The president’s budget proposal will have a big impact on the elderly if Congress adopts it

Apresidential budget is a statement of principle, a road map to an administration’s policy goals and its ideal funding levels for specific departments. And President Trump’s budget priorities would have a big impact on seniors in the coming decade if adopted by Congress. Here’s what you need to know:
Trump’s proposal would reportedly cut funding to many departments the elderly depend on. It would cut the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees all federal healthcare programs, by 20.3 percent, which would cut 30 percent of the budget for food stamps (now known as SNAP), introducing “food packages” instead of the current debit cards that can be used at markets. Also targeted for cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars are Medicare and Medicaid (which benefit one-third of all Americans); much of the federal healthcare budget would become the responsibility of individual states, which are already struggling to meet residents’ needs.
The proposal would also cut multiple programs many financially challenged seniors currently count on, such as heating and housing assistance. It would slash certain prescription drug benefits and prohibit Medicare from fully negotiating directly with pharmaceutical companies, which experts agree is the most effective way to bring prices down. Millions of older people could wind up paying more than they currently do for prescription drugs, analysts say, and fewer medications might be covered.
On the plus side, Trump’s proposal would eliminate the 5 percent co-pay for sick seniors who reach the “catastrophic” drug-cost threshold. But it would also become more difficult to qualify for that level of coverage, and those just under the threshold would reportedly pay more than before. Social Security’s retirement and survivor benefit payments would not be cut, although the department’s staff would be slashed at a time when 10,000 baby boomers a day are reaching retirement age. And for those staffers who remain, the overtime allotted to keep up with that increased demand has been cut to less than one-third of what was allowed in 2017. Senior advocates worry that the staffing decreases signal a goal to eventually dismantle or completely privatize the Social Security program.
The president’s plan would also make it more difficult for physicians to refer Medicare patients to other providers, some analysts say, making it harder for some seniors to access care their doctors recommend. And the proposed 2019 budget includes elimination of community development block grants, a program that helps local governments take on serious community-wide problems, such as affordable housing and meal delivery services to the housebound and isolated, including Meals on Wheels.
Americans across the political spectrum have spoken out against the proposed cuts, which seem to herald a change in America’s basic policy toward its seniors, who are living and working longer than ever before and may be counting on their country to deliver on its promises. Conservative writer Jennifer Rubin, whose Right Turn blog appears in the Washington Post, has written: “Despite having become the governing party, Republicans still show little interest or competence in governing with a broad-based vision of what quaintly used to be called the ‘public good.’” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., has also denounced the administration’s proposed budget.
Trump’s proposal likely won’t be enacted this year since Congress just passed a two-year spending program. But the CBPP says it “shows what he would seek to achieve over the remainder of his administration” (although Democratic inroads in the 2018 midterm elections would likely pose a big obstacle). Seniors would be among the millions more Americans who would lose health insurance coverage under the proposed health-care cuts criticized by the CBPP, increasing hardships for low- and moderate-income families.
Millions of seniors and those approaching retirement have amassed enough assets to assure themselves a financially comfortable old age. Many more millions who may have worked just as long and hard are financially insecure. Half of Medicare recipients live on incomes of under $26,200 a year and lack the resources for their basic needs, according to the National Council on Aging based in Arlington, VA. In the perfect storm of more deregulation, skyrocketing costs for housing, food and medical care, many middle-class Americans face a troubled financial existence once they are too old to work, analysts say.
Here are just a few random facts that highlight the costs of survival for American seniors: The national average annual rate for a semi-private room in a nursing home was $81,030 in 2012, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute. That does not even include all the extra therapies, medicines and special care often required during such a stay. Basic Medicare does not cover hearing aids or dental work, both of which are costly and afflict the elderly more than any other group. About 5 million older Americans rely on SNAP for food while making ends meet. Most live alone, and on average receive $108 per month to help put food on the table.
The question becomes one of basic national philosophy rather than one of political party preference: How should we treat our oldest citizens? Do we penalize those who have worked all their lives, but not been able to amass the funds needed to survive a lengthy illness — or simply survive? Some respected analysts say such questions are irrelevant. They contend that it’s economically unfeasible, given the tremendous rise in older Americans now flooding the population, to continue providing seniors with the traditional entitlements. Others assert there’s enough money to continue and even improve support for old people, if only we set different priorities than this budget’s authors do. They say the government has faced similar challenges over the years, but with both parties working together to make changes that assure the programs’ solvency, those problems have always been solved. They say the same can happen now.