Two factors are making life hard for seniors. With their income flat and health care soaring, Democrats are open to attack in 2016 that they have not looked out for the elderly.
The Post reports, “Tens of millions of seniors will see no annual cost-of-living adjustment in their Social Security checks in 2016, the government said Thursday, unwelcome news that also will flatten benefit payments for retired federal workers and service members. It is only the third time in 40 years — all of them during the Obama administration — that the Social Security Administration has not increased its payments. The raises are tied to the consumer price index (CPI).”
The root of the problem for seniors is that the Obama-appointed Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at zero, and inflation therefore non-existent. That might be great for stock speculators (who move money from bonds to stocks) but for people with savings, it’s bad news. Social Security checks are frozen and the income from savings many depended on is low as well.
Then seniors get socked again:
Most Americans have their outpatient care premiums for Medicare Part B deducted directly from their Social Security checks, and the annual cost-of-living increase usually covers any increase to premiums. When it doesn’t, a longstanding “hold harmless” law protects about 70 percent of seniors from having their Social Security payments reduced.
But that leaves about 30 percent of Americans on Medicare to cover a hike to premiums that otherwise would be spread across everyone. That group includes people new to Medicare, federal retirees who don’t receive Social Security payments and about 3.1 million people with higher incomes, that is, those making more than $85,000.
Their premiums could rise by 52 percent, by about $54 a month to $159, according to calculations earlier this year by the Medicare Trustees, and more for those with higher incomes.
The pinch on seniors will not go unnoticed. Kevin Smith, communications director for Speaker of the House John Boehner, tells me, “This all just points to absurdity of this Administration’s health-care agenda. They feign support for lowering the cost of health care, but whether it’s ObamaCare or Medicare, they’ve done nothing but increase costs.”
Put differently, the combination of artificially low interest rates (kept at near zero because the economy is so fragile) and the administration’s refusal to address health-care costs will have painful consequences for seniors. Instead of slowly rising income and steady health-care costs, they get stagnant income and skyrocketing health-care costs. Many Americans face the same dilemma.
“If you crush the economy it is hard to generate inflation,” observes conservative economist Doug Holtz-Eakin. “If you bend the cost curve the wrong way, it is hard to avoid higher health premiums. If you manage to do both at the same time, it is impossible to avoid harming seniors. Obamanomics meets Obamacare.”
It behooves Republicans to provide programs that reverse these disturbing trends. A pro-growth agenda based on tax, regulatory, immigration, trade and energy reform plans will allow the economy to grow without dependence on zero-interest rates. Meanwhile, for candidates like Jeb Bush, who confront the rising costs of health care with plans to introduce competition, encourage consumers to look for value and cap gold-plated employer health-care plans, this is the time to make their pitch.
As for the House Republicans, they might take a break from attacking Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and instead ask him to bring to a vote a health-care plan alternative in step with the emerging consensus among wonkish Republicans. (“The plans all center on a tax credit intended to help people afford health insurance, along with more limited protection for people with preexisting health conditions and a cap on federal payments to states for the low-income Medicaid program.”) That coupled with real Medicare reform might suggest Republicans can do something other than shut down the government or make life impossible for any mature leader.