The 80-year-old Social Security program has long been known as the third rail of American politics -- touch it and you die.
Last year alone, more than 59 million Americans received retirement, disability and survivor’s benefits totaling $863 billion. While some lawmakers and policy experts warn that the system will begin to run short of cash beginning in 2035, seniors’ advocacy groups have vigorously fought major changes and cuts.
Some nine out of ten people who are 65 or older receive Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration, with an average monthly benefit of $1,294 average for retirees. Overall, Social Security benefits constitute about 38 percent of the income of the elderly, but that number varies greatly from individual to individual.
For the majority of seniors, Social Security makes up the majority of their income. Sixty-five percent of beneficiaries age 65 and older get more than half of their income from the program. Nearly a third (28%) rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.
The pie chart below, prepared by the staff of the congressional Joint Economic Committee, illustrates the range of seniors’ dependence on Social Security benefits:
Democratic presidential candidates are proposing a variety of new taxes to pay for their preferred social programs. Bloomberg’s Laura Davison and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou took a look at how the top four candidates would fare under their own tax proposals.
“The fact is very little medical care is shoppable. We become good shoppers when we are repeat shoppers. If you buy a new car every three years, you can become an informed shopper. There is no way to become an informed shopper for your appendix. You only get your appendix out once.”
— David Newman, former director of the Health Care Cost Institute, quoted in an article Thursday by Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times. Levey says the “consumer revolution” in health care – in which patients shop around for the best prices, forcing doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical firms to compete with lower prices – hasn’t materialized, but the higher deductibles that were part of the effort are very much in effect. “High-deductible health insurance was supposed to make American patients into smart shoppers,” Levey writes. “Instead, they got stuck with medical bills they can't afford.”
The House Ways and Means Committee released a new analysis of drug prices in the U.S. compared to 11 other developed nations, and the results, though predictable, aren’t pretty. Here are the key findings from the report:
- The U.S. pays the most for drugs, though prices varied widely.
- U.S. drug prices were nearly four times higher than average prices compared to similar countries.
- U.S. consumers pay significantly more for drugs than other countries, even when accounting for rebates.
- The U.S. could save $49 billion annually on Medicare Part D alone by using average drug prices for comparator countries.
The U.S. ranks 18th for retiree well-being among developed nations, according to the latest Global Retirement Index from Natixis, the French corporate and investment bank. The U.S. fell two spots in the ranking this year, due in part to rising economic inequality and poor performance for life expectancy.