September 24th, 2012

A national seniors’ group supports U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono for U.S. Senate because the advocates believe the Democrat will protect Social Security and Medicare.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a Washington, D.C., based advocacy group, is asking voters across the country to sign pledges vowing to back federal candidates who would not cut the entitlement programs to help with deficit reduction.

Carroll Estes, who serves on the group’s board of directors, is in Honolulu to support Hirono over former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican.

Estes, a professor emerita in sociology at the University of California at San Francisco, described Hirono as one of the “strongest advocates” for Social Security and Medicare who opposes attempts to raise the retirement and benefit eligibility ages and to privatize the programs.

Hirono and Lingle both support raising the payroll tax cap for Social Security so higher-income workers would pay a greater share. Lingle, however, would also gradually raise the retirement age to claim full benefits starting in 2027, while Hirono opposes raising the retirement age.

Lingle has backed a premium-support option in Medicare in which seniors would receive voucher-like payments they could use to purchase private health insurance as an alternative to traditional Medicare. Hirono opposes a premium-support option as a potential threat to Medicare. She instead supports the Medicare adjustments in the federal health care reform law, which reduce payments to hospitals and insurers and direct money toward preventative care and expanded prescription drug coverage for seniors.

Lingle has said she would vote to repeal the health care reform law unless significant changes are made to reduce the potential costs to families and small businesses.

Both Hirono and Lingle oppose raising the Medicare eligibility age.

Estes warned that a voucher-like option could leave only the sickest seniors in traditional Medicare and send the program into a “death spiral.”

“Every economist knows that universal risk pools are the best — where you’ve got some people very sick and some people not sick at all — in terms of potential for cost-containment,” she said.

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