It’s just ol’ common sense

Author: Barrett Rainey

Lots of folks have told me through the years “the only things certain in life are death and taxes.” As an official senior now, I know they forgot about Social Security and Medicare.

Several years ago, I reached the age when those two “certain” government programs became part of life. We had no choice. Happened rather seamlessly and both have provided the support they were governmentally supposed to. Adding a Medigap insurance policy – for those always necessary senior health needs excluded from Medicare – has about covered our situation. We’d really hate to be without ‘em.

I realize the wisdom necessary to authoritatively discuss Medicare and Social Security is supposed to come from our “experts” at the top – in Congress. Only “they” have the depth of understanding to conduct a thoughtful discussion of how these major programs should be redesigned and/or nearly eliminated. So any suggestions that might come from the ground up our here in the woods are likely not welcome. Ignoring that “wisdom” here are a couple of ideas from a satisfied senior experienced in both programs.

Without being armed – read “burdened” – by thousands of pages of statistics and ancillary reports from all sorts of government agencies, insurance companies, AARP and other outside sources – and the baggage of either political party – it seems to me there are really just two major things that need to be done to put both programs on a better financial footing. And both can be accomplished in one meeting lasting less than 30 minutes.

First, stop using a mortality table developed in 1964 to determine Social Security eligibility. We’re 49 years down the road from then and two major societal changes have taken place. We live longer and we work longer.

Today’s national insurance mortality numbers have Americans living closer to age 80 than 60-70 as was the case in 1964. No insurance company showing a profit today is using 49 year old data. Only our government.

It should be politically acceptable – meaning a no-brainer – to increase the beginning eligibility age to 70 over a period of 10 years or so starting in 2014. One year up in age each two calendar years or some such. Just cold, hard fiscal reasoning equitable for Republicans and Democrats alike. Us Independents, too.

The other change that must be made is to “means test” Social Security eligibility i.e. the more you make in later years, the less the monthly government payment. For example, make full eligibility for those with a joint retirement income of $150,000 a year or less. Maybe $80,000 single income. Then use a sliding scale of eligibility for reductions in increments of $50,000 joint income up to a point when there’s a cutoff. Maybe $500,000 or so.

The idea that Warren Buffett or Bill Clinton or Jay Leno and their multi-millionaire peers draw the same Social Security amount I do is ludicrous. Under a “means tested” plan, they might not get a cent. So? Where’s the hardship?

Swift adoption of both these ideas is doable. Get rid of all the useless discussions and bickering of what services to cut or who’s not eligible for what. Bickering – pardon me – discussions and amendments can always be made incrementally over the life of both programs. The immediate need is to assure solvency in both. Just adopting these two approaches could provide some stability before we hit the wall.

Those two changes are absolutely necessary. And one moer. Stop Congress from using Social Security trust funds as a private piggy bank to pay the bills members run up! STOP! Both parties! The bandits in Washington have been taking out dollars and writing IOU’s for years. I’ve often wondered why there haven’t been some class actions or other legal challenges for using lawfully dedicated funds for other purposes. Any other purposes. This prostitution of Social Security funding has been an open secret for years. Why hasn’t it been challenged? Damned if I know.

While these suggestions may contain too much common sense and come from the unwashed, non-elected, my guess is both will eventually be on the discussion table in some form. There’s too much at stake for too many of us not to solve the Social Security and Medicare issues.

I’m not convinced the current Congress will do anything. And it’s beginning to look like the makeup of the next Congress won’t be a whole lot different. Voters over the age of about 45 need to look at who we send there. These two issues need answers. It’s up to us to send folks who’ll find ‘em.

So far, we haven’t. And they haven’t.

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