There is a so-called "supercommittee" working in Washington, D.C., right now that is considering proposals behind closed doors that would shift health care costs onto seniors and cut their Social Security checks. Instead of focusing on cutting waste and tax loopholes, they're treating seniors like we're just another budget number to cut.
But here is something you may not know. If the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security cuts are made, it will have shocking impacts on poverty rates in Kansas and nationwide.
Given our economic environment, it is no surprise that poverty rates are skyrocketing. Between 2009 and 2010, 20,000 more Kansans were added to the poverty ranks, and the percentage of Kansans living in poverty rose to 14.3 percent.
What's more, 7.7 percent of Kansas adults age 65 or older were considered poor by the federal guidelines. (By the way, the U.S. Census Bureau defines a family of two adults, 65-plus, who have a total household income of $13,194 as being in poverty.)
Another important fact you need to know: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are very important in reducing poverty in America. Figures from 2008 show that Kansas' poverty rate for those 65-plus would have increased from 7 percent to 44.5 percent without Social Security income. Nationally, in 2010, 14 million additional older adults would be poor without Social Security, which would quintuple the number of people aged 65 and older living in poverty.
AARP Public Policy Institute notes that a little more than 50 percent of older Kansans depend on Social Security for at least half of their income and about 24 percent of older Kansans depend on Social Security for 90 percent of their income.
In terms of Medicare and Medicaid keeping Kansas out of poverty, 13.9 percent of Kansans lacked health insurance in 2010. Without Medicaid and Medicare, the percent uninsured would rise to 41 percent.
In these tough economic times, Washington shouldn't cut the benefits seniors have worked for and depend on. Cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits could dramatically increase seniors' health care costs, threaten their access to doctors and hospitals and reduce the benefit checks they rely on to pay the bills. Even more important, it would drive the poverty rates up in this country to unacceptable levels.
Hubert H. Humphrey, vice president and presidential candidate in the 1960s, once said, "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."
Will our government flunk this moral test by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? I hope not. Let your congressmen know this is unacceptable, that you are not a pushover, and that you are not a mere number on some budget line.