Dear Mr. President: Chained CPI
When Elder Capabilities Wane

Crabby Old Lady: The High Cost of Being Old

As you know by now, the chained CPI, about which Crabby Old Lady addressed President Barack Obama yesterday, uses a different calculation that would reduce future Social Security cost-of-living (COLA) increases.

Except for the fact that some extremely rich men including at least one billionaire, believe old people have too much money, Crabby cannot understand how the president or anyone else thinks old people are rolling in dough. To bore you with one of the same old numbers again, the average Social Security benefit is $1230 per month.

The fact is, our expenses go up every year, even those when there is no cost-of-living increase, and are always larger than the COLA.

This year, Social Security recipients were given a 1.7 percent COLA. As pitifully small as the monthly increase is, Crabby lost half of it immediately due to the $5.00 increase in the deduction for Medicare Part B coupled with, in Crabby's personal case, an increase in her Medigap premium.

Certainly she is not alone in this event nor in the other shocking increases in her monthly expenses at the start of 2013.

The cable bill shot up by $30 a month. This is television and most important, internet. There is no competitor. Crabby made more than a dozen – count them, more than 12 - telephone calls over three weeks or so to her provider, Comcast, to discuss changes that would be less expensive.

She always got a recording asking for name, number and time of day. She always provided the requested information. And she has never received a callback.

Crabby's homeowners association dues went up too, by $16 a month. And because Crabby has apparently been talking a lot more than in the past, she increased her number of minutes to avoid 25-cent per minute overage charges that nearly killed her two months in a row. So now it costs an additional $12.

No doubt you have your own versions of these calculations.

Medical costs cannot be ignored – elders spent more on that than younger people. A Kaiser Family Foundation report quoted in The New York Times last fall

”...found that people with Medicare spent 16 percent of their income on out-of-pocket medical expenses in 2006 (an average $4,241 per Medicare member), up from 12 percent in 1997.”
Note that is 16 percent for out-of-pocket expenses which does not include premiums.

Has anyone noticed grocery prices lately? The least expensive jar of honey (tiny) a couple of week ago was more than $5 and Crabby saw a one-pound bunch of asparagus for $7.

So just on expenses Crabby can ennumerate, rather than estimate, the increases surpassed her 2013 COLA by 53 percent. Crabby knows several readers with similar or worse outcomes this year.

Now that the “sequester” is in force, the political chattering classes have moved on to the potential government shutdown on 27 March. The House passed legislation yesterday to avert it and for once, a debacle for the country may not go down to the wire.

But it has opened up discussion of the the budget among the punditry.

Crabby Old Lady pays attention to what the media, especially those based in Washington, D.C., say because Washington is a closed society – government, the media, lobbyists and the corporate CEOs who are buddies with these folks listen only to one another.

In the past week, those pundits have jacked up their number of references to “entitlements” and what they mostly have to say are variations on these two observations: “When is Congress going to get serious about cutting entitlements?” and “Everyone knows the only thing that will save the economy is to cut entitlements.”

Left or right on the political spectrum, pundits believe this stuff as though it has been handed down on tablets from Sinai. In one instance early this week, Crabby heard from a pundit show host that elders get Medicare for free. This is a common belief in the media and throughout non-elder America.

For the record, all workers pay into Medicare their entire working lives. Part A of Medicare is free. Part B costs, currently, $104.90 per month. Then there are Medigap (supplemental) premiums and Part D, prescription drug premiums which can range from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. And, too, there are co-pays for medical services.

And, unlike the Veterans Administration, Medicare does not cover most hearing, dental and eye procedures. Elders bear the entire cost for those.

For Crabby, Medicare premiums take up 14 percent of her income. She's lucky – that's cheap compared to many elders.

The handful of Washington people who actually understand how the Social Security and Medicare work are not pundits. They are four or five legislators who occasionally appear on pundit shows of the political left variety - Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alan Grayson among them.

But because they appear infrequently and irregularly and are stuck with the usual three-minute segment that makes everyone at the desk or on the panel sound a lot like a Twitter conversation, no real information about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid passes out to viewers.

So in the tank for cutting entitlements is the general pundity that most of America will assume, as the public discussion accelerates, that cuts to social programs are necessary which, of course, you and Crabby know is nowhere near true.

So, it's not enough that elders' costs increase every year over and above whatever pittance of a Social Security COLA is granted. Everyone who has a Washington soapbox and therefore power to influence outcomes is hellbent on making it worse – that is, as awful as possible for elders.

Crabby Old Lady cannot come up with a single useful thing to do to stop any of this from happening. She is furious at the ignorance and stupidity of the punditry and frightened for all elders.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Women's Clubs


AMEN. I wouldn't know what to do about it either. I know it is very hard for elders who have little family nearby to help out.

We can't stop it completely but by continuing to rail against it, as you so deftly do Ronni, and participate in local grassroots organizations to oppose such changes, we can harass and obstruct them for a while until hopefully we can gain some leverage on this issue with the public. A public who is more and more beginning to see that any austerity programs are harmful.

I read a comment on some blog saying that what old people should do about all of this is just hurry up and die. The implication from the comment was that we just need to get out of the way of all the people who are never going to get old or sick, never experience financial problems like the old people hanging around now. In my more paranoid moments I think pure evil is afoot in this country.

I guess you can never understand one person's problems unless you have walked a mile in his moccasins. The rich men and women who now make our laws have never had to count pennies or worry about paying the utility bill. They have no concept of what a few dollars can mean to a person living on a limited income. So when they think that cutting an elder's income by a few dollars is not a big deal they don't have a clue of how cruel they are.

