The Stand

America’s seniors will not be dismissed

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The Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans is defending seniors on multiple fronts, on Election Day, and beyond

 

By JACKIE BOSCHOK


(Oct. 2, 2020) — A couple of weeks ago, President Trump stood before a rally in Ohio and brushed off the COVID-19 pandemic, declaring, “It affects elderly people. Elderly people with heart problems and other problems. … it affects virtually nobody.” He then proceeded to call for faster reopening of the economy, even as the death toll of Americans lost to the coronavirus passed 200,000.

And this morning, we learn that Trump himself has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Trump’s casual dismissal of COVID-19’s risk to older Americans, himself included, should come as no surprise to anyone who has read the news over the last seven months. As the pandemic has worsened, and supplies ranging from ventilators to prescription medications to testing kits have become more scarce, older Americans have been discriminated against, valued less and, partly as a result, represent a disproportionate number of lives lost. While seniors have been moving away from the Republican Party for some time, the events of the last eight months have expedited this shift. Joe Biden now leads Donald Trump by eight percentage points among Americans over 65.

There are other factors besides the current pandemic that caused this sea change. The president’s budget called for cutting more than $500 billion from the Medicare program over the coming decade, despite his explicit campaign promise not to cut the life-saving program. Much of these “savings” would come from reducing payments to partially cover unpaid medical bills for Medicare beneficiaries. Out-of-pocket expenses are already a major cause of bankruptcy for seniors living on fixed incomes. This is a dangerous game.

Claims that prescription drug prices have fallen in the last four years are rated “Mostly False,” as anyone who has filled a prescription recently knows already. At the same time, access to low-cost generic drugs covered by Medicare is being squeezed even further, while Big Pharma continues to game the system and harm older patients. The recent White House announcement, crowing about a $200 voucher for prescription drug costs, was a slap in the face of seniors who spend more than $5,000 on out-of-pocket health care costs, on average. Moreover, the Administration is also pushing the Supreme Court to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even more of a risk since the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which would re-open the Medicare Part D “donut hole” and cause prescription drug costs for millions of seniors to spike immediately.

The list goes on. Efforts to defer (not cut) the payroll tax could seriously undermine Social Security. Programs such as Medicare and Social Security are not entitlements; they are earned benefits that seniors have worked for and paid into all their lives. They must be guaranteed, regardless of who sits in the White House or holds power on Capitol Hill.

Of course, our social contract extends beyond the White House and the halls of Congress, and our state and local elected officials must be held accountable, too. Year in and year out, unions and retired union members show up on the campaign trail to support our endorsed candidates, investing energy, money and, most valuable of all, our time. They must not be allowed to take it for granted. The Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans is doubling down on expanding the electoral map this year, organizing retirees, working union members and community allies to exert untapped political strength in places that too often get overlooked and to elevate voices that are too often ignored.

As our state faces a budget shortfall due to the pandemic-driven economic recession, legislators in Olympia must hold the line against cuts to public worker pensions. Not only have these pensions been bargained for through the collective strength of millions of workers standing in solidarity together, but they now provide economic resiliency for communities all across Washington. Especially in rural areas where many retirees live, pensions are an essential cash infusion during an economic downturn, buoying local businesses that would otherwise be closing their doors for good.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson will be requesting legislation to prevent price gouging this year, which will be strongly supported by the Alliance. For seniors living on fixed incomes, price gouging and fraud has a disproportionate harmful impact, and should be combated at every turn. There is more to supporting retirees and working families than the right to organize a union. Washingtonians should be able to live confident in the knowledge that when they work hard for their money, they will be able to live free from fear of being defrauded or ripped off.

The members and allies of the Alliance will be working tirelessly from now until Election Day to support the candidates who commit to sharing our values and stand with us. And we will continue to work after November 3rd, to make sure that promises made are promises kept.


Jackie Boschok is the President of the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans. Learn more about WSARA here.

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