How do we make the retirement crisis worse? Cut Medicaid and Medicare
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Jim Betts of Winthrop, Maine, did all the right things to prepare for a simple but comfortable retirement. The former claims adjudicator worked hard, saved money and lived within his means. However, the 66-year-old may spend the remainder of his golden years living in poverty. Why?

He needs to breathe.

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Betts, who suffers from severe asthma, is one of millions of older Americans who are at risk of losing access to vital health coverage if Republican leaders in Congress have their way.

In the latest effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Senate Republicans pushed the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson (GCHJ) bill that would have gutted Medicaid and allowed insurance companies to penalize seniors for being old and individuals with pre-existing conditions for being sick. The bill would have also cut $215 billion to state funding, forcing states to cover less people or provide fewer services.   


If this isn’t bad enough, House leaders have also unveiled a budget proposal that would switch Medicare into something more like a voucher program and make additional cuts to Medicaid.

Medicaid and Medicare both play an important role in helping Betts and other older Americans live in dignity when they can no longer work.

Without Medicare, Betts would have to pay $2,600 a month out of pocket to cover the monthly injections that help him breathe comfortably. His wife Marty, who has multiple sclerosis, is also at risk of losing access to her health insurance under the GOP’s health care proposals.

“I envision being pretty close to poverty without Medicare,” says Betts. “We live very tight. If you take away Medicare and hand me a voucher instead, the private policies will never cover what Medicare does. The copays and the deductibles would be astronomical.”

Sadly, Betts and his wife won’t be the only ones facing this financial strain. Retirement insecurity is growing among our aging population as wealthy corporations continue to chip away at their employee benefits and eliminate their pension plans.

According the National Institute on Retirement Security, 62 percent of working households age 55-64 have retirement savings less than one times their annual income, which is far below what they will need to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

Cutting Medicare and Medicaid would worsen the retirement crisis for the millions of seniors  already experiencing it and force many more into poverty.

Medicaid is the primary payer for more than 60 percent of nursing home residents. The median cost for this long-term care is $90,000 per year—which the majority of Americans could never afford.

Many older Americans would have to rely on financial support from their adult children who already struggle with the expenses of raising their own families and aren’t saving enough for retirement. This would fuel an ongoing cycle of retirement poverty.

Ten thousand Baby Boomers turn 65 every day and the number of seniors living in poverty is on the rise, making it critical that Congress remembers cutting Medicare and Medicaid will have a devastating impact on our economy. These vital insurance programs are the only buffer between millions of Americans and poverty.  Our country cannot afford to take away the health security of our parents and grandparents who spent a lifetime caring for us. 

Eileen Kirlin is a SEIU Retiree Advisory Council chair and retired executive vice president.