By Terence Clarey
Education was the goal of a forum presented by Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare last Friday at the Cohen Auditorium in the Aidekman Center for the Arts on the campus of Tufts University. The discussion, which was moderated by Mayor Curtatone, consisted of a panel of speakers answering questions about Social Security and Medicare, discussing possible changes in the programs, and highlighting the urgency of maintaining these programs.
The panel consisted of Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs, Ann Hartstein, United States Congressman Michael Capuano, Democrat, representing the Eighth Congressional District of Massachusetts, Christie Hager, Director of Health and Human Services for the New England region, Associate Professor Raymond R. Hyatt PhD., Medical Sociologist from the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, and Director of Government Relations and Policy for the National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, Dan Adcock.
Secretary Hartstein led off the discussion by stressing the importance of Social Security to recipients saying, “Right now Social Security provides 90% of income for 3 out of 10 people.”
Congressman Capuano gave impassioned support for Social Security and Medicare. “It was a great and difficult fight to adopt Social Security and it was a great and difficult fight to adopt Medicare and it’s been a great and difficult fight to keep both of them. I don’t want to lose it for the next generation.”
Christie Hager, representing the HHS Secretary Kathryn Sebelius and by extension the Obama Administration, touted the achievements made by the Administration, saying there was, “Historic good news about Medicare,” adding, “These historic benefits include discounts in prescription drugs, in the donut hole,” and preventative services. “[By] keeping you well before you need more costly and more risky medical care.” Hager also stated that her agency along with the Department of Justice has, “Recovered over 10 billion dollars in four years in fraudulent claims.” This in the last four years.
Professor Hyatt discussed how the argument concerning Social Security and Medicare has been framed and the societal benefits of the programs. “‘Entitlements’ has kind of become a bad word,” Hyatt said, adding, “An entitlement is something that you’ve earned; something you’re entitled to by participation by a group or class, having paid into (Social Security and Medicare).”
Hyatt said these entitlements, particularly Medicare, are good for society because they have extended life expectancy, and lowered healthcare delivery costs due to low overhead costs like excess paper work, higher salaries and administrative costs that push up the cost of private healthcare. “Costs of delivering Medicare is far lower than the cost of delivering private healthcare,” he said, adding that it is about 1/3 less.
Dan Adcock discussed his organization’s goal of putting forth information about the programs and discussed some of the proposals to cut spending that would adversely affect these programs. “I believe that you deserve to know about plans likely to be considered (by Congress) after the elections and how the plans will affect you.”
Adcock discussed how some of the proposals in Congress, most notably how Republican Vice-Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan’s recent Congressional budget plans containing cuts to Social Security and a voucher system in place of the current Medicare system, would end Medicare as is and privatize it raising costs to the recipients by as much as “$6,000 per year.”
These concerns were evident during the Question and Answer session as many voiced enthusiastic support for the programs and wondered aloud how some members of Congress were advocating deep cuts in both programs. Congressman Capuano said he couldn’t explain the opposition to maintaining the current system but said of opponents, “They’re decent people. They’re just wrong.”
Mayor Curtatone hoped that this forum and others like it would help to educate voters on the need for Social Security and Medicare.
“It was very informative. Very good,” said one audience member echoing the sentiments of those milling around the lobby after the event. Asked how he felt the forum went, Mayor Curtatone repeated the positive sentiments of many in the audience. “There are so many questions and [so much] confusion,” he said. “This was an effort to provide clear and accurate information.”