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Rep. Larsen grilled on Medicare, Social Security

Congressman Rick Larsen fields questions during a meeting Wednesday at the Oak Harbor Senior Center.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times.
Congressman Rick Larsen fields questions during a meeting Wednesday at the Oak Harbor Senior Center.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times.

Congressman Rick Larsen came to Whidbey Island Wednesday to talk with constituents about the major issues in Washington, from job growth to the recovering economy.

Instead of large, town hall-type meetings, Larsen spent the day with special interest groups — such as farmers and seniors — in Langley, Coupeville, Oak Harbor and Clinton.

About 20 people turned out at the Oak Harbor Senior Center to learn more about senior issues and health care. Larsen’s vote in the House helped pass the history-making reform last month.

“I want to address what people might be hearing,” he said.

Larsen said he’s heard concerns that the new legislation will impact their Medicare services, as well as VA and Tricare.

“It’s flat out not true,” he said.

“The Medicare we all know and trust will continue to be there.”

Larsen explained that health reform will lengthen the solvency of the Medicare trust fund so that seniors can count on their benefits for years to come. Beneficiaries will receive a $250 rebate this year and a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs beginning in 2011.

The cuts to the Medicare program include reducing overpayments to insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans, but no cuts will be made to Medicare benefits. He said that currently, the private insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage are paid an average of 14 percent more than it costs to provide traditional Medicare.

The congressman added that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed that the bill would reduce the deficit by $138 billion in 10 years and by $1.2 trillion in the next 20 years.

When asked about his reaction to the lawsuit by Republican attorneys, Larsen said most folks would say it would not prevail. Republican opponents planned to block the plan based on constitutional grounds.

“If it does, what happens?” an audience member asked.

Larsen responded, “It would severely undermine this bill and its success.”

The talk also steered to Social Security and reports that trust funds would be depleted in the next few decades.

“My check clearly says Social Security fund, not general government fund,” said an audience member.

Social Security, Larsen said, is an issue that Congress is still wresting with. By 2039, people will get about 79 percent of what they are currently promised by Social Security. Larsen said he supports establishing a fiscal reform commission to review the imbalance between long-term federal spending commitments and projected revenues.

“I don’t know what the right solution will be to solve Social Security solvency. We have 29 years,” Larsen said.

Larsen announced in January that his first priority is the economy and job growth, and he told that crowd that this will continue.

“We will end this era of big bank bailouts,” he said.

During his tour, Larsen also met with community leaders to discuss the work he is doing in Congress to help people in Northwest Washington and his district.

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