Seniors air their financial worries at annual AARP gathering


Keith Brown, 59, doesn’t qualify for Medicare yet. But President Obama’s proposal earlier this week to cut into the government healthcare program has him worried about what will be left when he does.

“There is a certain level of uncertainty,” said Brown, a retired federal employee from Falls Church, Va.

He said politicians should get the deficit under control by taxing the rich rather than slashing programs that help the middle class.


Brown and other seniors, gathered in downtown Los Angeles this week for the annual conference of the AARP, expressed fear and anxiety about aging when Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are under attack both in Washington and on the campaign trail. More than 20,000 seniors are attending workshops, speeches and concerts during the three-day conference, which has taken over the Convention Center, L.A. Live and the Staples Center. The sessions end Saturday afternoon.

Seniors are increasingly relying on Social Security and Medicare to finance their retirement and healthcare, AARP chief executive officer A. Barry Rand told a packed house of seniors at the Nokia Theater on Thursday.

“If these benefits are cut, as many political leaders now propose, it would force millions of older Americans and their families out of the middle class, closer to the dangers of poverty,” he said. “We are all fighting and we must all fight to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The AARP, a powerful lobby for seniors that also offers insurance and other services to them, issued a statement against Obama’s deficit reduction plan, saying that it opposes any proposals that would raise costs or cut Medicare benefits. But the organization praised Obama for not suggesting the eligibility age be raised.

Samuel Campbell, 69, a retired educator from Georgia, said he believed that Medicare and Medicaid may need to be streamlined so they are sustainable. But he said politicians are looking for a short-term solution by proposing cuts rather than looking for improvements.

“They think if they take money from Medicare and Medicaid, it will solve the budget problems,” he said. “They aren’t thinking what it will do to the people who rely on Medicare and Medicaid.”

Gloria Cooper, 70, a retired anesthetist, said she is particularly concerned about the debate over Social Security. Cooper said she relies on her Social Security check because her husband’s retirement income from his years as a school principal isn’t enough to pay the bills.

Republican presidential candidates have sparred over the future of the program, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry calling Social Security an unsustainable “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.”

“Everybody’s worried,” Cooper said. “The thought of Social Security being reduced is an underlying fear.”

During one session at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Thursday, AARP staff members walked the audience through some legislative proposals. One of those would convert Medicaid, an insurance program for the poor, from an open-ended program to a block grant for the states.

“States could run out of money and they would have to make up the difference by cutting services,” said Lynda Flowers of AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

Sitting in the front row, Charles Ziarko, 70, said he receives Social Security, as well as a pension from the Director’s Guild. Ziarko, who lives in Hollywood, said politicians are ignoring seniors’ needs. “Seniors are being sacrificed in this quick rush to try and patch up the financial situation of the country,” he said.

Cynthia Jarvis, 63, said seniors are in a “bad spot” with the economy the way it is. “Expenses are going up, taxes are going up, and incomes are fixed,” she said.

She and her husband, Steve Jarvis, 62, live in Torrance and depend on his pension from years as a professor with the Cal State University system. But they worry about it being taken away. And with Cynthia fighting cancer, the couple said health coverage is critical.

“As of right now, we feel very fortunate,” Steve Jarvis said, “but we know that feeling is fragile with the way the country’s going.”