To the Editor:
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle's stated positions on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security do not align well with her actions.
Buerkle says she ''will keep the promise made to seniors and those near retirement by not changing the coverage for anyone age 55 or older,'' but she voted to take away important preventive care service from the 119,000 Medicare beneficiaries in her district, potentially increasing their out-of- pocket cost by roughly $2,500 over 10 years. She also voted to restore the Medicare prescription drug ''doughnut hole,'' now being phased out by 2020, a change that would result in 9,000 constituents losing $10,000 after 10 years.
Of greater concern, she would radically alter Medicare, privatizing the program and dramatically reducing its protections for everyone under age 55. In 2011, she voted to eliminate Medicare's guaranteed benefits for her 460,000 constituents under age 55, providing them instead with a voucher to buy private health insurance. This change alone, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would increase out-of-pocket costs for each new beneficiary by an additional $6,000 in 2022 and an additional $12,000 in 2032. In addition, she would raise the Medicare eligibility age by two years to 67 from 2022 to 2033 for people under the age of 55 today.
When the parents of a disabled child expressed concern about possible Medicaid cuts in a February town meeting, Buerkle assured them that she wouldn't support such cuts. But eight weeks later, she voted for the Republican House budget that would eviscerate Medicaid by turning the program over to states as a block grant and cutting federal funds for the program by $810 billion over 10 years. The Center for American Progress estimates that this would reduce enrollment in 10 years, ''by more than 14 million people, or almost 20 percent.''
Add in her support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and another $600 billion would be pulled out over this time period, a 44 percent reduction in Medicaid funding in 2022. It strains credulity to think that children with severe disabilities and other vulnerable people would be not be affected by the deep cuts and radical change she advocates for Medicaid.
Buerkle says she never voted to cut Social Security. Evidently, she does not consider voting for very large cuts in the Social Security Administration's budget as ''real cuts,'' even though they would have resulted in dramatic reductions of service to the public, including closing offices for four weeks and delaying the processing of well more than 500,000 new claims. Furthermore, her vote to implement an unprecedented, stealth-like budgetary process that could regularly subject the entire Social Security budget to fast-track cuts, would - if enacted into law - result in large cuts.
Before she was elected in 2010, she pledged that she would never vote to privatize Social Security. By January 2011, she went on record on WRVO, saying ''Paul Ryan from Wisconsin has a roadmap out ... we have to have the courage as a nation to look at these programs and figure out how we're going to make them viable.'' But a radical privatization of Social Security was a central feature of Ryan's Roadmap for America's Future. More recently, the Republican Party platform called for privatizing Social Security.
Built, maintained and improved by successive Congresses and presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are fundamental to the well-being of Buerkle's constituents. Her 140,000 constituents who receive earned Social Security benefits spend much of the $148 million coming into her district every month at local businesses. About 119,000 of her constituents receive Medicare benefits and more receive Medicaid. And everyone else in her district is protected by these programs in old age or when unexpected life circumstances occur.
Because these systems are so important to our families and communities, it's important to know Buerkle's real position on these issues.
Eric Kingson, of Manlius, is a professor of social work at Syracuse University, co-chairs the Strengthen Social Security Coalition (www.strengthensocialsecurity.org) and served as an adviser to the 1982 National Commission on Social Security Reform (the Greenspan Commission).