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Arkansas Long-term Perspective on Fiscal Cliff Debate

PHOTO: Herb Sanderson, AARP Arkansas Associate Director for Advocacy, goes over the numbers of Arkansans affected if a federal budget deal includes cuts to Social Security and/or Medicare.
PHOTO: Herb Sanderson, AARP Arkansas Associate Director for Advocacy, goes over the numbers of Arkansans affected if a federal budget deal includes cuts to Social Security and/or Medicare.
December 5, 2012

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - "Everything is on the table." That was one of the statements from U.S. Senate leadership Tuesday as talks continue about what to do about the federal budget before the end of the year.

One proposal would lower the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, says Herb Sanderson, AARP Arkansas associate state director. Those adjustments already are on the low side for the nearly 400,000 Arkansans age 65 and older who paid into the program and depend on it for the majority of their retirement income, said Sanderson, adding that he takes issue with the assumption that somehow those folks will just shift their expenses.

"Trading down in their spending on prescription drugs and utilities and other fixed expenses is out of touch with reality."

While solutions have to be crafted in the short term to meet the deadline, Sanderson urges that a long-term look be considered. For example, raising the Medicare age from 65 to 67 might result in some instant savings, but a Kaiser Family Foundation study finds the eventual price bump for consumers and taxpayers would be considerable.

"That would see dramatic increases for retirees and soon-to-retire seniors, would drive up premiums for those enrolled in Medicare, and would increase overall health-care costs."

More than 400,000 Arkansans are enrolled in Medicare, insurance that comes with annual out-of-pocket expense of about $4,500.

Congress needs to decide what to do about expiring tax cuts and spending cuts by the end of the year, or automatic changes kick into place - including a tax increase for most Americans.

The Kaiser Family Foundation study is online at kff.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - AR