When Marco Rubio said he was open to raising the retirement age for Social Security eligibility, Charlie Crist's campaign attacked Rubio's proposal as "cruel, unusual and unfair to seniors living on a fixed income"--and that was back in March when Charlie Crist was still a Republican.
Nevermind that Rubio merely proposed raising the retirement age for younger workers, and seniors currently living on a fixed income wouldn't be touched by such a move. Crist was all too eager to scare seniors, and you can bet Crist and whoever wins the August 24 Democratic primary will play the "granny card" against Rubio all the way until November 2.
Today, ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary, Rubio is fighting back and seeking to reassure seniors. Here are Rubio's "Seven Simple Ways to Protect Seniors"
- IDEA #1: Increase Prosecutions On Those Who Prey On Seniors Through Fraud And Financial Crimes. Seniors often have accumulated resources such as property, insurance and pension plans, savings, stocks and bonds, and other assets that are not always closely monitored. Con artists know this and target seniors for this very reason. Many con artists’ efforts are successful, as one in every five persons age 65 or older have been victims of a financial crime with estimated losses to seniors of $2.6 billion each year. We must increase prosecutions for those who commit fraud against seniors and help raise awareness of this important issue.
- IDEA #2: Protect Seniors From Identity Theft. A growing and crippling problem, identity theft is affecting more and more Americans every day. A Federal Trade Commission report estimated that 8.3 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2005, resulting in losses of $15.6 billion. In 2008, it was declared the fastest growing crime in the United States. Unfortunately, identity theft impacts seniors especially hard as they might not realize they have been victims before significant damage has been done. We must continue raising awareness and ensure the Department of Justice establishes a coordinated plan and makes combating identity theft a priority.
- IDEA #3: Protect Current Benefits For Seniors. It would be fundamentally unfair to make any benefit changes to those who are close to or are already retired. Marco’s parents currently live on Social Security and Medicare and he knows are vital these programs are to those who have retired. Since the creation of Social Security and Medicare, younger workers have funded programs for the elderly. It is a compact in which workers paid for retirees with the understanding that they would also be looked after by the generation that followed. While reforms are certainly necessary, we must not allow those relying on the benefits to receive less than what they earned.
- IDEA #4: Repeal ObamaCare And Protect Medicare Advantage. By far, the biggest threat to seniors and their way of life is President Obama’s massive health care overhaul. ObamaCare is slated to reallocate $575 billion from Medicare by 2019. The projected $136 billion cut in funding to Medicare Advantage will result in fewer plan choices, less access to physicians and higher taxes. Ultimately, these results are caused by the administration and Congress taking resources from seniors to create new entitlements for younger Americans. ObamaCare will also cause many retirees to lose their current coverage. One study found that the new law’s elimination of a tax subsidy could result in as many as two million retirees losing their drug coverage from their former employer’s plan. As for the millions of seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage, the CMS actuary projected that half will be cut from the rolls. One insurance carrier recently announced it would stop offering its national Medicare Advantage plan effective next year, leaving 92,000 seniors without their current coverage. Many more such announcements are on the way. Senior citizens deserve better than this. We must repeal ObamaCare and replace it with free market solutions that will not place hardships on older Americans.
- IDEA #5: Crack Down On Unapproved Prescription Drugs. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are several thousand unapproved drugs available in the United States today. Distinctly different from generic drugs, these drugs have not been approved for sale or even tested. One stunning statistic shows that of the nearly 4.4 million prescriptions for under-the-tongue nitrodlycerin tablets prescribed last year, about 80 percent were filled with unapproved drugs. The FDA must ramp up its Unapproved Drug Initiative and protect patients from the potential harms of unproven products, especially when approved versions are readily available. Furthermore, the FDA should streamline and more-effectively regulate the drug approval process without sacrificing quality control. These actions will ensure that unapproved drugs are pulled from the market, and that pharmaceutical companies voluntarily put their products into an efficient and cost effective approval process.
- IDEA #6: Permanently End The Death Tax. The estate tax, set to rise from 0 to 55% in 2011 runs counter to the long-held American values of saving and investment. It also puts a serious burden on the economy and, ultimately, hits family-owned businesses and farms the hardest. Marco is proud to be the only candidate that stands proudly with seniors in calling for the permanent end of the death tax.
- IDEA #7: Stop Double Taxation. It is economically unwise and simply unfair to tax the same income twice. Senior citizens, who save and plan for their retirement via mutual funds and stocks, are particularly impacted by taxation on capital gains and dividends. These taxes lower seniors’ standard of living and punishes them for being thrifty with their income. We must end all forms of double taxation.
Not that any of this will keep Crist from claiming Rubio wants seniors to subsist on cat food, but it seems like a smart response, especially the proposal to "repeal ObamaCare and protect Medicare Advantage." Obamacare's plan to slash that program will affect many seniors' day-to-day lives.
Speaking of Medicare Advantage, see Fred Barnes's November 2009 piece on the program:
Medicare Advantage (MA) is the crown jewel of government health care programs. It allows seniors to choose a health insurance plan that fits their needs. It gives them extra benefits, including eyeglasses and hearing aids, and pays for preventive care such as physical exams. Under MA, seniors don't need to buy supplementary Medigap insurance. It covers prescription drugs, in many cases beyond what the regular Medicare prescription drug program does. It requires lower deductibles and copayments, and thus is more affordable. Roughly one in four Medicare beneficiaries has signed up for MA. That's 10.6 million seniors. A disproportionately high percentage of them are poor African Americans and Hispanics.
You'd think President Obama and his congressional allies would love MA. It provides almost everything they've been demanding in health care for years. But Obama is trashing it. He claims it will give $177 billion in "overpayments" to insurance companies over the next 10 years. He wants to cut that amount from Medicare Advantage. The Democratic bill drafted by Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus would cut $113 billion. House Democrats would slash $160 billion.
Frugality, however, is not their motive for bludgeoning MA. There are three things about it that Obama and Democrats loathe: (1) It's a Republican program, enacted as part of President Bush's prescription drug bill in 2003; (2) it brings free market competition and private, profit-making insurers into Medicare; (3) it uses a pool of money they'd rather spend on other programs.
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, citing a Boston University professor, writes today that the higher cost associated with Medicare Advantage is proof that "A private Medicare system would be a costlier Medicare system."
But as Wisconsin GOP congressman Paul Ryan has said, Medicare Advantage proves no such thing:
Ryan replied that "Medicare Advantage did not attack the root cause of health inflation," saying a free-market reform would have to be applied to the entire health care sector to bring down costs. "I’m one of those people who believes that the free-market system will work in the health care sector as it has in every other sector of the economy,” he said. “We have great evidence of" the free-market doing so "where it’s been applied." Ryan said that anti-free market advocates of a single-payer system simply "don’t believe in the merits of the free market," and believe health care "is a government right that must be run, redistributed, rationed and controlled by government."