AARP directors, meeting this week in Washington, D.C., to consider their legislative agenda, were impressed with a message that Social Security is not just a money payment program, said Marie Smith, Hawaii board member.
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"It's the glue that holds our country together," she said.
She said the 21-member board was told: "This is the one program in our country that brings us together, no matter what your age, no matter what your ethnic background, no matter what your religion."
The Kahakuloa, Maui, resident was elected in June to a six-year term on the American Association of Retired Persons' board.
She worked for the Social Security Administration for 25 years before retiring in 1987.
Key people working on the nation's projected budget surplus and legislation to address AARP concerns met with the directors this week, Smith said. "Some are not in direct line with our policies."
AARP is asking that prescription drugs be included as an affordable benefit of Medicare, she said.
"We want it to have some value so people will want to participate." If deductibles are too high, they won't want it, she said.
The AARP also stresses that middle-income older people need the benefits as well as those with low income and disabilities, she said.
The association opposes the new administration's idea of carving out about 2 percent of Social Security taxes for investments, either by the individual or government, Smith said.
"We feel it would weaken the present system for current beneficiaries. Also, many estimate the transition cost at about a trillion dollars. Where would it come from? It could very well shake the foundation of the basic system."
However, if people wanted to save an additional amount and earmark it for investment, she said, "that's fine."
Smith said the board is wrestling with problems of the Medicare Plus Program, which moved from fee-for-services to health maintenance organization plans.
Many people signed up initially, but companies started pulling out of the program because reimbursements were inadequate, she said.
"Do we go back with emphasis on fee-for-service? How do we attract more Medicare Plus providers into the market?"
With the nation's growing aging population -- especially in Hawaii -- Smith said, "We need to plan well right now. The first baby boomers will reach age 65 in 2011, but they could start receiving Social Security as early as 2008. So we're talking right around the corner."