Older Americans face serious challenges, especially with health and financial security. And with the baby boomer generation entering retirement and higher life expectancies, our nation will face serious challenges caring for a growing elderly population. In 2017, the United States had 47.8 million Americans age 65 and older. By 2060, this number will more than double to 98 million.
We have a responsibility to ensure that people can live out their old age safely, comfortably, and with dignity. Congress needs to ensure that we are adequately prepared to do this. Here is what I propose:
Social Security is one of the most successful programs in American history. It’s estimated that the program keeps 22 million Americans from living in poverty, including 190,000 Marylanders.
The program will face challenges as our population continues to age. The number of workers per retiree is declining. At the outset of the decade there were about 3 workers per retiree. It’s estimated that by 2030 there will only be 2 workers per retiree. And if no action is taken, there will not be sufficient funds to pay out full Social Security by 2034.
To fix the funding, we should increase the cap on taxable wages. Currently, Americans with higher incomes only pay payroll taxes that fund Social Security on the first $128,400 of their income. Raising the cap will help make Social Security solvent for the next generation.
We also need to find a way to dedicate a portion of federal capital gains taxes to Social Security. Many wealthy people make their income largely or entirely from capital gains. Not only are capital gains taxed at a lower rate than income, but this income is not subject to the payroll tax. We should fix this to ensure that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.
I also support increasing benefits for those who need it most. The current benefit structure works well overall, but it fails certain vulnerable populations, particularly widowed women. The poverty rate for widowed women 65 and older is 90% higher than for other senior populations because of the sharp decrease in benefits when a spouse passes away.
Finally, Social Security should take into account the importance of caregivers. Many people take time away from the workforce to act as a full-time caregiver for a family member. Because of years lost in the workforce, they lose Social Security benefits upon retirement. This especially impacts women, who disproportionately act as caregivers. Let’s recognize the vital role that caregivers play and change the benefits formula to take their work into account.
Like Social Security, Medicare faces long-term solvency challenges as well. By 2029 Medicare will no-longer be able to pay out full hospital benefits if no changes are made.
Making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes will help with Medicare’s solvency issues. But to ensure that the program remains viable long-term, we need to address costs as well. The United States spends more per capita on healthcare than anywhere else in the world, but we don’t achieve better health outcomes.
The Affordable Care Act was a good step in the right direction. Not only have millions of Americans received health coverage, but the law’s cost-saving measures have been effective. The Medicare hospital insurance trust fund is now projected to remain solvent 11 years longer than it was before the ACA was enacted. We need to continue building on the progress we’ve made with the ACA and continue to reduce the cost of healthcare. One thing I believe that we should do is allow people to buy into Medicare at age 55.
Prescription drugs are another area where we could find substantial savings. Allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices would save billions every year. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have not allowed this because they are in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.
From 1998 to 2018 the pharmaceutical industry gave almost $4 billion in federal contributions, more than any other industry in the country. I have pledged not to take any money from the pharmaceutical industry or any other PACs or lobbyists. I don’t want to be their Congressman, I want to be yours.
My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and passed away from the disease in 2011. It was devastating to watch him slowly lose his memory to the point where he could no longer remember my name. Too many people have had to watch their loved ones suffer from this devastating condition.
Currently, the nation spends $226 billion per year caring for people with Alzheimer’s and that cost could rise to $1.1 trillion by 2050. But the NIH spent less than $1.5 billion in 2017 researching the disease. Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s will save lives, and it will save money in the long run.
Over the last 20 years, we’ve spent a small fraction of what we should on dementia research; it’s only now beginning to catch up. If we are going to find a cure for dementia, we have to better understand it.
When it comes to funding, NIH is at an all-time low. We aren’t even keeping up with the rate of inflation – the NIH has lost about 23 percent of its purchasing power in a 12-year span. And dementia is only one area where this funding shortfall is costing us in the long run. Studies estimate that the opioid crisis costs our nation nearly $80 billion a year. Meanwhile, the entire NIH budget for FY 2017 was $33.1 billion, almost $47 billion less than the national cost of the opioid crisis.
Right now, the average researcher is 42 years old with a Ph.D. and 45 years old with an M.D. before she or he receives their first big research grant. In this case, less money means less opportunity. The way the system is structured favors low-risk research that can be biased against women and minorities. It’s straightforward – if there’s less money to go around, the allocation will lean towards the research that has a higher chance of giving positive results. That means less innovation and less opportunity for bright young researchers to get a chance at truly ground-breaking proposals.
The choice is simple. We can continue paying billions of dollars to deal with the consequences of diseases like Alzheimer’s, or we can invest even less than that on research to find better treatment options and cures for these diseases. Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s will not only save lives, it will save money in the long run.
Under the leadership of Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH is already hard at work developing solutions to some of the largest health problems. Let’s give them the resources they need to get the job done.
Seniors are increasingly becoming targets of scammers looking to target their retirement savings. It’s estimated that $37 billion is stolen from seniors every year. We need to do more to ensure that people are protected.
I support the bi-partisan Senior Fraud Prevention Act. This bill would establish an office within the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection to monitor for fraud targeting seniors and provide leads to law enforcement to help them crack down on scammers.
I also oppose Republican attempts to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The agency plays an important role in educating seniors on how to protect themselves from fraud.
Investing in the Next Generation
When I talk with seniors on the campaign trail, they overwhelmingly tell me that they are concerned about making sure their children and grandchildren have opportunities. This is particularly a concern in Western Maryland, where too often young people have to move to find jobs or go to school.
In Congress, I will continue to fight to ensure that people can have these opportunities while remaining close to their families if they want to do so. That’s why I support expanding skilled trade and apprenticeship opportunities for high school students. Students who have these opportunities can be ready for the job market upon graduation.
I also support free community college. Garrett County has had free community college for years, and their program has helped spur economic growth in the county. There’s no reason we can’t make this available to every American.
We also need fairer tax incentives targeted toward small businesses. Rather than just handouts to the largest corporations, tax breaks for small businesses can help bring new jobs to the district. Last year a biotech startup called Ibex Bio Sciences opened in Cumberland in part because of Maryland’s Biotechnology Investment Incentive Tax Credit. In Congress, I’ll continue to support federal incentives like this for businesses to locate in less traditional areas.