Sinema Town Hall

U.S. Congress Representative Kyrsten Sinema fields a question while at a Town Hall discussion on Social Security and Medicare issues Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at the Pyle Adult Recreation Center in Tempe. [Tim Hacker/Tribune]

Issues related to Medicare and Social Security were the emphasis of a recent town hall hosted by CD 9 Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in Tempe.

Hosted at the Pyle Adult Recreation Center on July 2, Sinema, whose legislative district encompasses parts of Ahwatukee, Tempe, Mesa and Chandler, addressed the two issues at her first town hall as a U.S. Congresswoman. Among the topics broached by the audience were provider rate cuts to Medicare providers, which she said is giving doctors who treat senior patients that use the program less incentive to stay on the plan.

“We’re seeing more physicians opt out of service in Medicare and Medicaid,” she said.

Also part of the discussion was the affect the Affordable Care Act will have on Medicare once the entirety of the act is in place. Sinema said one area where the act will intertwine with Medicare is with the transfer of paper medical files to digital copies — she said the act will provide funding for the process — that can make transferring physicians easier. Similarly, she said the act could provide financial incentive for aspiring doctors to become primary care physicians and service rural areas that have an inadequate number of physicians, which can help elderly patients gain access to health care. 

There is, however, one area Sinema said people who use Medicare will see a difference: a possible reduction in prescription pill costs from the closure of a sizable loophole.

“Probably the biggest thing they’ll see in their lives is the closure of the donut hole,” she said.

She also mentioned a desire to increase the funding in the Congressional research and development to help find cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases that could provide savings for the country’s budget.

The other major component of the town hall was Social Security, especially the issues arising from a lack of funding for the program. According to financial reports composed by the U.S. Social Security Administration, Social Security is not sustainable at its current funding levels and requires a change in order to avoid “disruptive consequences” for recipients. 

Sinema said an issue for many seniors stems from the lack of alternative sources of income, and she said one way to solve the funding problem is to eliminate the cap taxpayers contribute to the program through the collection of the Social Security tax. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, Social Security taxes are not collected beyond the first $113,700 in income.  

“I do think it’s reasonable for people who make $113,700 to pay that full amount,” she said.

An additional issue mentioned during the event was a proposal to create a Chained Consumer Price Index, or CPI, that would replace cost-of-living in determining Social Security benefits. Sinema said the problem with the CPI measure is the way it’s formulated, as she said it’s based on the concept that if a cost of a product goes up, consumers will replace it with a different product. 

“That assumption is very flawed; life doesn’t work like that,” she said, citing a product like milk that she said doesn’t have an alternative as an example.

The implication of the new standard is a reduction in Social Security payments for beneficiaries, which she said would be detrimental to groups like veterans if it’s approved by Congress. 

“They just wouldn’t be able to survive,” she said.

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