Effects of Midterm Election Outcome on Seniors
As I write this article, peering into the future, the outcomes of the 2022 mid-term elections are still uncertain, but it is more than likely the Republicans will take over the House of Representatives with the Senate tilting towards Democrats keeping their slim majority.
Regardless of who leads either body of Congress, the survival and viability of both Medicare and Social Security are expected to become major issues in the 118th Congress which starts in January 2023. This is because the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds predict that a key Medicare trust fund will run out of money in 2028 and the main Social Security Trust Fund will be insolvent in 2034. (“Republicans, Eying Majority, Float Changes to Social Security and Medicare”, Nov. 2, 2022, The New York Times.) And, threats to these major programs affecting the lives of seniors did come up during the contentious 2022 mid-terms pitting President Biden against Republicans on this issue.
Medicare and Social Security also were part of the Democrats’ attacks on Republicans leading up to the midterm election. Ads were run against the Republican candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, for example, which may have contributed to his defeat.
Democrats claim that these programs are on the “chopping block” if Republicans are to take control of the Senate, and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington State went as far as claiming that Republicans plan to “end Social Security and Medicare if they take back the Senate.” These accusations are largely scare tactics used by Democrats to try to hold on to their Senate majority, but it is worth talking about the source of these accusations.
Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee Senator Rick Scott (R. Fla.) released a 60-page “11-Point Plan to Rescue America” that included a proposal that stated, “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” Meaning programs such as Medicare and Social Security will be terminated on a periodic basis unless Congress explicitly renews the law. The plan also includes a provision to “Force Congress to issue a report every year telling the public what they plan to do when Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt.” Scott was quick to deny he wanted to end Medicare or Social Security. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who will become Majority leader if Republicans take the Senate) came out strongly against the “11-Point Plan,” and most Republicans have kept a heathy distance from the proposal.
This does not mean Medicare and Social Security programs are in the clear though. Republicans have made it clear they are going to use next year’s debt-limit deadline to extract concessions from Democrats to enact fiscally conservative legislation, possibly including Social Security and Medicare eligibility changes, spending caps, and safety-net work requirements. Some of the changes to Medicare and Social Security Republicans could push for are included in a budget plan released by the Republican Study Committee back in June. This budget plan called on lawmakers to gradually raise the Medicare age of eligibility to 67 and the Social Security eligibility to 70 before indexing both to life expectancy. It backed withholding payments to those who retired early and had earnings over a certain limit. And, it endorsed the consideration of options to reduce payroll taxes that fund Social Security and redirect them to private alternatives. It also urged lawmakers to “phase-in an increase in means testing” for Medicare. Since most seniors retire in this country between ages 61-65 these changes could make a big difference in the financial lives of seniors especially in rural parts of the country.
Since President Biden holds the veto pen until at least January 2025, he has promised not to support these drastic changes to Medicare and Social Security. It remains to be seen what changes he is forced to accept or wishes to accept in order to keep these programs solvent beyond their projected retirement dates.
Republicans have also threatened to repeal the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, including its Medicare reform provisions. Under the law, Medicare can negotiate prices for certain drugs, limit costs for insulin at $35 per month under Medicare Part D, cap out-of-pocket prescription costs under Part D to 2,000 per month, and more. During a speech in Hallandale Beach, Florida during the end of the campaign, the President warned what it means to get rid of these new reforms stating,
“But let’s be crystal clear what it means: If Republicans in the Congress have their way, the power we just gave Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices goes away — gone. The $2,000 cap on prescription drugs — gone. The $35-a-month cap on Medicare — for insulin for Medicare — gone. The savings on healthcare premiums of $800 a year for millions of Americans in the Affordable Care Act — gone.”
But realistically, even if Republicans gain majority in the House and the Senate, there is little they can really do to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act until President Biden is out of office and he can no longer veto this effort. However, they could attempt to tinker around the edges in order to offset their desired tax cuts for larger corporations and wealthier individuals. The earliest the Republican party could take real action against the bill is in 2025 if Democrats are to lose the Presidential election, and by then almost all the provisions that have an effect on Medicare will have already been implemented.
Seniors have to remain vigilant next year to monitor and speak up on the proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare and their health care. We in the “Voice of Experience” will continue to monitor and report on these developments.
“Effects of Midterm Election Outcome on Seniors,” by Joan M. Bondareff was published in the American Bar Association’s Senior Lawyers Division Voice of Experience newsletter on December 14, 2022.