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6th District candidates for Congress weigh in on Social Security, Medicare

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Congressional candidates in Indiana’s 6th District split along party lines in their preferred approaches to reforming Medicare and Social Security.

A federal report issued earlier this week made clear that both programs face stiff challenges to their continued sustainability, underscoring the need for some type of reform. The reported said that Social Security was rushing toward insolvency three years earlier than previously expected and that the trust funds that support the program will be exhausted by 2033. Medicare’s hospital insurance fund, meanwhile, is expected to run dry by 2024, although the program’s trustees said the rate of Medicare spending is accelerating.

Republican candidates in Indiana’s 6th District, which contains all of Bartholomew and Jennings counties, say they support raising the retirement age as one way to preserve Social Security as well as changing the current model only for younger people. They also prefer state control of Medicaid and increasing the age for Medicare eligibility.

The Democrats, on the other hand, tend to support raising or eliminating the limit on the amount of income that can be taxed to fund Social Security and adopting best practices from other countries or a single-payer plan to reform Medicare.

Payroll taxes support both programs, but trustees of the programs said high energy prices are suppressing worker wages and that people are working fewer hours, cutting program support.

The Republic asked the Democratic and Republican congressional candidates for Indiana’s 6th District seat what changes they believe need to be made to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and how their solutions would improve the programs and better benefit the people they serve.

The 6th District now serves all of Bartholomew and Jennings counties.

GOP calls for reform

Protecting promises already made, especially to those who are disabled and “those who are not millionaires ages 58 and up,” is important, said Travis Hankins, a real estate investor from Columbus.

For everyone else, Hankins said, the programs should be placed under state control “for administration as each state sees fit. We cannot overcome a $100 trillion, unfunded liability with these three programs.”

Luke Messer, a former Republican state representative from Shelbyville, said that any reforms should not take funding away from seniors who currently rely on the program.

“I believe that reform plans should not affect people currently in Medicare or Social Security — or even the people 55 to 65 who would join the program within the next 10 years,” Messer said.

But for people younger than 55, reforms are essential — such as those contained in the budget plan of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Messer said. Reforms could include raising the retirement age and allowing individuals on Medicare to select the health care coverage that best fits their needs.

Don Bates Jr., a financial adviser from Richmond, said Americans have contributed to Medicare and Social Security, and as such, the programs must be protected.

“Social Security should be reformed to allow those ages 40 and younger to invest in private retirement accounts,” he said. “Medicare should be reviewed for the massive amount of fraud, and the administration of Medicare should be reviewed for cost-saving measures. Medicaid should be given back to the states without federal mandates.”

Joseph Van Wye, an electronic service technician in Madison, said he believes the retirement age should be raised for people under age 40.

Medicare costs can be controlled, Van Wye said, by increasing the age of eligibility, negotiating the prices of prescription drugs, enacting income-related Medicare premiums for wealthier seniors and restricting supplemental health insurance policies sold to cover expenses not covered or partially covered by Medicare.

Bill Frazier, a business owner in Muncie, said the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate had stalled “some sensible reforms” passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. He said that the solution is for Republicans to “gain control of the Senate and White House and adopt legislation already in place to restore fiscal sanity and put us on the path of sound financial footing.”

Joe Sizemore, a factory worker from Metamora, said he doesn’t feel the future of the present Social Security system is secure, and added that he would need time to examine it and determine what needs to be changed.

Room to improve

Improvements to Medicare and Medicaid are tied to the larger issue of health care reform, said Dan Bolling, a biotech entrepreneur from Centerville. He proposes increasing the emphasis on primary care for management of chronic conditions and introducing competitive consumer market mechanisms such as price transparency and cost-sharing by patients.

As for improving Social Security, he proposes eliminating limits on the amount of income subject to the payroll tax. Bolling also supports reducing benefits for the wealthiest retirees and gradually increasing the retirement age, while allowing hardship exemptions.

Brad Bookout, an economic development consultant from Yorktown, said he is committed to keeping the programs intact.

“The one thing that can do the most to maintain these programs is a growing economy with more prosperous income earners — making corresponding contributions to these programs at their economic level — along with a reduction in the number of needy and unhealthy,” Bookout said.

“In addition, we need to work toward supporting more effective and efficient insurance and health care practices and systems.”

Jim Crone, a sociology professor from Hanover, said that in order to preserve and strengthen Social Security, the limit on the amount of person’s income that can be taxed to fund Social Security — $110,100 this year — needs to be eliminated or at least raised.

He added that Medicare and Medicaid should be kept “until something better comes along” because seniors and poor people depend greatly on these programs.

“We can, however, do better by going to other countries such as France, Germany, Norway and Sweden and pick the best aspects of their health care systems and incorporate these aspects into our system to make our system less costly, to cover all Americans, and to make sure that people have health care if they lose their job,” Crone said.

Social Security is solvent, in good shape and doesn’t need to be privatized, but borrowing from the fund must be prohibited, said George Holland, a retired pharmaceutical salesman from Rushville.

Medicare, Medicaid and all Americans would be served best by a single-payer health care plan, Holland said.

He believes only health insurance companies benefit from the current model, and Americans don’t get a good return on what they pay for health care.

Susan Hall Heitzman, a retired schoolteacher from North Vernon, did not offer specific reform proposals but said the problems affecting Social Security and Medicare are related to Congress’ overall ineffectiveness and to the power of special interest groups.

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