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GROUP’S ACTIVISM ANGERS POLITICIANS

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QUESTION: In news reports on Medicare's catastrophic-care program, I've noticed references to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which has staunchly opposed the Medicare surtax. The group's fund-raising and lobbying activities have been questioned. Can you tell me more about this?

ANSWER: Since its inception in 1982, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, based in Washington, D.C., has been a subject of controversy on Capitol Hill.Founded by James Roosevelt, a son of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the committee is the second-largest senior-advocacy group in the United States, with five million members. In contrast to the largest group, the 30-million member American Association of Retired Persons, the committee is strictly a lobbying organization. The committee "supports Republicans, Democrats, incumbents and challengers on the basis of their record of support for seniors - and only on that," Jack McDavitt of the committee said.

The group's activism has rankled politicians. During the past year, the committee played a major role in fueling the revolt against the catastrophic-care program. Members sent three million postcards and letters to legislators protesting the Medicare surtax, which ranges up to $800 for an individual and $1,600 for a couple. Legislation to repeal the program is pending.

Program proponents say the committee provoked the elderly with misleading messages implying most would pay the maximum surtax. (Only about 7 percent of older people pay the maximum.)

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), in a New York Times report, accused the committee of preying on the elderly to generate membership fees and mailing lists, which it sells at a profit.

The committee refutes such charges. "We use direct mail for everything, not just fund raising," McDavitt said. "It's an excellent way to get people to do something." He contended that proponents of the ill-fated catastrophic-care plan are using the committee as their scapegoat.

QUESTION: About 10 years ago, my husband and I discovered Mexico. We've spent numerous vacations there enjoying the sights, food and low prices. We retire next year, and are thinking about moving to Mexico. Any suggestions for relocating abroad?

ANSWER: Living abroad can be exciting and enriching. According to government statistics, more than 300,000 Social Security recipients live abroad. You won't be alone if you decide to move.

Before packing your bags, take note: Living abroad is different from traveling abroad. Spend time exploring cities that attract you and compare their costs of living. Consider living abroad for a few months to see if the lifestyle suits you.

Also, find out about tax implications and types of health-care coverage available. The Internal Revenue Service publishes a helpful booklet, "Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad" (publication 54). To request a free copy, call the IRS toll-free, (800) 424-1040.

Medicare generally does not pay for health services provided outside the United States. Your insurance agent can help you obtain health-care coverage abroad.

In 1988, International Living evaluated countries based on their health-care system, recreational opportunities, cost of living, environment, culture and other factors. The organization concluded that the 10 best countries to live in were: the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, Sweden, Italy, West Germany, the Netherlands and France.

Although Mexico didn't make the group's top-10 list, it is popular among people from the western U.S., who have grown familiar with the country through travel.

C) 1989 Washington Post Writers Group