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Hundreds Of Seniors Turn Out To 'Have A Say'

Published On: Mar 19 2012 09:34:06 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 20 2012 12:54:28 PM CDT
POCATELLO, Idaho -

The AARP is saying, "You've Earned a Say." It's the name of the organization's new nation-wide campaign aimed at changing the conversation about the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Pocatello was one of the first cities to launch the campaign. It was chosen as one of several kick-off cities across the country, and with success. More than 170 seniors showed up on Monday to have their say, and their stories speak for themselves.

A speaker asked the room full of seniors how many of them think Social Security is "very important" to their financial security, and the hands went up.

"Wow look at that. Wow, oh wow," the speaker said in reaction.

It was important on some level to everyone in the room, including Gene Wiggers. Wiggers has raised five children and three grandchildren and worked as a registered nurse his whole life, until he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

"One of the worst things that I could have had was a diagnosis of cancer of the pancreas and know what that meant. I'm one of the very lucky ones that survived," Wiggers said.

But he wasn't so lucky with the cost. He and his wife spent their whole nest egg on his treatment, and they need Medicare and Social Security just to get by.

"As we find ourselves getting more and more into a tight squeeze and think about Social Security ending or being decreased, you know, we're just at mercy," he said.

So Wiggers filled out a survey to have his say, and so did Joan Downing. She is about to turn 93, but worked as a librarian at Idaho State University until she was 75. She has a degree in physics, and she has macular degeneration. Her medical bills are sky high, too, and Downing feels cheated because she paid into the system for so long.

"I put it in, and dammit -- excuse me -- but it's my money, and I want my Social Security to last. And what I would really like is socialized medicine, but I know that's a dirty word in Idaho," she said.

Downing said she plans to live until she's 100 years old, so Washington needs to figure something out quickly.

"I like being alive, and besides, I like me. I think we have to like ourselves first and then we can like other people," Downing said.

Downing said 95 percent of her income comes from Social Security and Medicare, and the story was similar for almost everyone at the launch.

The surveys that the seniors filled out will be collected and sent to AARP in Washington. After a year of meetings, the AARP will come out with its official position on the issues. AARP Executive Council Member Roger Wheeler said those answers really do give people a voice.

"When you get a group like this together, there's strength in numbers, and people will say some thing that they want. And as you multiply this state-wide, and all the states in the nation, surely, someone is going to listen to us," Wheeler said.

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