WASHINGTON — Most U.S. adults are opposed to proposals that would cut into Medicare or Social Security benefits, and a majority support raising taxes on the nation’s highest earners to keep Medicare running as is.
The new findings, revealed in a March poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, come as both safety net programs are poised to run out of enough cash to pay out full benefits within the next decade.
Few Americans would be OK with some ways politicians have suggested to shore up the programs: 79 percent say they oppose reducing the size of Social Security benefits and 67 percent are against raising monthly premiums for Medicare. About 65 million older and disabled people access government-sponsored health insurance through Medicare and rely on monthly payments from Social Security.
Instead, a majority — 58 percent — support the idea of increasing taxes on households making over $400,000 yearly to pay for Medicare, a plan proposed by President Joe Biden last month.
Ninety-year-old Marilyn Robinson disagrees with nearly everything the Democratic leader says, but she thinks his plan to increase taxes on wealthy Americans to pay for the health care program’s future makes sense.
She doesn’t know anyone in her rural, farming town of White Creek, New York, who makes that much money. Robinson herself, who has been on Medicare for the past 25 years, receives just $1,386 in Social Security and pension checks every month.
“I can survive on that much money,” she said. “But if you’re talking about $400,000, you’re just in another category. There’s nobody around here making money like that.”
That’s about the only change to the entitlement programs that most Americans say they would support.
One way or another, changes are in store for the programs. Last week, the annual Social Security and Medicare trustees report released Friday warned that Medicare will only have enough cash to cover 89 percent of payments for inpatient hospital visits and nursing home stays by 2031. Just two years later, Social Security will only be able to pay 77 percent of benefits to retirees.
The poll found that many Americans have doubts about the stability of both programs: Only about 2 in 10 are very or extremely confident that the benefits from either program will be available to them when they need them, while about half have little or no confidence.
Republican and Democratic leaders have publicly promised not to cut benefits for Social Security or Medicare. Some Republicans, however, have floated the idea of raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to keep the programs flush.
But a majority of Americans overwhelmingly reject that, too. Three-quarters of Americans say they oppose raising the eligibility age for Social Security benefits from 67 to 70, and 7 in 10 oppose raising the eligibility age for Medicare benefits from 65 to 67.
U.S. lawmakers who support raising the eligibility to keep those programs afloat may have been given a preview of the difficult road ahead in France, where the president’s proposal to increase the country’s pension retirement age from 62 to 64 has been met with violence and demonstrations by 1 million people.
Back in the U.S., 29-year-old James Evins in San Francisco says he doesn’t worry much about the future of Social Security or Medicare programs. As a middle school language arts teacher, he thinks he’ll have enough money saved in the state’s retirement program down the road.
“Couldn’t they raise more money for the fund?” asked Evins, who added that raising Medicare taxes on those making $400,000 or more is a better option. “That sucks for people who are trying to retire. To me, 65 is so late.”
Just 10 years out from his planned retirement, 55-year-old Mark Ferley of Chesapeake, Virginia, is worried about the future of the programs — and that he won’t get back the money he paid in. He supports raising the eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare to 70. Ferley, who said he leans conservative, also believes that taxes should be raised on households earning $400,000 or more to keep the social programs solvent.
While most support increasing taxes on households earning more than $400,000 a year to pay for Medicare, the poll shows a political divide on doing so: 75 percent of Democrats support the tax but Republicans are closely divided, with 42 percent in favor, 37 percent opposed and 20 percent supporting neither.
While the American public may be in agreement on solutions for the programs, Ferley worries that elected officials won’t come up with a plan to fix the program.
“Until our leadership determines that the term compromise is no longer a dirty word, I don’t have a whole lot of optimism,” he said.
His concerns are valid, said Paul Ginsburg, a professor of health policy at the University of Southern California. Most legislators are not taking dire warnings about the future of Social Security and Medicare seriously. Instead, the federal government is coming up with short-term solutions to keep the programs extended for a few more years.
“People are just going to go back to business as usual and not worry about it,” Ginsburg said Friday, after the latest trustees’ report warned of Social Security and Medicare shortfalls on the horizon. “It’s particularly problematic for Social Security. In Social Security, you have a situation where if you make changes now, they can be quite modest. If you wait until 2035, they’re going to be draconian.”
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