I guess short of writing the president and our representatives constantly there is nothing we can do.

Does anybody know a celebrity to take up this cause? They can get the publicity necessary to arouse the public and to make a lot of noise.

This is classic truth, spoken/written as you brilliantly do: "Washington is a closed society – government, the media, lobbyists and the corporate CEOs who are buddies with these folks listen only to one another."

And Darlene is onto something: "Does anybody know a celebrity to take up this cause? They can get the publicity necessary to arouse the public and to make a lot of noise."

I'm 53. Own a small business. Support my mother and my daughter. Single woman, so no hubby to fall back on. I worry now about how I'm going to support myself when I can no longer run my labor intensive business. I don't see that I'll have close to enough resources to make it from 70 to 90 without having to be supported by my daughter. Currently, I gasp at every tank of gas. I price compare on groceries. Rarely spend a cent on myself...I'm disgusted by Washington politics and the total disconnect of the politicians to the people. Your article spells it out pretty clearly.

There are some small improvements. We have hung on to our vehicle so long it is appreciating. LOL

Let's see: My car insurance goes up twice a year at best. I was told that once over the age of 65, that's what happens every year. Medical? Ha. All my doctor says is 'well, it's worth a try to call the company that makes the prescription to see if they can give you a break', not having the slightest clue that I have 'plenty' according to the ridiculous calculations of 'need'. So I don't get those high cost prescriptions. Yes, the Part D increases as does the cost for Medicare 'Insurance'. I can't afford any 'supplemental' insurance to Medicare. Food? No meat as it is way too expensive. Only the cheapest non-brand canned veggies. Electricity? Yep, increases yearly even on the 'average' billing. Phone? Same thing. Yearly phone calls to get that increase back down. Rent? Another yearly increase of about ten dollars. And on and on. Clothes? Thrift store only and thankful they exist. I have friends who say 'let's all move out of the U.S. where it's cheaper to live'. Right. When my car wants to 'die', it will be bus time as payments, insurance, upkeep way too expensive. Yeah, us olders have it made, uh huh.

I, too, have Comcast for TV and Internet, and I feel your pain. I look at that bill every month, wonder how it ever got so high when I've made no changes in my service in the last 8 years. Same with utilities. Gas and electric here are from the same company, a monopoly, so rates go up every year. Etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Washington is indeed a closed society -- of very wealthy individuals who have no idea what the less well-to-do deal with every day. Their ignorance about seniors on Medicare and SS is willful and inexcusable. A celebrity spokesperson would be great -- except celebrities are also among the wealthy.

Oh, for those struggling with drug costs, I recently came across Very useful aggregation of information.

Calling Social Security and Medicare "entitlements" is completely wrong for the reasons stated. Unfortunately, it's one of those labels that's Made to Stick.

There's also a lot of brutal and ignorant blaming of old people for diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, which we presumably brought on ourselves by our bad "life-style choices." An example is my alleged choice to have large birth-weight babies which put me at high risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Pure disgust! That pretty much sums up what I think of our entire system at the moment. I'm no longer sure that being politically aware--or railing against the myriad abuses of power--accomplish anything these days. When did "by the people, of the people and for the people" become "by Big Money, of Big Money and for Big Money"?

I'm not naive--I realize that money has always been part of politics. The rich and powerful have always had access to politicians that the rest of lack. However, over the past few years the voices of the 1% have all but drowned out the 99%--or 47% or whatever percentage the rest of us are.

Where from here? Like Ronni and some of you who responded, I don't know. There are still many more of "us" than there are of "them" and there has always been strength in numbers. I'm just not sure how to reach the rich, (mostly) white men who overwhelmingly dictate how the rest of us will live--or not, in the case of elders.

I would suggest you get a SKYPE account where you can make calls from your computer to land lines and mobile devices.

This is how I keep from using too many minutes cell phone minutes. The connection is good and you do not need to use the camera function.

People have no idea you are calling from your computer because your mobile phone number is programmed. Additionally, you can receive a phone number so people can call you from their cell phone to your computer.

Turning 54 this year, I'm scared to death as to what the future holds for me.

Still paying on a mortgage that I had hoped to pay off early. Unfortunately, my property tax went up so much that my monthly mortgage payment is now $120.00 a month more!! Couple that with the Social Security payment reinstated in January, I now have $200.00 less a month to live on. And that's just two items!

My association is not doing well either. Had to take furlough days two years ago and last year they unceremoniously cut their contribution to our 403(b) plan. That in itself is a 5% paycut.

Oh, and yes, my Comcast bill went up $20.00 a month too. Disgusting.

What do you suggest to make Social Security and Medicare sustainable so our children and grandchildren will be able to get the same benefits we do?

We moved to a neighborhood where we don't need a car. I lost 25+ lbs. walking more. There are expenses over which you are helpless (without changing legislation) and there are things you can control. 42 years ago I moved to a country with universal health care. It's not perfect, but I have appreciated it every single year.

I've taken some pretty hard hots through all this, too. Groceries are becoming a luxury item and for sure I can't afford the sort of food my doctor wants me to eat.

The stress of all this is making me ill. I need to drop a line to Obama just to unload.

I worked very hard on his re-election and I feel as if I've been betrayed.

I recently contracted heart trouble and wonder how I'd be feeling right now if I had to worry about money, too.

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