MIAMI BEACH — As the summer heat began to pound on the shores of Miami Beach yesterday morning, it wasn't just the sun that had people steaming. On the minds of many senior citizens was the Senate's vote on Tuesday to raise Medicare premiums and gradually increase the eligibility age to 67.
"It's a no no. We've already put in. We can't pay any more," says Claire Schneir as she bustles to open her son's kosher meat market in this enclave of Art Deco buildings and pastel apartments. "Between medication, telephone, and food, there's a lot involved. Where does the government want us to go?"
But Ms. Schneir's anger is just one in a complicated set of emotions in a city that has one of the nation's highest concentrations of senior citizens - 30 percent of residents are older than 65.
Responses range from don't-give-an-inch outrage to quiet resignation that the move would be best for the future.
This town not only offers a window into attitudes in Florida - a politically crucial state where 1 in 5 residents is a senior - it also showcases the many sides of the rapidly changing national debate over how to care for the elderly while still keeping the nation solvent.
The word on Washington Street
This spectrum of emotions can be seen along Miami Beach's main artery, Washington Street.
"Everything is going up except for the pensions of retired people," says Juan Martini, a retired meat cutter sipping a drink and watching passersby as the sun burned brighter.
Felix Hernandez, an emergency medical technician sporting a white uniform, doesn't believe raising Medicare premiums will save money, but it could make life tough for many seniors, including his mother, he says. "It's not fair, the older you get the less you can enjoy life."
Fred Murteda is a real estate broker who emigrated to Florida from Italy after World War II. He says the Senate's decision would push America further backward on the social front. "The Eastern bloc has a better system than we have," he says as he races to catch his bus.
Raising premiums would force many seniors to use private insurance to cover their expenses, but "America is such a rich country, we should come up with a system of medical assistance for all senior citizens," he says.
Ernesto Ramirez, a store clerk, argues that in order to help those in need, the wealthy should pay more. Just a few years from retirement himself, he applauds the Senate's decision - including the votes of Florida's two senators - to support the bill. "There are many people who abuse the system," he says., "You don't need Medicare if you're a millionaire."
Making seniors pay more for medical expenses might be unfair, but it is a necessary step, a minority of Miami Beach residents conclude. "It's going to be very hard retiring, but the reason they're doing it is that the government is spending too much," says Bob, a retired Air Force veteran who is reluctant to give his last name. "We're going to have to balance the budget or we're going to lose democracy."