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Seniors uncertain about Medicare, Social Security, and candidates’ positions

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CANTON - More than half of people over the age of 50 in the north country aren’t sure if Medicare and Social Security will be around for them and for future generations, according to a poll by the AARP, an interest group for retired people.

The poll, which was conducted among residents of the 21st Congressional District, concluded that 53 percent of people over the age of 50 were not at all confident or not very confident that Social Security would be there for them and for future generations. Thirty-three percent were fairly confident, and 10 percent were very confident. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

The answer on Medicare, the government-run health care program for seniors, was similar: 49 percent said they either were not at all confident or not very confident that Medicare would be there for them or future generations. The two programs are likely the most important safety-net programs for seniors,

Only 2 percent of respondents said that the two candidates for Congress — Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Republican Matthew A. Doheny of Watertown — have done a very good job explaining their positions on the two programs.

Mr. Doheny says that Medicare should allow more private competition into the marketplace, and that Medicare should make wealthy beneficiaries pay more. He also has said that the eligibility age should be increased, although no change should affect current recipients.

On Social Security, Mr. Doheny says that the program should do more to test for means — to see whether people actually need the financial benefits — and that the retirement age should be raised.

Mr. Owens is against both raising the retirement age and means testing — he says the programs are already means tested. On Medicare, Mr. Owens says that President Obama’s health-care overhaul might be enough to help bring down health-care costs to save the program.

“Bill is committed to preserving Medicare and Social Security by reducing costs, improving care and maintaining benefit levels,” Owens campaign manager James Hannaway said in an email. “On the other hand, Matt Doheny is on the record as saying Social Security is the ‘worst, worst, worst investment you can make’ and that Medicare should be privatized. These are two distinct philosophies, and we look forward to discussing them even more in the month or so ahead.”

Mr. Doheny’s campaign has criticized Mr. Owens for his “wait-and-see” approach to the Medicare program. Mr. Doheny argues that something needs to be done to prevent the program from going bankrupt.

Much has been made in congressional advertisements from Republicans about $716 billion that was “cut” from the Medicare program under that health-care law, a claim that requires some context. The law mandates that no benefits be curtailed; instead, the “cuts” are actually reductions in future spending on things that weren’t working very well, according to supporters.

The full poll, which also gauged voters’ feelings on the economy and other issues, can be found at http://goo.gl/2mOih.

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