September 25, 2013
Grandparent’s Day Op-Ed
On Grandparents Day, Let’s All Promise Not to Be the Last Generation to Retire
By Heather McLaughlin & Helen Davis
As grandmother and granddaughter we hope that this year’s Grandparents Day – September 8th – can inspire different generations to have a conversation about retirement security. We must address a coming shortage of long term care providers and work together to preserve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Long term care (LTC) includes a wide array of medical and non-medical care to people who have a chronic illness or disability over an extended period of time. A growing number of Baby Boomers will soon be seeking long term care services, and almost every American family will have to decide what services they need and can afford. Medicaid is the country’s largest public payer for LTC accounting for 40% of all services delivered. If you are not Medicaid-eligible, you are responsible for covering most of the cost of LTC.
Additionally, Medicare covers a part of LTC costs. It covers some home health, skilled nursing, and hospice care. However, Medicare is meant for short-term treatment, and is not intended to be a LTC program. Medicare will cover a limited stay in a nursing home if an individual has been in the hospital for at least three of the last 30 days. That is why it is so disheartening to hear of politicians who want to cut Medicare and Medicaid. When faced with this situation, many individuals turn to their families for help or tap into the retirement savings.
Social Security, another program vital for older Americans, is one of America’s greatest success stories. For 78 years, it has helped retirees stay healthy and out of poverty. But Social Security is important to more than just seniors. Social Security helps workers who suffer career-ending injuries and illness, as well as children who have lost a parent.
Social Security has not added a penny to our deficit. It is fully paid for by worker and employer payroll taxes. The talk of greater life expectancy (and the assumption that you should spend those extra years at work!) is misleading. A lower infant mortality rate has raised overall life expectancy, but it has remained nearly the same once people enter adulthood. In fact, any gains that have been made have been almost exclusively for the highest income and education levels, not for the physically-demanding blue collar and service sector workers who would suffer terribly if the retirement age were increased to 70, as some in politics have suggested.
The average retiree on Social Security receives $1200 per month. If people think the government spends too much, they should not criticize these modest Social Security benefits retirees paid for throughout their working years, but rather tax breaks for big corporations.
Sen. Tom Harkin’s bill, called the Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013, S. 567, would require the establishment of a price index that accurately reflects costs for Social Security beneficiaries, among other improvements. Called the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), this alternative would be used when computing increases in cost of living adjustments and would consider typical seniors’ costs, including medical care and housing costs, to ensure that seniors’ Social Security benefits keep pace with inflation.
Politicians and pundits try to pit one generation against the other to advance their own agendas. This is insulting because it assumes people only care about themselves and others their own age. People are better than that, and in 2013, life is more complicated than that. Generations are more intertwined than ever before.
While it often seems like we live in complicated, fractious times, we still believe that more unites us than divides us. Regardless of when and where we were born, or what we do each day, we all want to live a healthy, secure life and enjoy dignity and peace of mind. While September 8 may be officially known as Grandparents Day, we hope it is a day that brings generations together to improve the lives of people of all ages. Let’s not be the last generation to retire.
Heather McLaughlin is a Consultant with NC Alliance for Retired Americans & Helen Davis is her 90 year old Grandmother.