My Turn: Crossing the aisle to help the state’s seniors
When I was elected to office, one of the bedrock promises I made was to our seniors – our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Many New Hampshire seniors are part of the greatest generation, a group of individuals who inspired the core ideals we Granite Staters hold dear and live by today – working hard, making an honest living, preferring a hand up over a handout, and always looking out for our friends and neighbors. They are part of what makes our state and our nation great.
Now, many older Americans are retired, and they count on the benefits they paid into their entire lives. I promised our seniors that I would never stop fighting to protect Medicare and Social Security, and that’s what I’ve done every day while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of the first things I did after being sworn into office was write a letter to President Obama expressing my opposition to cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other programs seniors count on. Since then, I have also urged the president to drop a harmful proposal from his 2014 budget, which called for the use of so-called “chained CPI” to calculate Social Security and veterans benefits. Chained CPI is wonky Washington-speak for “cuts.” This proposal would have reduced economic security for seniors, and I was pleased to see that this cut was not included in the president’s most recent budget. And when it comes to Medicare, I believe that instead of cutting health benefits for seniors, Democrats and Republicans should work together to aggressively crack down on waste, fraud and abuse within Medicare and make the program more solvent – which is exactly what I’ve been working to do.
Everyone knows changes to these programs can be controversial, and Democrats and Republicans don’t always agree on how to shore up their solvency. But I came to Washington with a pledge to break through the gridlock and to work across the aisle to get things done for New Hampshire.
That’s why, late last month, I was proud that Democrats and Republicans in the House were able to join together to pass a historic piece of legislation that will fix a decades-old flaw in the Medicare program and help protect the program’s solvency for generations to come.
For almost 20 years, Medicare has been dogged by a technical issue that has threatened to slash payments to doctors treating Medicare patients. Because of this flawed “sustainable growth rate” formula, many doctors’ offices have faced the prospect of having to turn away Medicare beneficiaries, which would drastically limit physician access and choice for seniors. We all know how difficult it is to establish a relationship with a doctor you trust, and many seniors have been going to the same doctor for decades. This was a problem we needed to fix right away, but unfortunately, because of partisan gridlock, the issue dragged on for years.
This is what happens when members of Congress put aside their political differences and work together to solve a problem for their constituents. And this is the reason why I came to Congress – not to engage in bitter political fights, but to make a difference for the people of New Hampshire. This bill will make a real difference in the lives of our seniors – both today, by allowing them to continue to see their own doctors, and tomorrow, by helping preserve Medicare for generations to come.After kicking the can down the road 17 times and ignoring this issue for far too long, Republicans and Democrats in the House came together last month to propose legislation to fix this problem once and for all. Some concessions were made on each side, but ultimately the wishes of each party were incorporated into the bill. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, by an astonishing final count of 392-37.
This bill also included important measures to protect the Granite State’s most vulnerable: It will extend the Children’s’ Health Insurance Program for two years and prevent millions of children from losing access to health care, expand funding for community health centers and protect vital assistance for low-income seniors. I’m proud of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for working together to get this done, and I hope we can continue to move forward on this new path of putting problem solving first – not party politics.
This legislation is now headed to the Senate, where senators will be presented with a choice as early as next week. I call on them to make the right one – to follow the House’s lead, and to put the well-being of older Granite Staters ahead of partisan bickering. This is a vitally important bill that will strengthen Medicare overall and protect our seniors’ right to see the doctors they trust. I urge the Senate to act swiftly to pass this legislation into law.
(Congresswoman Annie Kuster represents New Hampshire’s 2nd District.)