The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 6, 2012

Medicare, Social Security big issues

Dave Sutor

— Every county within Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District has a higher percentage of citizens collecting Medicare than the state’s overall rate of 17.8. Cambria, Somerset, Lawrence, Westmoreland and Beaver are all more than 20 percent. Allegheny is just shy of that mark.

The statistics are similar for Social Security. In all of those counties, except Allegheny, the percentage of recipients is right around 25. The commonwealth’s rate is 20.3.

So, obviously, many local voters are concerned about the well-being of those programs, which will come under increased financial pressure as the senior citizen population continues to grow in the upcoming years.

Therefore, office-seekers, such as U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johns­town, and Republican Keith Rothfus in the 12th, often spend a lot of time discussing those subjects on the campaign trail.

“I think both Social Security and Medicare are hot-button issues for southwest Pennsylvania, probably because of the number of people here who benefit from those programs,” said Richard Fiesta, director of government and political affairs for the Alliance for Retired Americans.

Critz opposes raising the retirement age when workers traditionally become eligible for Medicare and Social Security.

“It is very easy for politicians to support legislation to make people work longer. But they don’t work in steel mills, work construction or any other job that requires physical labor that takes a toll on a person’s body,” said Critz. “It is wrong to ask people who work these jobs to work until they are 70 years old before they can retire.”

The congressman believes the problems with Social Security and Medicare can be addressed without having to take the big step of privatizing the programs. He stands against switching Medicare from its current benefit-guaranteed form into a voucher format. Critz earned a Social Security and Medicare Hero Award from the Alliance for Retired Americans and received an endorsement from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Critz’s campaign manager, Mike Mikus, called his candidate a person “committed to strengthening and protecting” the two programs.

Rothfus, a cancer survivor, got the opportunity to speak about Medicare in late August during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

“We’ve heard, and will continue to hear, a great deal about health care and Medicare in this election, and that’s a good thing,” he told an audience of party faithful gathered inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Rothfus feels the first step needed to secure Medicare’s future is to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a law passed by House and Senate Democrats before Critz joined Congress. The Allegheny County lawyer described the massive health-care overhaul as a “clear and imminent threat to Medicare” because it calls for reducing spending on the program by more than $700 billion during the next 10 years, mostly through cuts in payments to insurance companies and hospitals.

“He’s making more sense in terms of how to fix Medicare and keep what we have for our seniors,” said Cambria County President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder, a Republican who plans to soon formally endorse Rothfus.

Although Rothfus has not specifically called for privatization of either program, he seemed to consider the possibility during a recent virtual town hall. When discussing Medicare Part D, a prescription drug program that uses a private, for-profit, premium-support model, he said, “By introducing competitive elements there are ways to help recover costs without having the federal government in command and control from Washington, D.C.”

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