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AFSCME Member Discusses Retirement Security at White House

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New York AFSCME retiree Stuart Leibowitz
New York AFSCME retiree Stuart Leibowitz participated in a White House panel discussion on senior issues Monday. (Photo by Jon Melegrito)

New York AFSCME retiree Stuart Leibowitz served as a panelist at Monday’s White House Community Leaders Briefing on Senior Issues, discussing the importance of preserving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Leibowitz warned against right-wing plans to privatize those social safety net programs.

Vice President Joe Biden opened the briefing, which was attended by AFSCME retiree members from Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Leibowitz, one of three retiree panelists who spoke at the event, is president of AFSCME’s New York City Retiree Chapter 37  as well as the New York City Alliance for Retired Americans.

In his remarks at the White House, Leibowitz made the point that his own brain surgery a few years ago would have been unaffordable without Medicare coverage.

“Who can afford the price of major surgery?” he asked in an interview after the White House event. “It is impossible for anybody – unless you’re in the top 1 percent – to pay your own bills with respect to major surgery.”

Medicare faces threats from the Rep. Paul Ryan budget bill passed in March by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and supported by the presumed GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The Romney/Ryan budget would replace Medicare’s guaranteed benefits package with a flat-payment subsidy (or “voucher”). With it, beneficiaries could purchase either private health insurance or traditional Medicare, but Leibowitz said the GOP bill stacks the deck against the traditional program and would soon lead to its demise. It essentially privatizes the program, he said. Learn more about the Romney/Ryan Medicare threat here.

Leibowitz said guaranteed coverage is “priceless” and that those who advocate privatization of Medicare “are doing the nation a grave disservice, especially the senior population, which is growing every day and living longer.” Medicare vouchers will eventually fall behind the cost of coverage, requiring seniors to pay more and more from their own pockets.

Leibowitz praised Vice President Biden and President Obama for their commitment to preserving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Social Security provides benefits for survivors and people with disabilities, as well as retirees, he noted.  He said that, contrary to some reports, “the system is not broke and whoever says it’s broke is a liar.” The Social Security trustees say the system is in surplus and will be able to pay all benefits for another 25 years, and 75 percent of benefits after that. It needs some tinkering to fill-in the gap, but it can be sustained without major changes, he emphasized.