Begich speaks to seniors

Medicare, drugs and taxes are top local concerns


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U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) speaks with Lunette Workman, left, and Linda Nystrom-Hamilton during a visit to the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center on Oct. 10.

MATT TUNSETH

Local seniors peppered U.S. Sen. Mark Begich with a variety of questions when the senator popped into the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center for a visit on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

In a 45-minute question-and-answer session, Begich touched on a number of issues important to older Americans, including the future of Medicare and Social Security, potential changes to estate taxes and the perception that Congress is “broken.”

“It is somewhat dysfunctional,” Begich said when asked about the current divisive political landscape in Washington, D.C.

Begich said he would like to see legislators on both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate try to find common ground rather than fighting partisan battles that lead to gridlock.

“It doesn’t mean you give up your principles, it just means you have to give a little,” he said.

Health care was a big topic for the seniors. One — who said her son was a doctor — pointed out that physicians have a difficult time making money by treating patients on Medicare and asked what can be done to change that.

Begich said he would like to see doctors who treat Medicare patients compensated at the going market rate.

“Our goal is to ensure fair reimbursement rates,” he said.

However, Begich acknowledged the problem doesn’t have an easy solution.

“There’s no single answer on this,” he said.

As for Social Security, Begich said he wants to see changes on how much money higher wage earners pay into the system. Currently, only the first $110,000 of someone’s income is eligible for Social Security taxes. Begich, who makes $174,000, said he stops paying into the system by the third week of September.

“Which makes no sense,” he said.

If the ceiling were eliminated, he said, it could add decades to the program’s life.

As for the so-called “death” or estate tax, Begich said it will never be completely eliminated. However, he would like to see the ceiling on how much is exempt set at $4 million, with a 35 percent tax above that.

Begich also told the seniors he would like to see the Medicare program negotiate for prescription drugs — just like the Veterans Administration can. But, he said, others in Congress aren’t willing to let that happen.

“We just don’t have the votes yet,” he said.

Begich said he thinks Congress can work together, and pointed to his work with his Republican colleagues in the Alaska delegation as evidence that Democrats and Republicans can see eye-to-eye.

“A hell of a lot more would get done if Congress would act like we do as a delegation,” he said.

Begich concluded his visit with the seniors by saying he hopes legislators will begin to embrace a more cooperative and less partisan approach to lawmaking in the near future.

“I don’t care if it’s left or right,” Begich said. “It doesn’t matter what way their head gets screwed on, it just matters that it’s the logical, rational head that gets screwed on.”

Luenette Workman said she was impressed with what Begich had to say. Workman said she voted for Begich back when the senator was still a member of the Anchorage Assembly, and agreed that members of Congress need to start working toward common goals.

“We need a little more love in there,” she said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com.

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