The Athens News
Sunday, May 17,2015
Community members, officials rally for Social Security and other programs
By David DeWitt
A large crowd of community members and elected officials gathered at the Athens County Courthouse last Wednesday to wish a happy birthday to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
This year, 2015, marks the 80th anniversary of the passage of Social Security and the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid.
The Athens County Commissioners, Athens City Council and Nelsonville City Council issued proclamations, while a number of other speakers shared personal stories about how the various programs have impacted, and even saved, their lives.
The event was organized by Athens County resident Warren Haydon, who noted in opening remarks that one in three county residents receives benefits from at least one of the three programs.
He cited figures showing that more than 15,000 county residents, mostly elderly, receive Social Security benefits, while a similar number of residents use Medicaid, and about 9,500 get Medicare benefits.
Resident Carolyn Fisk of New Marshfield told the audience about the long illness of her husband and how Medicare was a crucial factor in handling the bills.
Francine Childs, Ohio University professor emeritus of African-American studies, called health care a human right.
"Civilized people provide resources for other people," she said. "We are civilized."
A total of 17 speakers provided testimony in support of the three programs, while cake was also served, and large cards were available for people to sign. Haydon said the cards will be on display at various libraries in the county.
Haydon quoted President Franklin Roosevelt during the signing of the Social Security Act of 1935.
"We can never insure 100 percent of the population against 100 percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law that gives some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job, and against poverty-ridden old age," Haydon quoted Roosevelt.
Haydon argued against those who would push to cut benefits related to these programs, or otherwise reduce access to them by, for instance, raising the retirement age for Social Security.
"We don't need these programs cut. We don't need current or future recipients to have their benefits decreased," he said. "If anything, they need to be increased."
County Commissioner Lenny Eliason read a proclamation sharing the numbers of Athens County residents benefitting from the programs. He said that without Medicare, many of these elderly citizens would face a lack of health insurance and bankruptcy.
Pastor Robert Martin, of the First Presbyterian Church of Athens, paraphrased U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who said, "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."
"I'm here to celebrate with you today these programs that ensure that we care for the most vulnerable in our society, which is, in the end, all of us," he said.
Various candidates for U.S. President in 2016 have proposed cuts to some of these programs.
On the Republican side, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, from Texas, for instance has proposed raising the retirement age and transitioning younger workers to a personal savings system. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has said the same about personal savings systems, also sharing his position that he'd like a "fair tax" system to replace payroll taxes.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, from Kentucky, has proposed raising the retirement age gradually, allowing an opt-out, and called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme." U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, has said benefits have to be less generous, and the retirement age should be raised for those currently under 55.
On the side running for the Democratic Party nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given support to the idea of increasing the payroll cap but not if it taxes the middle class. She's also called for a bipartisan commission.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, an independent running for the Democratic Party nomination, has rejected privatization, and said that despite rhetoric coming from Republicans, the program is not going bankrupt. He voted in favor of strengthening the Social Security trust fund lock box.
March 29. 2015 2:01AM
Froma Harrop: Obamacare should be less complex
Next to what we had before, Obamacare has been a spectacular success. The Affordable Care Act has brought medical security to millions of previously uninsured Americans and has helped slow the rise in health-care spending.
But the health reforms would have been more spectacular had they been simpler to understand. Complexity is their big flaw. It was the product of politicians cutting so many private interests into the deal -- and the fear of radically changing a system of health coverage largely based on employment.
Thus, many Americans who received tax credits to buy coverage on the health insurance exchanges now must calculate whether they overestimated or underestimated their 2014 income in determining their subsidy.
If they made more than they expected, they must repay some of the money.
Others are finding that they earned less than they thought they would in the year. They can expect a refund. A nicer surprise, for sure, but still, figuring these things out is a chore.
There's another group. Those folks who did not enroll and do not have health insurance are facing a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever number is higher. That penalty will rise with the years. Many can obtain an exemption from this fine but must apply for it.
Some objected to being forced to buy coverage. Others were unaware of the mandate. And many people just couldn't wrap their brains around the concept of exchanges and the choices they offered.
Bringing the entire population into the insurance risk pool is essential to any health reform, and a mandate to buy coverage is one way to get there. But that puts a burden on a lot of ordinary folk.
Medicare brings everyone 65 or older into the program by simply enrolling them. Hospital coverage is automatic. Those wanting coverage for visits to the doctor can pay extra. If they want coverage for drugs, they can buy a drug plan. Or they can sign up with a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medicare does offer subsidies to some low-income people, but they are relatively simple. The program is funded by payroll taxes, premiums and the Treasury. No one needs an accountant to figure what one gets or pays.
There's much waste in Medicare. But the program does curb spending through low administration costs and by setting a price on each service.
Ironically, some of Obamacare's leading critics want to make Medicare more like Obamacare. Rep. Paul Ryan proposes a system whereby the elderly would receive vouchers to buy coverage from a private insurer on ... a health insurance exchange.
Gone would be the guaranteed benefits. Patients of modest means wanting choice of doctor might have to settle for plans with limited provider networks. Those who object would have to fight it out with the insurer. The Ryan plan would give insurers more freedom to determine the benefits offered by their plans. Companies could then tailor their offerings to attract the healthy -- and therefore cheaper -- enrollees and avoid the sickly.
Would some leader in Washington start the wheels turning to bring all Americans into the promised land of Medicare as we now know it? And don't repeal Obamacare. Mend it and bend it to fit into Medicare.
Froma Harrop (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist and a former member of The Journal's editorial board. She can be followed on Twitter: @FromaHarrop.