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Don't Touch Medicare

This column by Chellie appeared in weekly newspapers in July 2011.

As I write this, the phones in my office are ringing off the hook—and they have been for weeks. The message from constituents is clear: please, do not touch Medicare or Social Security. Some are angry and some are tearful.  All are sick with worry over the threat of losing benefits they have earned and depend on. 

Sadly, these effective programs have become targets for those who would balance the federal budget on the backs of seniors and the middle class rather than restoring tax rates for millionaires and billionaires. I find these misplaced priorities unthinkable and unconscionable. I plan to do everything I can to protect these critical programs. Because they work.  

When Medicare started 45 years ago, a third of our seniors lived in poverty. Half had no health coverage. Today, the poverty rate has been slashed and nearly all our seniors have access to affordable care.  
What alternative have Republicans proposed? Instead of guaranteed care, seniors would receive a voucher to buy private insurance, and the eligibility age would rise from 65 to 67. The proposal would also undo much of the progress of the Affordable Care Act, which closes the prescription drug donut hole, cuts down on fraud, and makes Medicare even more efficient than it already is.
Seniors will be asked to buy private insurance costing 10 percent more than Medicare. They’ll have to pay a much larger share, too. In fact, the vouchers will only cover a third of the cost. In 20 years, seniors would each pay $20,000 out of pocket a year for their health care—more than double the figure for Medicare. 
What happens to the many who won’t be able to afford that amount?
It’s hard to think about. These days, Maine seniors certainly don’t have a lot left over at the end of the month.  Most can count on enough to cover the bare essentials and the health care they need. But after supporting their families and working hard their entire lives, they deserve that and more. Retirees should not have to anticipate haggling with insurance companies and taking bus trips to Canada for affordable prescriptions.
What makes me so mad is the fact that seniors didn’t get us into budget problems—they’ve paid their way. For 10 years, though, we put two unfunded wars on the credit card. For 10 years, we’ve given millionaires a tax discount just for being millionaires. We’ve given huge corporations so many tax credits and loopholes that some pay nothing in taxes. We’ve supported oil companies with subsidies while they’ve had record profits.
Now, when the bill is due, we expect those with the most limited incomes to pick up the tab. It’s an injustice to those who’ve worked so hard and paid into the system faithfully.  It’s bad for the economy, because it’s these consumers who are the real “job creators.”  Bush tax cuts for the rich didn’t prevent economic collapse, nor are they doing anything to help us recover from it.  
The debt is a serious problem.  But we shouldn’t threaten the economic security of the middle class to solve it.   Let’s look at ending the $8 billion-a-month war in Afghanistan, ending tax giveaways to millionaires and billionaires, cutting subsidies for Big Oil, and closing tax loopholes for large corporations.   
Protecting these powerful special interests at the cost of the seniors and working families raises serious questions about our values. The bottom line is that we’re considering ending programs that benefit millions of people so a very limited few won’t have to pay their way.  Last year, the unemployed were held hostage to these tax breaks. This year it’s middle-class seniors. Who will it be next year?
It is just not right, and I’m going to do whatever I can to fight against it. If you’d like to share your views on this or any other issue, please contact my office at (207) 774-5019 or visit
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