With four weeks to go until election day, seniors and their families should be seeking answers to some crucial questions affecting Social Security and Medicare.   Those answers must come from anyone who wants the votes of current and future retirees on November 6th, because the future of Americans’ earned benefits depends on electing candidates who truly support both programs.

  1. Will you work to expand Social Security and Medicare?

It is not enough for a candidate (whether incumbent or challenger) to say he or she “supports” Social Security and Medicare.  At a time of rampant income inequality and rising living expenses for seniors, both programs must be expanded in order to keep retirees healthy and out of poverty.

There are several bills in Congress that could be enacted to enhance benefits while keeping both programs financially sound for the foreseeable future.  Those bills have not been properly considered under the current Congressional leadership.  Ask your candidates if they support bills like the Social Security 2100 Act, the Social Security Expansion Act, the Medicare Fair Drug Pricing Act, and other like-minded measures.  They are crucial to retirees’ financial and health security moving forward.

  1. Do you believe that Social Security and Medicare need to be ‘reformed’ to close the deficit, if not for today’s beneficiaries then for future retirees?

Beware any candidate who uses the term ‘entitlements.’  Seniors have earned their Social Security and Medicare benefits over a lifetime of work, which is why we call them ‘earned benefits.’  Likewise, be wary of candidates who call for Social Security and Medicare ‘reform.’  That is code for benefit cuts – whether by raising the retirement age, imposing more meager cost-of-living adjustments, or means testing.  It can also mean privatizing Medicare, which would leave future retirees with fewer choices and higher out of pocket expenses – and eventually, the demise of traditional Medicare itself.  Many members of Congress have brazenly called for Social Security and Medicare cuts to pay for the Trump/GOP tax scheme.

Tread carefully when a candidate promises not to touch earned benefits for today’s retirees, but favors ‘reform’ for future beneficiaries.  This is a time-worn and cynical attempt to divide the generations.  Seniors do not want to see their children or grandchildren’s future benefits cut – and tomorrow’s retirees will have an even harder time saving for retirement than previous generations; they will need the lifeline that Social Security and Medicare provide as much, if not more, than today’s seniors.

  1. Do you support lifting the payroll wage cap so that the wealthy pay their fair share for Social Security?

A majority of Americans across party lines support raising the cap on payroll deductions – so that high earners continue paying into Social Security above the current in come limit of $128,400.   Ask your candidates if they support this common sense measure that would help keep Social Security solvent for decades.  Two of the major pieces of legislation mentioned above would do just that.  See if your candidates agree that the wealthy paying their fair share is a far preferable solution to cutting benefits for retirees struggling to make ends meet.

  1. Will you push to empower Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with Big Pharma?

Once again, poll after poll suggests that most Americans want Medicare to be able to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.  It’s one of the most intuitive ways to maintain Medicare’s financial health for future generations and bring down prescription costs for everyone.  Medicare defenders in Congress have introduced legislation to allow such negotiations, but these bills have predictably stalled under the current leadership.

  1. Do you support expanding traditional Medicare to include hearing, vision, and dental coverage?

Older people frequently experience problems with their ears, eyes, and teeth – yet Medicare still does not include hearing, vision, and dental benefits.  Hearing aids alone can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket that many seniors simply can’t afford.  Some Medicare Advantage plans offer these benefits – but with a trade-off of a limited choice of physicians and other providers. Do your candidates support hearing, vision and dental coverage for all Medicare beneficiaries?

Pundits and politicians have called the 2018 election one of the most consequential in modern history.  That is not hyperbole.  So many issues – and the rights and quality of life for so many Americans – are at stake.  One thing is certain:  everyone gets old and nearly everyone will experience an illness or chronic condition at some point in their lives.  Most everyone will eventually rely on Social Security and Medicare.  Current and future seniors deserve political leadership that will protect both programs from dangerous cuts – and ensure that benefits are boosted to adjust to older Americans’ actual needs.  Only candidates who can answer these five questions to your satisfaction deserve your vote on November 6th.