Jewish World Review
Sept. 11, 2000 / 10 Elul, 5760
No cure for generational pain
IF YOU THOUGHT the public uproar over George W. Bush's use of an expletive
last weekend was big, imagine the national horror he would have provoked if
he had said he was against offering any new Medicare benefits for the
Al Gore wants to throw $250 billion at seniors to add a universal
prescription drug benefit to Medicare. Bush would spend $160 billion to
fully subsidize drug coverage for the elderly poor and partially subsidize
the Medicare premiums for all other recipients. Both candidates want to be
the voice for seniors. Nobody wants to speak for us younger folks who will
be forced to foot these enormous bills. Free-lunch politics is a hard habit
The nightly news is filled with heart-wrenching stories of older Americans
who must pay for expensive pain killers and heart medication. One CNN
reporter highlighted the plight of seventy-five-year-old Bernice, who has
osteoporosis, and her 78-year-old husband Syd, a retired doctor himself
with a thyroid condition. "Their annual total for prescription drugs:
$3,336," the reporter intoned. "After insurance, that's $2,200-plus out of
What the reporter failed to note is that Bernice and Syd's case is
extremely atypical. According to the non-partisan National Academy of
Social Insurance, only 4 percent of Medicare recipients have expenses that
exceed $2,000. The median out-of-pocket expenditure on prescription drugs
for Medicare enrollees is just about $200. Syd says his personal crisis
demonstrates the need for a universal health care system that provides drug
coverage "for everybody." But two-thirds of seniors already have
prescription drug coverage.
Why should every elderly person feel entitled to have someone else to pay
for their medicine, anyway? Why should we workers be expected to fork over
more of our paychecks to expand Medicare when this socialized health
insurance entitlement program remains structurally unsound?
Prescription drug pushers point to healthy trust funds as their cash
source. But the Medicare trust fund, like its Social Security counterpart,
is illusory. What matters is the Hospital Insurance program's operating
balance. That portion of Medicare is laying out more money each year than
the Medicare portion of the payroll tax receives. Costs also are escalating
in the non-hospital part of the program, financed by premiums and general
The senior lobby says this country treats retirees inhumanely. It paints a
bleak picture of millions of old people living on Spam in order to pay for
drugs. Yet, statistics show that elderly household income per capita is on
par with the national average. That's pre-tax income upon which the
elderly enjoy huge breaks. When you include in-kind benefits like Medicare
-- a Cadillac plan compared to what the rest of us in the private market
can afford -- the elderly poverty rate is as low as the rate for any age
group and half the rate for children.
And for all the apocalyptic rhetoric about shortchanging seniors, federal
spending on the elderly comprises more than one-third of the national
budget. As the Concord Coalition points out, that doesn't even include
retirement benefits to the near-elderly and to civil service and military
I firmly believe we owe a debt of gratitude to the Greatest Generation.
But we don't owe them – or the Boomers --the kind of bottomless debt that
redistributionist panderers Gore and Bush are proposing. Government
benefits for the elderly will eat up a whopping 84 percent of budget
outlays by 2050 without cuts in Medicare and Social Security spending.
Who will raise their voices for young workers? Former Republican Sen. Alan
Simpson of Simpson, an adamant critic of the elderly entitlement explosion,
left office in 1996. Democrat Sen. Bob Kerrey, another entitlement
reformer, announced his retirement earlier this year. Only diehard policy
wonks listen to the Concord Coalition. And today's clueless spokespeople
for youth – like Karenna Gore and George P. Bush – haven't paid enough in
payroll taxes to buy two cans of Spam.
There's no one left to champion a cure for our impending generational pain.
The Republicans have learned you can't speak up for generational equity
anymore without being accused of elderly-bashing. Fiscal responsibility is
not simply passe. It's
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate