As Congress looks for ways to avoid the approaching so-called fiscal cliff, it's being said that changes to Social Security and Medicare shouldn't be rushed through as part of a last-minute deal.
Rebecca Kelly, state director for AARP Tennessee, contends Social Security didn't cause the deficit and shouldn't be used to help fix it.
"The large majority of AARP members and the general public thinks that Social Security should be looked at as a separate conversation as part of retirement security in general, not part of a quick-fix discussion about the deficit," she said.
About 830,000 seniors in Tennessee receive Social Security and are enrolled in Medicare.
Kelly said most rely on it for the majority of their income and can't afford any cuts when the average benefit is already less than $14,000 a year.
"That clearly is a modest amount," she said, "and if something like the chained consumer price index is implemented, then it could actually mean (the loss of) a full month of income through Social Security for current beneficiaries."
The chained consumer price index would change how cost-of-living adjustments are made. If that happens, Kelly said Tennesseans who receive Social Security would lose a combined $2.5 billion over the next 10 years.
Medicare also is being eyed in Washington, D.C.
One proposal would raise the eligibility age from 65 to 67. Kelly said she believes making people wait two more years, when health care is already expensive for that age group, is the wrong way to go.
"Our concern is that people are beginning to have complex medical issues as early as 45 and 50 years old," she said. "They're also losing jobs which have, in many cases, health benefits related to the jobs. And so, to make people wait even longer before they have access to something like Medicare is not the direction we think should be taken."
If the eligibility age is raised, Kelly said, 120,000 residents would be left without insurance coverage.
If Congress and the president don't reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, income taxes will increase and automatic spending cuts will kick in Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013.