These are tough times for seniors, especially those relying on Social Security for all or most of their income. According to 2008 AARP data, three out of five Maine Social Security beneficiaries rely on Social Security for half or more of their income, and for three of every 10 beneficiaries, Social Security is their only source of income.
Each year, as these Mainers look at their tight budgets to figure out how to pay for their rising costs, they have counted on a very modest cost of living adjustment, or COLA, to their Social Security checks to help keep them afloat. Recently, many of these seniors have found their COLA just barely covered the increases in their Medicare Part B premiums, let alone prescription drug price increases.
So when it was announced this year that there would be no COLA for 2010, anxiety took hold for many. Unfortunately, the reason behind this bad news is no comfort to them: the formula for determining the COLA overestimates the cost of some items like fuel and underestimates the impact of health care costs, leading to a determination that there is no inflation, despite what your grocery receipts may be telling you. Changing the formula would be helpful, but would likely be a long legislative and bureaucratic fight.
With about half of our 40 million members on Social Security, AARP is acutely aware of this problem and we have been working in Washington to find immediate relief. While there is more to be done, we see encouraging signs of progress toward addressing this issue.
The first sign came when the House passed the Medicare Premium Fairness Act, HR 3631, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan 406-18 vote. Both Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree can be thanked for supporting this bill, which would ensure that Part B premiums would not increase in 2010 thereby helping to prevent a cut in Social Security checks next year.
The second sign came Oct. 14 when President Barack Obama proposed a $250 relief for older Americans, joining numerous members of Congress who have also sponsored legislation to provide similar relief.
AARP urges Congress to pass legislation quickly to provide needed assistance for millions of older Americans whose incomes will be stagnant while their costs for prescription drugs and other health care costs continue to skyrocket. This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue, but an issue of maintaining the dignity of all Mainers as they age. Please let your elected leaders in Washington know how important this issue is to you and ask them to take action to provide needed relief for our older Americans.
Nancy Kelleher is AARP’s Maine state director.