Residents weigh in on Social Security's future

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

— Will retirement benefits be available for future generations?

Area residents surveyed at an AARP event Wednesday were not optimistic.

Seventy-five percent of participants were either "somewhat" or "very" confident Social Security will be there for them throughout their retirement. No one, however, was confident the program would be around for their children or grandchildren.

The group had slightly more confidence in Social Security than residents questioned at other forums around the state, said Lisa Lamkins, federal issues advocacy director for AARP Wisconsin.

About 30 people attended the event at Rotary Gardens. It was part of a national AARP campaign to hold community meetings to hear from residents about Medicare and Social Security.

A shortfall in paying Medicare benefits is estimated to hit within 12 years, while Social Security won't be able to pay full benefits in an estimated 25 years, according to the group.

Lamkins provided an overview of the challenges the programs face, along with pros and cons of a few proposals to help fix the problems. Audience members each used a handheld voting device to provide instant feedback on questions Lamkins asked.

AARP has been providing the polling results from the events to all candidates running for federal office.

Fifty-three percent of the people Wednesday night said the growing senior population and longer retirements are the biggest challenge facing Social Security, while 30 percent said higher paid workers aren't paying enough into the program.

Participants were asked which of two statements they agree with more. Fifty-three percent said "everyone should get the benefits they've earned," while 47 percent said "wealthy seniors have other sources of retirement income and they should get less."

When it comes to Medicare, only 3 percent said they were "very confident" it would be there for them in retirement, while 45 percent were "somewhat" confident and 42 percent were "not very confident."

Fern Cupertino of Janesville said she lacks confidence in the system because of what Medicare pays—or doesn't pay.

"In my opinion, they're (doctors) charging an exorbitant amount so that they get what they really are supposed to get," she said.

Lamkins reviewed the premium support option, which would provide individuals with a voucher for a set amount to purchase private insurance. Private insurance averages $13,000 a year, she said, and the voucher amount being floated is $7,500, leaving individuals to pay the difference.

"I'm one of those providers who bills Medicare, and I am scared silly that we would think to turn our Medicare system (over) to the insurance companies," said Dennis Home of Milton.

"They routinely have profits that are 20 to 25 percent, and Medicare manages that money on about 4 percent. So we would take all of those dollars we put in, and put 20 percent of those dollars into the insurance company profits," he said. Doing so would "be crazy."

One woman wondered how seniors would determine what type of private insurance they need, because you can't compare apples to apples. Instead, it's "apples to oranges to bananas," she said.

Last updated: 4:52 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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