The Truth About Social Security: Setting the Record Straight. Continued Syndicated columnist Robert Samuelson in a column entitled, “Would Roosevelt recognize today’s Social Security?” even claims, “Social Security has evolved into something he never intended and actively opposed.” Samuelson, Will, Simpson, and the other revisionist historians are wrong. Indeed, to state it bluntly, those modern-day statements are all nonsense. Roosevelt’s and the other founders’ words and actions make clear that they envisioned Social Security to be a permanent part of the economy, once the Great Depression was history. They knew that the nation would return to full employment. When we did, the goal was to have in place Social Security and other programs that improved the economic security of all Americans and prevented, as much as possible, the human cost imposed by the
ups and downs of all modern economies. In particular, Social Security was not designed to alleviate the suffering of people caught in the immediate distress of the Great Depression, nor to get people to quit their jobs. Rather, it was set up as wage insurance that people earned. This should be obvious to anyone with even a superficial knowledge of Social Security’s history. Because the architects knew that it would take time and work to earn Social Security’s benefits, the Social Security Act of 1935 was written so that not a single penny of those earned monthly retirement benefits was payable for seven years! But the absurdity of those revisionist historians goes much further than simply being wrong
on the facts. They seek to expunge the far-sighted and noble vision of Social Security’s founders. President Roosevelt and those around him had a sweeping vision that still has yet to be fully realized. When Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law, he described it as “a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete.” He and his colleagues were anything but short-sighted. They were not simply and solely focused on the immediate distress caused by the Great Depression, as the revisionists would have us believe. Rather, they saw Social Security as a “cornerstone,” a beginning on which to build. Despite today’s revisionists, the structure and size of today’s Social Security program is
completely consistent and harmonious with what Roosevelt began. Medicare is consistent with a first step toward the vision of universal health insurance. The revisionists are wrong when they claim that Roosevelt would not recognize today’s Social Security and Medicare. He would be surprised that more progress hadn’t been made, but he would absolutely recognize how those who came later built on what he envisioned and began. Now it is our turn. It is time to expand Social Security and enact an improved Medicare for All. This excerpt was adapted from Nancy J. Altman, The Truth About Social Security: The Founders’ Words Refute Revisionist History, Zombie Lies, and Common Misunderstandings(Strong Arm Press, Publication Date: August 14, 2018).
As Health and Financial Challenges Grow, More Older Adults File for Bankruptcy According to a recent study featured in the New York Times, bankruptcy among older Americans is on the rise. The rate of people age 65 and older filing for bankruptcy is three times what it was in 1991, and this group now accounts for 12% of all filers, a far greater share than in 1991 (2%). Driving the surge, the study suggests, is a three-decade shift of financial risk from government and employers to individuals. This pattern—which includes people waiting longer for full Social Security benefits, employers replacing pensions with defined contribution savings plans, and soaring outof-pocket health care costs—has transferred many of the health and economic challenges associated with aging onto older adults. The study’s findings shed light on the precarious financial situation facing many
older adults. Half of all people with Medicare have annual incomes below $26,200 and one quarter have incomes below $15,250. People of color live on even less. The median income for black beneficiaries is $17,350 per year and just $13,650 for Hispanic beneficiaries. In addition, most people with Medicare have little to no savings. In 2016, 50% of all people with Medicare had $74,450 or less in savings, one in four had less than $14,550 in savings, and 8% had no savings or were living with debt. That doesn’t provide much of a financial cushion for unexpected expenses or costly health needs. While Medicare helps most older adults pay for health care, gaps in the program’s coverage, high premiums, and cost-sharing requirements mean people with Medicare can face significant
health-related out-ofpocket costs. Combined with the relatively low incomes among the Medicare population, these expenses can result in beneficiaries devoting a substantial share of their income to health care costs. In 2016, health expenses accounted for 14% of Medicare household spending, on average—more than double that of non-Medicare households (6%). While stark, this figure understates their actual spending burden, as it does not include beneficiary spending on nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, which is a significant share of out-of-pocket costs. Most people with Medicare simply cannot afford to pay more for health care. In 2013, the average Medicare beneficiary’s out-of-pocket spending on health care consumed 41% of the average
Social Security check, and that figure is likely to rise. While the factors contributing to the growing number of bankruptcy filings among older adults are numerous and complex, it is clear that high and rising health care costs play a significant role. To combat these troubling trends, the Medicare Rights Center will continue to work to strengthen the Medicare program in ways that will improve the health and economic security of older adults, including by identifying and advancing practical policy solutions that help people with Medicare better access and afford coverage. Out-of-pocket caps, reduced drug costs, and dental, vision, and hearing benefits, coupled with elimination of enrollment coverage gaps would help the Medicare program protect the economic security of its beneficiaries.
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