The contest for Michigan’s 8th Congressional District is expected to be tight this year, as incumbent Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D) squares off against Paul Junge (R), a former news anchor and immigration official in the Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump. To understand how they plan to protect Social Security and Medicare, stimulate the economy, lower prescription drug prices and ensure that Americans have access to affordable long-term care, AARP Michigan asked each candidate to answer five key questions in 60-second videos. Here are their responses, with transcripts:
1. Social Security is a self-financed, off-budget program that half of all seniors rely on for more than 50 percent of their income. If elected, how will you ensure that current and future Social Security benefits are not cut as part of deficit reduction?
Junge: The federal government has a moral obligation to honor its promises to retirees and to those nearing retirement age. We have to fight to preserve Social Security for all generations. The idea of cutting Social Security benefits for those counting on that income — that’s no part of the answer. Seniors have worked a lifetime, earning their Social Security benefits. As your member of Congress, I’ll fight to preserve your benefits. I’ll fight to protect Social Security.
Slotkin: I have been very clear: We should not do that on the backs of seniors who have earned those benefits. I have and will oppose any efforts to reduce deficits by depriving seniors of the Medicare and Social Security benefits they have spent a lifetime earning. And I believe we need Congress to work together across party lines to keep those benefits secure.
2. On average, health care already accounts for $1 out of every $6 spent by seniors. If elected, how will you protect Medicare from benefit cuts, lower health care costs and ensure seniors continue receiving the affordable care they have earned?
Slotkin: The high cost of health care is the topic I hear most from constituents across age groups. And we need to protect the Medicare benefits that seniors have earned. While the Affordable Care Act has enabled significant progress in making health coverage affordable and available, rising premiums and rising costs of prescription drugs continue to put pressure on families. There are bipartisan solutions, but the most obvious ones are allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. It’s just like the Costco model: When you buy in bulk, you should get lower prices. I support commonsense solutions like this.
Junge: For many seniors, the cost of health care makes up a significant portion of their monthly budgets. When you’re living on a fixed income, it becomes all the more important to control those costs. Recently in Washington, a cap was put on the cost of insulin for Medicare beneficiaries. That’s exactly the type of change I’d be looking for, but we need to do more. We need to reduce the cost of drug administration for seniors on Medicare Part D. We need to put a cap on out-of-pocket costs for those same seniors. And sometimes the problem is a onetime spike in costs, so we need to allow Medicare beneficiaries to spread the costs over a calendar year. Seniors have worked a lifetime providing for their families. They’ve earned their Medicare benefits. When I get to Washington, I will protect those benefits.
3. Unemployment during the coronavirus crisis reached the highest levels since the Great Depression, and older Americans have been disproportionately affected. If elected, how will you help Americans over the age of 50 recover economically from the effects of the coronavirus?
Junge: Coronavirus has hit the state of Michigan hard, particularly older Michiganders. It’s both a health crisis and it’s caused an economic crisis. And those will be top priorities for me when I get to Congress. To get our economy moving again, I’ll look for policies consistent with my economic recovery initiative — things like tax and regulatory relief for families, small businesses and job providers. We have to prevent lawsuit abuse so that those job providers and small businesses who are trying to do the right thing during the coronavirus aren’t taken advantage of. We need to put America first in trade policies and bring our supply chains back from China. We need to support skilled-trade training. We also need to protect people’s work-provided health care and give them options so they can help people as they work from home. I will protect and defend and strengthen Social Security and Medicare. It’s all part of getting the economy moving again to serve the American people.
Slotkin: Economic recovery from COVID is especially important for older Americans, who are more vulnerable to job loss and to loss of retirement savings. So job one is to bring our economy back safely. In the short term, the House of Representatives passed food security and housing aid aimed specifically at seniors, and those are very important. But Congress needs to consider additional steps to support older workers. And no COVID relief plan should ever come on the backs of Social Security and Medicare, which people have worked for [for] their entire lives.
4. Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. If elected, how will you cut prescription drug prices for all Americans?
Slotkin: Lowering prescription drug costs has been a major priority of my first term. This past year the House passed my Real-Time Benefits Act, which would increase price transparency by notifying patients of their prescription drug costs before they leave the doctor’s office. It passed the House on a bipartisan basis. The House also passed comprehensive drug-cost legislation that is waiting for consideration by the Senate. If elected, I’ll continue working across the aisle to get these commonsense ideas to pass the Senate. And, hopefully, instead of playing defense, we can play offense on lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
Junge: We must do more to control the cost of prescription drugs that millions of Americans count on for treatment. We can reduce drug costs by encouraging new treatments and reducing barriers for patients and their doctors. I support efforts to lower the out-of-pocket expense for drugs by encouraging competition with generics, by speeding up the FDA approval process and by insisting on price transparency before a prescription is written. We need to do more about the rules and regulations that permit drugs to become generic and involve drug patents. These are rules that the drug companies can game to keep their profits and prevent lower costs for patients.
5. COVID-19 has caused death and suffering for too many older Americans who require long-term care. If elected, how will you make sure seniors can access safe and affordable long-term care at home and in nursing homes and assisted living facilities?
Junge: The coronavirus has been particularly challenging for our senior community and especially for those living in assisted living facilities. We’ve seen the disastrous consequences of our governor’s policy of pushing COVID patients into nursing homes. This only reinforces the need for Congress to expand access to home and community services, so seniors can continue to live in their own homes. In Congress, I will push to help support unpaid family caregivers [and] will give them greater ability to care for the seniors in their lives.
Slotkin: We in Congress should all be working to keep our seniors in their homes as long and safe and responsible [as possible]. That’s something that just makes sense. It’s economical, and it’s where people want to be. But key to doing that is making sure we have enough home-visitor coverage. Right now we have a real shortage. They’re not paid enough, and therefore we see it [is] much harder for some of our older citizens to find that care to allow them to stay in their homes. I’m a big supporter of bills that help increase reimbursement rates — increase pay to our home visitors — so that people can stay in their homes longer. And if they can’t stay in their home or they don’t want to stay in their home, we have to make sure they have access to nursing home care that’s safe and affordable. And, again, we need higher reimbursement rates so that these facilities are healthy, they’re solvent and they can provide the care that people expect and deserve.
Also of Interest
AARP is committed to ensuring voters have the information they need to cast their ballot this year. That is why we are publishing the AARP Asks the Candidates voter guide series, so candidates can share their plans on issues important to 50-plus voters.
AARP has a proud 34-year history of nonpartisan voter engagement and does not endorse or oppose candidates or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates.
This story is provided by AARP Michigan. Visit the AARP Michigan page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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