2004-11-11 / Seniors

Bush Victory Clears Way For S.S. Changes, Medicare Status Quo

With President George W. Bush having been re-elected to another four year term, what can we seniors expect concerning Medicare and Social Security, the two federal programs that impact us directly and exclusively?

Regarding Social Security, it seems certain that the president will pursue with vigor his proposal to privatize the program by permitting members of the Baby Boomer generation coming into the system to set aside part of their Social Security contributions in private investment accounts, that is; investments in the stock market and other financial instruments.

The president clearly stated on many occasions during his campaign against Senator John Kerry that this was his intention. He also repeated it last Thursday in his first full-blown press conference since being re-elected.

Quoting from a transcript of the press conference, the president stated, “We must show our leadership by strengthening Social Security for our children and our grandchildren.”

Asked, “How will you proceed now with one of the key problems (in privatizing Social Security) which is the transition cost, which some say as much as $2 trillion? How will you proceed on that and how soon?”, the president responded, “We’ll start on Social Security now.”

He added, “We’ll start bringing together those in Congress who agree with my assessment that we need to work together.” The starting point would be the recommendations presented on privatization presented several years ago by a special commission.

He emphasized that reforming Social Security would be a priority of his administration. He made no reference to the reporter’s assertion that the cost of changing the system would be $2 trillion, but did say, “The cost of doing nothing [sticking with the present system] is insignificant—is much greater than the cost of reforming the system today.”

What do we deduce from all of this? First, that the president is clearly concerned about strengthening Social Security for our children and our grandchildren. He made no mention or showed no concern about doing anything to the present system that would help present beneficiaries, those that are retired and out of the workforce, many of whom have only their monthly Social Security check to get by on.

Second, it apparently doesn’t concern the president that changing the system as he proposes, at a possible cost of $2 trillion, could result in a lowering of benefits for present members of the system. Certainly, he didn’t make any reference to what possible effect the change will have on present members.

More information about the effects of the change in the program will emerge in the near future. Today’s seniors will have a chance to express their feelings about the president’s proposal at that time. But they should be sure to monitor the situation in newspapers and on television and not be caught off-guard.

As for Medicare, it was not mentioned prominently if at all at Thursday’s press conference. At this point, the Medicare reform law championed and signed by the president last year will take effect at the beginning of 2006.

Democrats had hoped to be able to change that law when the recent elections were decided, but the prospects of that happening appear remote since the Republicans gained firmer control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in last Tuesday’s elections.

Thus the president will probably be able to make changes in the law as he sees fit. At a minimum, the prescription drug benefits given under the law will probably stand as they are.

Meanwhile, starting last June, many seniors acquired drug discount cards that give them some savings on their prescription drug purchases. But Bush will not do anything about seniors obtaining larger savings by buying cheaper drugs from Canada, and people who have somehow been able to take advantage of buying drugs from Canada could have that line of supply cut by the federal government if the pharmaceutical industry wants to bring more pressure on the Bush Administration.

Also, hopes that the Medicare reform law might be changed to authorize federal authorities to negotiate deals with the drug companies based on large-scale purchases, forget about for now. That provision went into the reform law with the president’s full blessings, and there’s no earthly reason why he would change it now that he has a new four-year term before him and greater control over Congress. It’s a whole new ballgame and the ball belongs to the president.

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