Get What’s Yours – the books, the blog posts, the web site – is dedicated to providing fact-based information to help people make smart decisions. Right now, this information is about the topics of the three GWY books, Social Security, Medicare, and, in early 2021, health care. Expect to see new information on aging, retirement, and important consumer financial issues. The common denominator of a GWY topic is that it’s complicated, affects lots of people, and involves decisions where a lot is on the line – money, well-being, and even survival.
Doing the right thing for the right reasons is increasingly challenging in a technologically driven society becoming ever more complex. The media, of which I am a card-carrying member, provides depth and breadth here, but the nature of news is to move on to the next crisis, the next fire, the next scandal. The issues that GWY wrestles with don’t go away, and tend not to change much from one month or even year to the next.
I have spent the past six years taking a very detailed look at Social Security and Medicare. I am aware of the calls for reforms to both programs, and certainly have my own views. But why bother? There are thousands of other informed people with solid ideas about how to change these programs. There are only a handful of misguided souls dedicated to explaining how the programs actually work. I am one of that unfortunate number.
Study after study has documented that people make poor decisions about claiming Social Security and enrolling in Medicare plans. These decisions cost billions and billions of dollars. They worsen the retirement and health outlooks of millions of Americans. The reason is not only that the programs need reform. It’s that people don’t understand the current rules. Nearly no one tries to rectify this, leading to my many laughable Don Quixote impersonations.
Let me cite one example. The Social Security Administration (SSA) hands out about a trillion dollars every year in benefits. It spends literally nothing telling people how to make decisions about how to understand or claim these benefits.
The agency cited rising costs several years ago when it stopped sending out printed statements of people’s Social Security earnings records and benefit projections. They’re still available online, although the agency’s retiree constituents are not exactly melting the keys on their smart phones. The amount of money saved was about $50 million. This is precisely .00000000005 percent of the agency’s trillion-dollar spend, or a dollar per every $20 million in benefits.
In the fiscal year ended in September 2019, the SSA spent about $4.3 million on advertising and marketing. According to an agency spokesperson, this “covered paid social media, search engine marketing, billboards/signage, and distribution of TV and radio public service announcements to promote SSA services and programs.”
And so onward I journey, looking for the next windmill.