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Monday, December 3, 2012

Budget Diagnosis, Part 4: Seniors Shouldn’t Pay the Price for Tax Cuts for the Rich

This is the fourth in Budget Diagnosis, a series on the coming major decisions in Congress that could affect your health care. This series explains, simply, what advocates need to know, features special guests writing about different groups and populations that will be especially vulnerable, and provides you with updates from D.C. This post is a guest blog by Barbara J. Easterling from Alliance for Retired Americans. Check out our first three posts here. Coming up in the next post, we’ll hear why people with disabilities have much at stake in the on-going efforts to reduce the deficit.

The fiscal deadlines before Congress are threatening seniors’ ability to stay healthy and make ends meet. We must make sure people know who would suffer in the name of more tax cuts for the rich—it would be workers and retirees, the young and the old, the sick and the poor.

Current and future retirees would be badly hurt by calls to lower Social Security benefits and increase the retirement age. The statistical formula used to calculate Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA) is already a poor reflection of the inflationary pressures facing seniors, and a proposal to scale this back (known in policy circles as the “chained CPI”) would be devastating for millions of seniors who are struggling to get by on just slightly more than $1000 per month. Raising the retirement age—John Boehner and Paul Ryan have suggested as high as 70—would be particularly difficult for workers in physically demanding blue collar and service sector jobs.

We cannot let tax breaks for the wealthy roll back recent improvements in Medicare that help seniors better afford to see a doctor and fill a prescription. The Affordable Care Act is lowering the cost of prescription drugs, closing the “doughnut hole” coverage gap, and providing free, life-saving tests and screenings. Raising the Medicare eligibility age would deny many seniors this valuable help, and retirees would enter Medicare more likely to be suffering from chronic, expensive, medical conditions.

As I travel the country, I often hear from middle-class families who worry about the costs of long-term and nursing home care for a loved one. Medicaid is the only way most seniors can obtain this type of care, but unfortunately many in Washington and in state capitals are playing political football with the program. Medicaid should not be about politics or ideology—it should be about helping people.

I do not know how this critical session of Congress will turn out. But I do know that until we permanently change our badly flawed fiscal policies, we will face these same threats every year. Seniors will always be at risk until politicians finally stop asking those with the least to sacrifice the most.

Barbara J. Easterling is president of the Alliance for Retired Americans. She was previously the secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America. For more information, visit or call 1-800-333-7212.