WATERLOO | Senate candidate Bruce Braley took on the issues of entitlements, the federal safety net and death panels during a roundtable discussion with supporters on Friday morning.
The Waterloo Democrat didn’t give the usual talking points on those issues sensitive to aging Iowans. Instead, he sought greater understanding of the issues and, barring that, a renaming of those political buzzwords.
“One of the things people are always raising objections to is calling these programs entitlements because it creates this false perception that you’re getting something you don’t deserve, and maybe we should just adopt the language of the investment community,” Braley said.
Because people have paid into Social Security and Medicare to draw those benefits, Braley suggested that instead of entitlements the programs should be called a return on investment.
Braley, who is currently a congressman in the 1st District, is running against Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, for the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin.
After hearing the story of a severely disabled young woman who got full Social Security benefits, Braley also encouraged people to think of the safety net as a true net for anyone who is “one bad day” away from having to consider taking federal benefits.
“As helpful as those disability benefits are through Social Security, they don’t even begin to address the actual cost of taking care of someone who has a severe disability,” Braley said. “The story you just told is why we call it a safety net, because you never know when you’re going to be in a situation where that’s going to be a huge economic benefit.”
Though Braley’s campaign has criticized Ernst’s stance on Social Security, saying it's akin to privatization of the program, Braley did not bring up his opponent at all during the 45-minute event Friday morning.
Braley took on “death panels,” the language used by people who opposed a particular provision that was not ultimately included in the federal Affordable Care Act, by explaining what the intent of the provision was.
While he referenced a phrase used by Sen. Charles Grassley during the height of the debate, Braley refrained from criticism when attendees blamed the senator for bringing the misnomer more attention.
Braley said he worked on improving the Medicare reimbursement rate during the ACA debate so Iowa physicians would get higher payments for providing quality care to Medicare patients. One of the most costly hospital experiences is end-of-life treatment.
“If you’ll remember, one of the things that we did is we actually provided an economic incentive to physicians to have those (end-of-life treatment) conversations and get paid for it, because we knew it would keep health care costs down,” Braley said.
“So what happened is we heard about death panels, pull the plug on grandma, and it was a huge disservice to one of the best provisions in the law to help keep health care costs down and get patients at that end-of-life moment a better quality of life,” he concluded.
Braley said he opted to make his first two campaign tours about jobs and Social Security because job security and retirement security are among the top concerns of Iowans.
“They want a good job that provides them a decent way of life and an opportunity to provide all the basic essentials for their family, and they want to know that when they retire, the programs they’ve paid into for their entire life are going to be there for them,” Braley said.