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New Survey: Don’t Cut Medicare to Reduce Deficit

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July 11, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Leave entitlement programs out of any deal to balance the federal budget. That's the takeaway from a recent Pew poll that finds 60 percent of Americans believe maintaining benefits at current levels is more important than reducing deficit spending. A similar majority says Medicare recipients already pay enough for their health care. The nation's leading advocacy group for seniors, AARP, also opposes the inclusion of Medicare in any debt ceiling deal.

Carla Penny is a member of the AARP National Policy Council, where she chairs the economic security, employment, and low-income issues committee. She says arbitrarily capping Medicare spending would not really save money.

"It merely shifts the burden to the individual. And for many individuals who are recipients of Medicare, they are unable to assume that greater financial burden."

She says whenever health care is made less affordable to individuals, the system pays in the long run because more people wait until they're seriously ill to seek treatment. The solution, she says, is to address spiraling health-care costs head on. The federal Affordable Care Act, she thinks, has started to do just that, by such means as encouraging preventive care and promoting electronic record-keeping.

The typical Medicare recipient already spends more than a quarter of her income on out-of-pocket health-care expenses - significantly more if she's in poor health. Penny fears any budget compromise that cuts Medicare would hit lower-income recipients especially hard.

"Raising premiums for those folks cuts into their basic financial security."

Some current proposals spare the poorest recipients, while raising co-payments, premiums, and/or deductibles on the rest.

Carrollton resident Marie Graziano says Medicare allows seniors like her to remain healthy, productive citizens, and that's good for everyone. By choice, she works two jobs in the computer and wine industries, while receiving ongoing care for chronic joint issues.

"Had I not had Medicare I would not have been able to get the quality of care and rehabilitation that I needed. To take medications I need, to stay as active as I am, I would have ended up getting myself into a lot of credit card debt."

According to the Pew survey, protecting entitlements is popular among Republicans, Democrats, Independents, young, old, rich, and poor, although support is strongest among Democrats, the elderly, and those on modest incomes.

Full Pew survey results can be viewed at bit.ly/r6vCZL

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX