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Wanted: Seniors' opinions on Medicare and Social Security

AARP wants to get data and repoprt the results to Congress
by: Barbara Sherman, WORKING TO PROTECT BENEFITS — Chatting recently about AARP at the King City Clubhouse are Shelley Buckingham (left), AARP Oregon communications and media relations director, Joyce DeMonnin, AARP Oregon public outreach director, and Suzan Turley, who is a King City city councilor and active in AARP.

Suzan Turley knows firsthand the difference that Social Security can make, and her story illustrates that it is not just for retired senior citizens.

"I was widowed at 30 with two small children," she said. "Social Security kept me afloat along with working. It provided a supplemental income and made a difference in how I lived and how my children lived."

Turley's personal experience is one reason why she is now a big advocate for AARP and its quest to protect Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Turley added that for more than one-quarter of Social Security recipients, the payments make up 90 percent of their income.

AARP has a campaign going to encourage seniors to make their voices heard on Medicare and Social Security, and Turley, a King City resident who serves on the City Council, plus Joyce DeMonnin, AARP Oregon public outreach director, and Shelley Buckingham, AARP Oregon communications and media relations director, recently sat down in the King City Clubhouse to discuss the importance of these issues to seniors.

"The AARP state office is working to encourage people to get involved," DeMonnin said. "People are concerned about their retirement because they have paid into these programs and deserve the benefits.

"The public should have a say."

Turley added, "The beauty of this is that AARP talks to its members to learn how they feel, but the broader public needs to be involved too. This affects our children and grandchildren because this includes survivor benefits, not just programs to help seniors. So many people think it's just a retirement issue, but it's not."

Buckingham explained, "Congress tried to put Social Security on the table again when it was discussing budget cuts."

According to DeMonnin, Social Security is fully funded for 25 years, but Medicare's future financial stability is not so secure. Its trustees report that within 12 years, there will be shortfall in the money needed to pay full benefits in the Medicare Part A trust fund that covers hospital costs.

Medicare spending by the federal government, which currently accounts for just under 14 percent of all federal spending, is projected to increase from $471 billion in 2012 to $818 billion in 2021.

One of the issues surrounding Medicare is that the U.S. is a graying nation, with its beneficiaries expected to double between 2000 and 2030 from about 40 million to 80 million.

Furthermore, there are fewer workers per retiree, and health care costs continue to rise.

Other issues that AARP is working on are long-term services and support; helping older workers find jobs; preparing them for retirement; preserving seniors' independence and choices; providing driver education programs; offering free tax help; and with 10 percent of Oregon's 65-plus population food insecure, partnering with other groups to provide food.

One of the ways AARP is getting the word out about its programs and the importance of people making their opinions on Medicare and Social Security heard is by setting up a speakers bureau for people to go out and talk to groups and organizations about these important issues.

Turley said she has talked to the King City Lions Club and the Tualatin Rotary Club.

Another way is AARP's latest campaign called "You've Earned a Say."

Buckingham said that AARP has a general survey of only six questions for people to fill out, and if they provide contact information, AARP will send them a second survey with more specific questions. "We will not put them on a marketing list," she said.

AARP nationwide has a goal of getting 500,000 responses, and all the data gathered from across the country will be presented to Congress. "There's power in numbers," Turley said, and Buckingham added, "This is so important to our generations and future ones."

DeMonnin pointed out that the people who created Social Security didn't personally benefit from it but they wanted to provide for future generations.

"This is not just about greedy geezers," she said. "AARP cares about future generations."

To participate in the questionnaire, people can go online at earnedasay.org, or to answer the questions by phone, call 1-888-OUR-AARP (687-2277).

People also may write AARP Oregon, 9200 S.E. Sunnybrook Blvd., Suite 410, Clackamas, OR 97015.