If you are closing in on retirement age, you are keenly interested in how the three remaining Presidential candidates -- Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders -- plan to deal with the fiscal challenges of Social Security and Medicare. If you are not close to retirement age, you should be even more interested, as the long-term stability of both programs could be at stake in this election.
Here are the stances of the three major candidates on retirement issues.
Donald Trump – Trump plans to keep Social Security as is, considering it "honoring a deal" — although in the past he has called for privatization of Social Security. Trump would close the gap by attacking the "tremendous waste, fraud, and abuse" within the program. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) estimates that eliminating all waste and fraud would save approximately 0.6% in costs, only extending Social Security's solvency by four months. Trump seems to expect economic growth under his administration to take care of the rest of the gap.
Trump has stated in the past that adjustments had to be made in Social Security and Medicare, but he has also said that Republicans could not change (cut) Medicare or Social Security and win elections. This seems to suggest potential cuts after President Trump takes office, unless massive growth does materialize. To be safe, he may wait for his second term.
While Trump would attempt to temper Medicare costs through negotiating with drug companies, again the math does not add up. He has claimed that he could save $300 billion annually through these negotiations — highly unlikely since average Medicare drug spending is $111 billion annually. Expect some yet-to-be-determined policy adjustment after election.
Trump's "Healthcare Reform to Make America Great Again" plan would repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with free market principles such as allowing insurance competition across state lines and greater price transparency. CRFB estimates that Trump's plan will cost from $270 billion to $500 billion over ten years depending on growth assumptions. CRFB also assesses that Medicare cuts are incorporated as a part of this plan's repeal of Obamacare.
Hillary Clinton – Clinton intends to expand Social Security in targeted ways, such as a caregiver credit that prevents penalizing those who are out of the workforce due to caring for others. She opposes raising the full retirement age, privatization of Social Security, and any reduction in benefits or cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Clinton's plan is paid for by increased contributions from the wealthy, through taxing some income above the current Social Security cap of $118,000 in taxable earnings.
Clinton's Medicare adjustments would focus on adjusting weak points in the current system. Reducing the price of pharmaceuticals is a priority, and Clinton would allow Medicare to negotiate with drug manufacturers while expediting lower-cost foreign drugs with approved safety standards. Reducing costs through more efficient bundling of services is also a priority.
Bernie Sanders – President Sanders expects not only to preserve Social Security, but also to expand it. As a Senator, he introduced legislation to expand benefits by an average of $65 per month, increase minimum benefits to low-income retirees, and increase COLAs. (Sanders' plan is unique in using the CPI-E [the consumer price index for the elderly] to calculate COLAs.) These increases are paid for not by just adjusting the cap on income that is subject to Social Security Tax (as Clinton would do), but eliminating it entirely.
As for Medicare, Sanders would create "Medicare for All" — essentially a single-payer system that makes the government the only insurer. Co-pays and deductibles would be a thing of the past. Under such a system, Sanders claims that the government could effectively negotiate prices and save money — $6 trillion less than the current arrangement over the next decade. The plan is paid for by raising the progressive income tax rates on those earning above $250,000, taxing capital gains and dividends at the same rate as income, and an increased estate tax.
Whether you prefer the incremental approach of Clinton, the radical approach of Sanders, or the inscrutable approach of Trump, keep in touch for refinements and changes in retirement policies as the primaries wind down and the general election fight begins — and we do mean "fight" this year. Will Obamacare finally be repealed? Stay tuned.
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