Dear Senator Baucus: I appreciate your thoughtful response. However, it confirms for me the worst of my suspicions of how exactly you “support” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
As one of your constituents, I am deeply concerned about your positions on these issues. Again and again, polls and policy experts are in the news indicating the very things that need to be done in order to preserve and protect these vital programs. I see none of those propositions in your response. I do, however, see a nominally “moderate” perspective. We already suffer under a national leadership where the left is ever so slightly right of center. Moderate, from this perspective, is all too far right of center. We have tried the conservative solutions to our economic woes for too long. It is time to advance a genuinely progressive agenda.
For instance, I see no mention in your email that you support eliminating the cap on income subjected to the Social Security payroll tax. Were all Americans required to pay into the system, without such a cap, we would face no such shortfalls.
Were we to duly and appropriately tax the wealthiest Americans, we would face no such shortfalls.
Were we to stop frivolous and dangerous military spending on unjust overseas wars and covert operations propping up tyrants and dictators around the globe, not only would we genuinely shore up national security, but we would be facing no such shortages on these essential social programs.
I am dismayed at your support for “once again relying on private pensions and personal savings.” I am dismayed because I see nothing to indicate how you propose to make that a reality in a climate so friendly to the very corporate interests that have worked tirelessly to destroy pension incomes. As for personal savings, I would absolutely agree that we should all be saving, but unless you’ve missed the news for the last few years, we are suffering from a jobless recovery that has little room for optimism regarding sustained job growth so long as our manufacturing base remains gutted and our jobs remain outsourced to other countries. Fewer Americans than ever can afford to save while even fewer Americans than ever are rolling in wealth so great as to bring tears to Solomon’s eyes. It’s not the wealth Americans have trouble with. It’s the cheating to acquire the wealth, the flagrant abuses of privilege to the detriment of the whole to which honest, hard-working Americans object.
Further, you indicate your previous support for MMA as though this were a good thing. More and more Americans are aware that the prescription drug benefit was nothing more than a freebie thrown to big pharma in disguise. If that were not true, big pharma would have been required to negotiate on the cost of medications available through this program. We are also increasingly aware that MA is a similar rip-off to the general public insofar as it continues to give advantages to private insurance companies over the insured. If you were serious about these programs, you would have been a vocal and tireless proponent for putting and keeping single payer universal coverage on the table during the health care debates.
The above arguments apply equally soundly to the preservation and protection of Medicaid.
I fully respect that you espouse the positions that you do. However, I must respectfully disagree with those positions on all fronts. I can appreciate that you will continue to work tirelessly for what you think is the good of the nation. I, as your constituent, will work equally tirelessly to inform your voters of even better solutions than the ones you propose. May the best plans win in the free marketplace of ideas.
From Senator Baucus:
Thank you for contacting me regarding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I appreciate hearing from you.
Social Security represents a solemn commitment from one generation to the next. This program is the major source of income for the elderly. About two-thirds of aged Social Security beneficiaries receive at least half of their income from Social Security. For about 20 percent, Social Security is the only source of income. Without Social Security, more than half of elderly women would be living in poverty. A strong Social Security program is absolutely critical for seniors and the disabled.
Clearly, we cannot compromise our commitment. At the same time, we all must recognize that, over the long term, Social Security’s finances need to be improved. As it now stands, the Social Security Trustees estimate that the Social Security Trust Fund will become exhausted in 2036. At that point, there will still be a lot of payroll tax money coming in each year. But the revenues will not be enough to pay full benefits. For example, in 2036, there will only be enough revenue coming in to pay about 75 percent of promised benefits. So it is clear that we need to do something to shore up Social Security’s finances.
I have worked hard to pass legislation to support and shore up this vital family program. My principles regarding Social Security reform have remained immutable:
1) We must protect the current program for seniors who rely on Social Security for their daily living;
2) We must not increase the payroll tax burden on working families;
3) We must remember Social Security is not simply a retirement program; it’s also an insurance program for indigent widows and children left behind by deceased parents and the disabled; and
4) We must also expand the use of private pensions and personal savings so that Social Security is viewed once again as a supplement to, not a central source of, family retirement income.
I will continue to do everything I can to make sure today’s retirees are receiving their due benefits, and that the Social Security system will be financially sound for tomorrow’s retirees as well.
Medicare, too, has proven to be one of our nation’s most important programs since its creation in 1965. In Montana, one out of eight residents is 65 or older. The average income of Montanans 65 or older is less than $23,000 a year. Without Medicare, many of these folks would not have health insurance because they would not be able to afford it on their own. Indeed, before Medicare was established in 1965, only about half of American seniors had health coverage; now, almost all Americans over the age of 65 are covered by Medicare.
Like seniors, Montana’s hospitals have come to depend on Medicare. Because of the high percentage of seniors in our state population, some Montana hospitals receive up to 60% of their revenues from Medicare. I have worked hard to find ways to improve and strengthen the Medicare program. In 2003, Congress expanded and broadened Medicare in the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA). I cosponsored the MMA because it provided a prescription drug benefit, which was long overdue. In addition, the MMA added much needed resources for rural providers that serve the traditional Medicare program.
The MMA also had provisions to stem the rapid decline in Medicare+Choice, which provided beneficiaries an alternative coverage option to the original Medicare fee-for-service program. The MMA renamed Medicare+Choice “Medicare Advantage” (MA). MA plans are offered by private insurers who contract with Medicare to offer Medicare coverage. Seniors enrolling in MA plans may be able to receive extra benefits beyond what the traditional Medicare program does not provide. For some seniors, however, MA plans do not provide benefits that are better than original Medicare. Seniors need to carefully consider their coverage options before they sign up for MA plans.
More needs to be done to improve Medicare and make sure it remains robust. I am especially concerned about the rapid rise in Medicare spending. A combination of factors has contributed to the rapid increase in Medicare costs. These include increases in overall medical costs, advances in health care delivery and medical technology, the aging of the population and longer life spans. Fraud and abuse may be a factor as well.
We have an important task before us in preserving the Medicare program for present and future generations. The task will not be easy. But it’s a challenge I fully accept, and am prepared to roll up my sleeves to accomplish.
Similarly, Medicaid is crucial to the wellbeing of many Montanans. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees Medicaid, I have repeatedly worked to preserve and improve this essential program. I, too, am concerned about proposed cuts to Medicaid. This program provides vital services to thousands of low-income, disabled and elderly Montanans. Although I understand the financial strain present in federal and state budgets, Medicaid is an integral lifeline to millions of Americans who have no other health insurance coverage.
You can rest assured that I will keep your thoughts on these programs firmly in mind.
Thanks again for getting in touch. Please contact me in the future on any issue important to you. Also, you can visit my website at http://baucus.senate.gov to view information on current issues and to find out what I’m doing both here in Washington and at home to help Montana.
Sen. Max Baucus