AARP began to engage its 37 million members Monday in an effort to dissuade Congress from making what they feel would be unfair cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. AARP's "You've Earned a Say" program is being promoted through town hall meetings in every state, online member surveys, and national advertising.
AARP said the program is educational and will not include direct lobbying efforts or be used in this year's elections. But it will build and communicate an extensive record of how individuals are affected by the two programs.
Cuts to both programs have been called for in a series of budget deficit proposals, including the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Since its report more than a year ago, several other sets of proposals have been introduced but sidetracked by the increasingly partisan political divide in Congress.
"Instead of talking about balancing the budget on the backs of America's seniors, they should be talking about ways to strengthen" these programs, AARP CEO Barry Rand said at a town hall meeting. "It's time to have a debate about the health and retirement security of real Americans."
AARP also released results of a national survey of adults of all ages. By overwhelming levels of 80 to 90 percent, they said Social Security and Medicare were crucial to people's financial security and health in retirement, and that Washington was deciding the future of these programs behind closed doors and without listening to the needs of ordinary citizens.
"We all know Washington isn't listening and that the only way to get them to listen is to get you involved," Rand said in a series of town hall meetings in Columbus, Ohio, Denver, Miami, and Richmond, Va. "AARP is listening even if Washington is not listening ... There is no American dream if you don't have Medicare and Social Security."
Here are the challenges that AARP sees to both programs:
-- Social Security can pay full benefits for nearly 25 years. After that, it will still be able to pay about 75 percent of promised benefits for the next 75 years or more even if no changes are made.
-- In 1940, a 65-year-old could expect to live an additional 12 or 13 years. A 65-year-old today can expect to live another 20 years, and thus collect benefits for longer periods.
-- The drop in birthrates and the increase in life expectancies have reduced the number of workers per beneficiary to 2.8; by 2036, the ratio will be 2.1 workers for each beneficiary.
-- In only 12 years, there will be a shortfall in the money needed to pay full benefits in the Medicare Part A Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which helps pay for inpatient hospital care.
-- The total number of Medicare beneficiaries is expected to double--from about 40 million to 80 million--between the years 2000 and 2030.
-- Rising healthcare costs have increased both the overall cost of Medicare as well as the amount older Americans spend out-of-pocket.
-- Medicare currently accounts for just under 14 percent of all federal spending, but it is projected to increase from $471 billion in 2012 to $818 billion in 2021.