Social Security COLA and its impact on seniors

Rep. Phil Roe Contributor
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On Friday, the Social Security Administration announced that there will be no cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for 2011, which marks the second consecutive year that there will be no COLA. While the consumer price index (CPI) shows that average prices haven’t risen, that’s not the experience for a lot of East Tennesseans, particularly with our difficult economic environment.

This poses a great challenge to seniors who are trying to survive on fixed incomes, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. In fact, Social Security was the primary source of income for 64 percent of retirees in 2008, and for a third of them, those checks represented 90 percent or more of their income.

The law allows automatic annual increases in benefits — but only if there is an increase in inflation as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Using a complicated formula, the agency compared inflation figures from the third quarter of 2010 to the third quarter of 2008 and found no increase. Some are concerned that the formula may be flawed. Faced with higher health insurance premiums, and the climbing cost of home heating oil, many seniors have to cut back on medicines and food. This is devastating.

I believe that Congressman John Duncan, from the Second District of Tennessee, has a good proposal to replace the current CPI formula with a CPI for seniors specifically. Many believe that the CPI tracks too many items that don’t heavily impact seniors and does not heavily weigh the items that do. I agree with Congressman Duncan that we should change the current system and make the cost-of-living adjustment more in line with the prices seniors are facing.

While our seniors are being asked to get by on the same amount as they did this year, it would be wrong if members of Congress didn’t ask the same of themselves. Both years I have been in Congress, I have cosponsored and voted for legislation that eliminated the automatic pay increase members of Congress receive each year. It would be wrong of any congressperson to expect a raise given the condition of our country.

The lack of a COLA is not the only challenge facing our seniors. Just last week, Politico reported that a new analysis by President Obama’s own administration finds that seniors will pay more because of the health care reform legislation. Chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster “concedes that seniors may have to dig deeper into their wallets next year thanks to the healthcare law.” A new analysis “finds the healthcare overhaul will result in increased out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare Advantage plans.”

Many of our seniors are on fixed incomes and cannot afford higher costs, but that’s what they are going to get according to President Obama’s Medicare analyst.

True reform should be about lowering the cost of health care, but what was promised is not what is being delivered.  The concerns expressed about this bill are now becoming reality. This bill is bad for America and for our seniors. Ultimately, it will reduce access to care and reduce the quality of care because rationing is inevitable. This is not what I want, nor is it what the American people want — but the emerging details indicate that is what we’re going to get unless we act soon to change it.

Rep. Phil Roe represents Tennessee’s First Congressional District.