AARP sets legislative priorities, talks health care programs
By KALEY CONNER
AARP members gathered in Hays Thursday for the annual western Kansas summit.
Kansas AARP chapter officials briefed members on upcoming legislative priorities and health care changes.
A major focus of the event was the "You've Earned a Say" campaign AARP is launching nationwide to advocate for the preservation of Social Security and Medicare funding.
"AARP is realizing there's going to be some real big issues," said Dave Wilson, who leads advocacy efforts. "Congress is quite dysfunctional; we're not exactly sure when they're going to get around to doing anything, but we want to be prepared for it."
The organization, which strives to advocate for and educate seniors, is in the midst of a massive petition drive. Local members attending Thursday's meeting were presented with two petitions they could sign -- one addressing Social Security and another addressing Medicare.
The petitions will be sent to Congress at an appropriate time, Wilson said, noting AARP already has reached 10 million people nationwide with its message. AARP officials said they believe the two programs should be left intact.
"Social Security, you know you've put in a lot of money in your lifetime, and you're entitled to a benefit," he said.
One proposal gaining attention is the possibility of reducing the cost of living allowance the program distributes. The term being used is chained CPI, meaning it is based on the Consumer Price Index.
"They want to base it on the fact if you can't buy an expensive item, you can buy something cheaper," Wilson said. "That works great if you're buying chicken or beer at the Oktoberfest. It doesn't work when you're buying medications and health care. It's a flawed system."
Some have blamed the national deficit on Social Security payouts, a claim AARP sharply disputes. Wilson said the program's trust fund should be able to continue funding current payment levels for another two decades.
When it comes to the Medicare program, there has been some talk of raising the eligibility age in an effort to save money.
"That's not a good idea because that would put older, less healthy people into Medicare, and Medicare then would have to raise its rates," he said.
AARP officials also took advantage of the opportunity to educate members about the Affordable Care Act. The organization has received many questions about how Medicare beneficiaries will be affected by the new law, said spokeswoman Mary Tritsch.
"If you have Medicare, you don't need to worry," she said. "You're taken care of. You have health insurance coverage."
While some have worried the policy changes will reduce their coverage, most Medicare patients actually will receive more preventive care benefits, she said.
On a state level, however, AARP is lobbying for the Legislature to pass a resolution expanding Kansas Medicaid coverage. Medicaid expansion was intended in the federal health care overhaul, but Kansas has declined to increase eligibility for the program.
As a result, there still will be some Kansans who will not qualify for Medicaid or financial assistance through the newly opened health insurance marketplace.
"That's why the AARP is supporting (Medicaid expansion)," Tritsch said. "We think everybody needs to have affordable health care."