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Social Security and Medicare

The Lessons of History & the Challenge of Today

Generations of American seniors have enjoyed secure retirements, thanks to the wisdom of past leaders like FDR, who signed Social Security into law, or Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, who worked in good faith across party lines to save it. Seniors know they can count on their fellow citizens to honor the American promise to provide the foundation of financial stability and access to quality health care through Social Security and Medicare. They earned both.

It's now our responsibility to preserve those systems by beign responsible stewards and realizing that they will not simply maintain themselves. As Social Security and Medicare come to represent greater proportions of the federal budget, they will take money away from other valuable priorities. By ensuring we have a sustainable path forward for both programs, we will also ensure that we won't be shortchanging other necessary investments.

When FDR signed Social Security into law, we made a bedrock promise to provide American seniors the means to retire without fear of poverty. When LBJ signed Medicare into law, we extended that promise. For decades, older Americans have enjoyed universal, quality health care. These programs, while facing challenges, work. I am fully committed to defending them from radical restructuring and reckless revision.

While changing demographics and rising costs mean we must work to make Medicare sustainable for future generations, there is no immediate danger. Preserving Social Security presents only modest long-term challenges. I will work – and have voted – to put both on a path to long-term stability. If you are retired, or nearing retirement, you will get the benefits you earned.

But Congress must make sure that the children and grandchildren of today's seniors look to the future and know they can expect a secure retirement, too. I have consistently urged my colleagues in Congress to get to work now to keep both Medicare and Social Security strong.

Keeping the Security in Social Security

Social Security is not in crisis. Since its inception in 1936, it has run a surplus nearly every year. Only recently have we seen annual shortfalls, but the Social Security Trust Fund can continue to pay benefits for decades, due to a cumulative surplus exceeding $2 trillion. Under even the most dire projections, the changes necessary to provide for every future recipient are not drastic. But we will need to make reforms to the system not unlike what President Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill worked out nearly 30 years ago.

As we do, I will firmly oppose efforts to privatize Social Security. It is imperative that Social Security never be subject to the whims of the financial markets. When seniors watched individual retirement accounts drop precipitously a few years ago, Social Security remained as sound and dependable as ever. It is an essential part of our national safety net, and you don't wager the security of citizens on a roll of the dice.

The Danger of Inaction

Today's Medicare recipients, and those set to enroll soon, have earned their benefits and have planned retirement accordingly, and will not be affected by changes. But we must plan ahead. Like many problems looming on the horizon, this one is best solved now.

We cannot turn away from the challenge of protecting Medicare for future generations of American seniors. It has been an indispensable part of America's social fabric since the time I was born. But just as we risk seniors' health care by replacing Medicare under the Republicans' disastrous proposal, we put the nation's financial stability at risk if we do nothing. If we continue on with no thoughtful changes, the result will be a cut to seniors that will be harmful to many who rely on Social Security to meet their basic needs.

The Votes

  • I voted for a budget based on the bipartisan Simpson - Bowles proposals for comprehensive, disciplined reform. The editors of USA Today listed me as one of the bravest members of Congress for that vote. I voted against the Republican budget plan (the “Ryan Plan”) that dismantles Medicare and shifts costs to seniors.
  • I helped pass the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act that ensures seniors can choose the doctor they trust.
  • I supported the Medicare Premium Fairness Act to protect seniors from Medicare Part B premium increases.
  • I voted for health care reform which gave seniors affected by the Medicare “doughnut hole” $250 toward their prescription drug costs.
  • I voted for an immediate 50% discount on brand-name prescriptions for seniors affected by the Medicare “doughnut hole."
  • I helped bring $1 million dollars to the state of Connecticut for senior nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels.
  • I secured $120,000 to complete the renovations to Cross Road Residences, a low-income senior housing complex in Stamford.
  • I helped secure a grant of $2.8 million to help renovate the Kingsway Apartments in Norwalk, helping seniors live comfortably while getting the daily care they need.
  • I called for a $250 payment to Social Security recipients in 2010 to help them make ends meet in a year with no Social Security cost-of-living increase.
  • I helped write and pass new laws that will help prevent another financial crisis by reining in the risky behavior that permeated Wall Street and helped cause the financial crisis. We can never again let excessively risky bets threaten the retirement savings of every American.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The ACA represents progress millions of Americans and thousands of Connecticut residents who didn’t have insurance before. We have room to improve the ACA, and our goal should be to ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable healthcare.

To achieve this goal, we need bipartisan support to make necessary adjustments to the ACA so it works better for everyone.

My Connecticut constituents have benefited from health care reform: receiving free preventive services, seeing prescription drug costs decrease and keeping young adults on their family insurance plans until age 26.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act:

  • Over 208,000 Connecticut residents enrolled in an affordable health insurance plan through Access Health CT. Many families have received instant premium tax credits to make coverage even more affordable.
  • Young adults up to age 26 can stay on a parent's health insurance plan. Almost 25,000 Connecticut residents between the ages of 21 and 25 have remained insured.
  • Insurance companies must now provide certain preventive services for free. Since the law’s enactment, Connecticut residents have been provided with 945,000 free preventive services, including mammograms, well-child visits, flu shots, and colonoscopies. Insurance policies must also include coverage for other essential health benefits, such as ambulance care, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity care, mental health, prescription drugs, rehabilitative, laboratory services, and pediatric services.
  • Insurance companies must now spend at least 80% of the premiums they collect on health care for those they insure.
  • The Medicare Prescription Drug “Donut Hole” is closing. Before the new health care law passed, some seniors faced a gap in prescription drug coverage through Medicare, which forced them to pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs. The health care reform law is closing that gap. The "donut hole" will be closed completely by 2020.
  • Insurance companies can no longer impose annual or lifetime limits on coverage. Over 1.3 million Connecticut residents no longer have to worry about their coverage running out when they need it most.
  • Women can no longer be charged more for health care than men.
  • Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to the 1.5 million non-elderly Connecticut residents – including 190,000 children – who have some type of pre-existing health condition.

I will continue to look for real ways to improve on the Affordable Care Act, but I will not support its repeal.

Meet Jim

Congressman Jim Himes is a tireless voice for common-sense, independent solutions to the challenges facing Connecticut. He's looking out for the middle class, fighting for affordable health care for all, taking on special interests like the NRA to end gun violence, and working to create economic opportunity for working families.

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