warning for years, all Americans have a lot to lose if these programs are compromised by capricious politicians.
President-Elect Trump shows no signs of honoring his campaign pledge not to touch Social and Medicare. He has been strangely silent about Congressional proposals that will wreck these two programs, and his appointments to crucial administration positions speak volumes – most notably Rep. Tom Price (a notorious privatization proponent) as Health and Human Services Secretary and Rep. Rick Mulvaney (a fiscal hardliner) as director of the Office of Management and Budget — a likely ally for Congressional Republicans looking to cut entitlements.
A quick survey of GOP proposals shows just how much current and future beneficiaries of these crucial income security programs have to lose. House Social Security Subcommittee Chair Sam Johnson (R-TX) has introduced a so-called Social Security “reform” bill that will result in benefit cuts, raise the retirement age to 69, and reduce Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) that seniors on fixed incomes rely on. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who Tuesday gaveled the 115th Congress into session, has long promised to privatize Medicare, turning it into a voucher (or “Coupon Care”) program that would leave future beneficiaries to fend for themselves in the private insurance market while traditional Medicare slowly dies. This will mean skyrocketing premiums and reduced coverage for seniors thrust into the private insurance market.
The 115th Congress just took the first procedural steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which not only jeopardizes health care coverage for 30 million Americans, but puts real improvements to Medicare at great risk. If the Affordable Care Act is recklessly repealed, seniors will lose free preventative screenings under Medicare. The Part D prescription drug “donut hole” will open up again, costing more than 11 million Medicare beneficiaries $2,100 per person on prescriptions. Worse yet, Medicare beneficiaries will face higher premiums and deductibles to make up for the roughly $800 billion in cost savings that the ACA provided over 10 years. Insurers will once again be able to overcharge or deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Combine this with GOP plans to block-grant Medicaid, which millions of seniors depend on for nursing home care and long term care services, and Americans are confronting a full-fledged assault on their earned benefits and income security. As the 115th Congress convened yesterday, Democrats promised vigilance. Incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer declared from the Senate floor, “We demand that (Trump) keep his promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare… We will hold the President-elect accountable.” On GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Schumer warned, “It is not acceptable to repeal the law, throw our health care system into chaos” and leave the solution for another day. Senator Bernie Sanders has called for a national Day of Action on January 15th “to oppose any cuts to health-care plans or subsidies,” including rallies in Congressional districts across the country.
We stand with our allies on Capitol Hill, our fellow advocacy groups, and our millions of members to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. We see the danger quite clearly… and hope that the seniors and their families who sat around holiday tables the past two weeks will, too.