Brainerd Dispatch: Nolan talks Social Security, Medicare in Brainerd
US Rep. Rick Nolan Wednesday heard from Brainerd constituents on the subject of Medicare and Social Security, and identified possible reforms to the programs.
About 50 seniors attended a roundtable Nolan hosted at The Center in Brainerd, where the Democrat congressman said there was no "final score" in politics. Nolan warned the programs could be at risk to privatization, where funding responsibility and administrative control is transferred to private companies.
"There are a lot of proposals out there to privatize Social Security—put it in the hands of Wall Street—or turn Medicare back over to the insurance industry," he said.
After Nolan's introductory remarks, Buddy Robinson, director of the Minnesota Citizens Federation - Northeast, gave an overview of how Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid function. He advocated for taxes on the wealthy to help fund Social Security and increase benefits—specifically, removing the cap Robinson said lets people pay no Social Security payroll tax on any earnings that go over the $118,500 line.
"This is what's called a 'regressive' tax because the people who are most financially able to pay more, are actually paying a lower rate," Robinson said. "That's a problem."
On the issue of preserving Social Security and Medicare, Nolan said while the clock is ticking, both programs have decades before benefits would be cut.
"The actuaries, right now they tell us that there's a $2.8 trillion surplus in the Social Security fund," Nolan said. "If we do nothing, it's enough money to cover full benefits for 30 years. After that, they would have to be reduced—if we did nothing. They tell us the Medicare fund is like, 10 years, somewhere in that neighborhood. To the extent that either one of them or both of them need fixing, we have time to do that, and there are ways to that—like scrapping the cap."
Several of the seniors were incensed at what they felt were the lack of adequate COLAs, or cost of living adjustments, to their Social Security benefits. For example, there will be no COLA in 2016 because consumer prices went down rather than up, according to the Social Security Administration.
Nolan said he supported a plan switching the COLA measure to the Consumer Price Index-Elderly, which would more accurately reflect the costs seniors have.
At one point, Brainerd City Council member Mary Koep asked that Nolan introduce a bill that would institute a mid-year COLA, which Nolan agreed to do, apparently on the spot.
"For many of us, Social Security is becoming Social Insecurity," Koep said. "They take so much out of it, and you aren't getting anything back."
Asked after the meeting about the chances of the bill actually passing the House, Nolan said its prospects weren't good, but that it was still worth it to at least try.
Toward the end of the meeting, Nolan encouraged any constituents who might have issues when dealing with Social Security or Medicare to contact his office for help.