LEWISTON — The scenarios are nightmarish.
Elderly people shivering in dark homes because they don't have money for heating oil. The sick trying to stretch medications as far as they will go because they can't afford to take it every day. People forced to work into their 70s and then finding that there is not enough money to pay for long-term care.
It could happen, said the members of several groups who hosted a forum Thursday night at the Lewiston Public Library. If changes to the Medicare and Social Security systems come to fruition, there could be much suffering indeed.
"These issues really impact everyone," said Jim Lysen, who volunteers with the Maine People's Alliance and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare. "Young, old, new American and older American."
The forum comprised a panel of men and women who work with those groups and others that seek to protect the government programs. They presented a bleak future where most seniors cannot afford nursing homes, the age of Social Security access is lifted to 70 and cuts to the program can be made without public input.
The purpose of the forums has been to debunk myths and clarify misinformation, but also to generate debate. Roughly four-dozen people attended the event and some stood to state their fears.
One local man expressed concerns that if certain proposals were to become reality, such as the so-called Paul Ryan budget, people with pre-existing medical conditions would be unable to get an insurance company to cover them.
A Standish woman worried that insurance companies will go back to inflating premiums, denying claims and generally "running roughshod over the people."
How to prevent it from happening? Natasha Perez, of the NCPSSM, gave the worried public some suggestions.
"You have to find out where your candidate stands," she said, "and ask him the tough questions."
Tell your representatives how you feel, Perez said, and get out to vote.
The panel promised to collect all the concerns that it heard Thursday night — and at other forums around the state — and present them to the presidential candidates and others well before Election Day.
"They will know," said John Hennessy, of the American Association of Retired Persons, "with no ambiguity what Maine people think."
There was a lot of information presented Thursday night and yet some left with more questions than answers. Part of it, according to one woman, was the partisan element.
"Some of it is political, some of it is not," said Linnie Edwards of Auburn. "It's not easy to tell what is and what isn't."
Edwards left the library with a thick stack of informational packets. She'll look them over, she said, and try to come to her own conclusions.
"This gives me different viewpoints on a couple things," she said. "It's a lot of information to process. There's more to follow up on."