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Sunday, January 11, 2004

Social Security, health care hot topics for readers


Your voice: Your responses

On Jan. 4, Your Voice columnist Ted McGoron of Cincinnati argued that it's "time to get real on Social Security."

Excerpts from his column:

That the federal government's giveaway programs will soon be running out of "our" money should come as a surprise to no one except those who believe in lead turning into gold ...

The most irritating thing about the situation is that the politicians know that the system as they have expanded it won't work, but they refuse to admit the obvious and do something about it ...

First we need to eliminate the automatic raising of benefits with someone else's contributions ... We should realize that there will be occasions when individuals can't exist on what they have earned and saved for retirement and need additional help. Just don't call it Social Security. Call it welfare.

Here are some of the responses we received from readers:

Ted McGoron's column was mostly inaccurate but did have one very important concept represented correctly. The system was designed to be a "pay as you go" program. That means that there is not and never was an individual account. The payments are simply a misnamed taxation on the working public to pay direct benefits to those not working. By any definition it is not a retirement account.

So what did Mr. McGoron have correct? He properly identified the program as "pyramiding" and suggested that we call the program by a more appropriate name, "welfare." I offer two synonyms: Socialism and Marxism.

Jim Muennich, Terrace Park

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This is what we need to do, and it should have been done a long time ago: We need to keep the Congress away from the money, for they have used the Social Security trust fund as a bank. All we have to show for it is IOUs which will never be paid. The country needs to stop giving taxpayers' money to other countries. We need to take care of the people in our own country first. Put the Congress on Social Security, then see how fast they fix it.

Larry Hanneken, Bradenton, Fla. (formerly of Southgate, Ky.)

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Social Security was designed as a "pass-through" system - retirees would always be drawing from contributions by those currently in the work force. There are plenty of comments one could make, pro and con, about this system. I personally would have preferred that 100 percent of my Social Security contributions to go to a funded retirement plan - but that is another issue.

Clifford Rhein, Fripp Island, S.C. (formerly of Cincinnati)

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Politicians tell us Social Security is good for us. Well, if it is so good why don't they pay into it? They have their own retirement system that gives them in some case 15 times more than the average person who receives Social Security. Our government has been robbing Social Security for years. It the biggest cash cow in the world, and it funds everything from foreign aid to farm aid. It is time for this unjust system to stop.

John P. Jones, Hamilton

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While it is true that changing demographics and aging baby-boomers will severely strain Social Security financing in the future, several points need to be clarified:

• Social Security is more than a retirement program or an individual investment account. It is "America's Family Protection Plan," paying retirement, survivors and disability benefits to more than 45 million workers and their families.

• Social Security taxes that people pay are not held in interest-bearing accounts earmarked for their own future retirement needs. Taxes paid by today's workers and their employers are used to pay benefits to today's retirees and other beneficiaries.

• Workers receive a benefit based upon their work history, not financial need.

• The only increase that most Social Security beneficiaries see is the annual cost-of -living adjustment (COLA), which offsets the effects of inflation on fixed incomes and is particularly important to the 1 in 5 elderly Americans whose only source of income is Social Security.

The driving force behind any changes to the Social Security system is demographics. Because of our aging population, the ratio of workers to beneficiaries is declining - from 5 to 1 in 1960 to 3 to 1 today. When the baby boom generation is in full retirement, the ratio may be about 2 workers for each beneficiary.

There are various proposed solutions to Social Security financing, each with pros and cons. One option is to "pre-fund" benefits for younger workers by letting them have voluntary Social Security personal savings accounts.

Our lawmakers and the president will decide on any changes. For more information, visit Social Security's Web site at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Sue Denny, Public Affairs Specialist, Social Security Administration, Cincinnati

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On Friday, William R. Brunk, a benefits specialist in Blue Ash, wrote in a Your Voice column that consumers deserve much of the blame for rising health care costs:

In 1990, the advent of managed care and provider discounts meant lower premiums and higher benefits for most insured people.

So, we Americans had very little risk associated with health care. We went to the doctor or emergency room for routine illnesses or injuries our parents would have often treated at home.

In fairness, we were told it was OK. The reality is that we have done our part to cause rates to escalate ...

One reader's quick response to Brunk's column:

The column did not explore lawyers' costs nor the millions of dollars paid to CEOs as bonuses.

It did not mention the rising malpractice insurance costs for even general practitioners, the cost of insurance paid by hospitals for each bed occupied, or the costs that drug manufacturers must charge to build a fund to protect themselves from large awards or settlements that lawyers work hard to get their share of.

So the rising cost of medical is not mostly our own fault. Rather, it's the cost of the legal system that all medical providers must carry to stay in practice.

And don't forget, hospitals must provide free service for those that don't pay.

George A. Fortner, Price Hill




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