Cutting The Federal Safety Net – Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid

“Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members. ”  

                                                                                                                    Pearl S. Buck


In The Cross Hairs

Last year, Congress and President Trump made clear their fiscal priorities: Cut taxes, grow defense spending and don’t worry for now about the rising federal budget deficit. The House GOP plan last spring would have cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to balance the budget. These three programs will continue to be in the cross hairs of cost cutting and budget balancing in the face of rising deficits.

The Power and Influence of Older Voters

According to the Census Bureau the baby boomers began turning 65 in 2011 and are now driving growth at the older ages of the population. By 2029, when all of the baby boomers will be 65 years and over, more than 20 percent of the total U.S. population will be over the age of 65. 

“Candidates of both parties need to think about—and talk to—older voters in their states and districts,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer. “They are the nation’s most reliable voters. They are informed and engaged, and they make up their minds early. “   

“Both parties have to do well with the senior vote if they are going to do well in the general election,” says Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard University professor of government who has studied voter turnout for decades. Many of the most competitive House races will be in states with high senior populations, such as Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

While older people care about a broad range of issues, proposed changes in these three programs will drastically change their lives, and the lives of their families.

Will Social Security be cut?

Cuts to Social Security and Medicare are a reason to worry. Unless something is done to shore up Social Security, monthly checks could be cut by 23% by 2034. A report by Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that Medicare’s hospital insurance fund will be depleted in 2026, three years earlier than it forecast a year ago.  

The most immediate way Congress could make cuts to the Social Security Administration (SSA) is through the funding it provides in federal spending bills.  Eventually, Congress will need to address Social Security’s long-term fiscal health.

What’s less clear is when the legislature might tackle that debate, and which policies it might consider.  A GOP proposal to balance the budget included preventing people on Social Security Disability insurance from getting unemployment benefits.  In the past, options have ranged from privatizing parts of the program — a proposal that was rejected during the George W. Bush administration — to raising the age to become eligible for retirement benefits. Whatever path Congress ultimately pursues, Social Security advocates urge voters to make sure they get real answers from politicians.   

 Will Medicare be restructured? 

Washington always comes back to worrying about the deficit. And when it does, Medicare, which accounts for 15 percent of the federal budget, inevitably comes to mind. So when trimming the deficit again becomes an issue, “It’s quite possible that Medicare will be back on the chopping block,” says Tricia Neuman, Medicare expert at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

One future possibility is Medicare beneficiaries will have to pick up a larger share of health costs. That means higher premiums, copays and cost sharing. Another alternative would be a voucher program where each beneficiary would receive a flat amount of money each year to buy health insurance. Others are promoting increasing age of eligibility to 67 or higher. This administration has proposed short term limited benefit insurance policies. But insurance companies can charge much higher premiums for seniors and don’t have to cover pre-existing conditions. 

Will Medicaid Be Severed?

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for people with limited income and resources. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the survival of Medicaid will be in the hands of the state and federal officials we elect this fall.

Who is on Medicaid might surprise you. It could be your grandmother—one-quarter of Medicaid enrollees are elderly people or disabled adults.It could be the child next door. About half of Medicaid enrollees are children, many of them with special needs. The rest are adults without disabilities who earn too little to afford health insurance otherwise. Many of them are working: Six in 10 able-bodied adults on Medicaid have a job. And 78 percent of Medicaid recipients are part of a household with at least one person working full time. Many of those who don’t work are caregivers for other people.

The most persistent federal suggestion for reforming Medicaid is to turn it into a block grant program. Right now, as long as someone qualifies for the program, he or she is entitled to all the benefits covered. Under a block grant, states would get a fixed amount of money from the federal government. If Medicaid enrollees needed more care than the block grant paid for, states would have to make up the difference — or cut benefits or scale back who is eligible.

Supporters of block grants say it would get the entitlement program under control. Opponents counter that it would lead to millions of people being left without the care they need. 


Volunteer if a Democratic candidate  is local, or within driving distance. This can take the form of phone banking (can be done at home), canvasing, fundraising, and/or attending public events, rallies, debates, and organizing.

Another option is to donate.  To all. To a few. No amount is too small. Find the blank section of the donation section and add your own amount. My prior A State By State Sizzling Hot Season post has been updated August 29 to include all primary results.

Contact your candidate at his or her campaign headquarters. Ask the following questions regarding proposed changes to our Federal Safety Net:

 On Social Security 

  1. Will you continue to fund Social Security and improve service?
  2. Are you committed to having annual cost-of-living adjustments keep up with inflation?
  3. Would you raise the age for full retirement benefits?
  4. Would you raise the cap on payroll taxes? (Workers pay into Social Security for the first $128,400 earned in 2018. Raising the cap would boost funding.)

On Medicare

  1. Do you believe Medicare benefits should be cut as a way to reduce the budget deficit?
  2. Do you favor converting Medicare to a voucher program?
  3. What changes would you make to insure that individuals continue to get promised benefits?
  4. Do you support expanding coverage to include hearing, vision, and dental care?

On Medicaid

  1. Will you promise not to cut Medicaid to pay for tax cuts or other spending?
  2. Will you oppose making Medicaid a block grant program?
  3. Will you support Medicaid guaranteeing long-term care services at home?
  4. Should Medicaid recipients be subject to work requirements?


“It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ”  

                                                                                                        Hubert Humphrey

About Debra29

I am a retired public school teacher who believes that a strong democracy rests on the shoulders of its citizens. This blog was created as a central resource of civic engagement. Together, we can make a difference. Follow me on Twitter: Determined@2AlterTheCourse
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