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Jewish World Review July 2, 2002 / 22 Tamuz, 5762

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mobray
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Consumer Reports

Dick Gephardt, Wannabe Deadbeat Son | With tears welling up in his robotic eyes, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) showed a rare flash of emotion as he recounted how his 94-year-old mother worried about the cost of her prescription drugs. Makes you want to cry--cry about how far our society has degenerated that the only family more and more seniors rely on is Uncle Sam.

Time was, families relied on each other, with dependencies inverting over time. Parents raised children when the youngsters could not provide for themselves, and then those children, as grown adults, would care for their aged parents. It's a process was that repeated in generation after generation.

This was far from an unhealthy cycle--it promoted family unity, and instilled in the youngest family members the true meaning of family. The old and infirm were not shipped off to nursing homes to die. They were not the government's responsibility; they were the family's. But all that has gradually--and substantially--changed over the past 40 years.

Nursing homes serve a purpose in health care for some seniors, but it should be the exception, not the rule. But most seniors are not entering nursing homes after staying with family members. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 18 percent of seniors admitted to nursing homes each year come directly from a family member's home, down slightly from twelve years earlier.

Seniors should have dignity and independence, but that's a whole different ball of wax than the government forcibly disintegrating the social contract that has existed within families for most of time. This is the logical consequence, however, of baby boomer politics.

The hippie culture at the core of boomer political beliefs advocated a utopia free of pain and suffering--and sacrifice. Hippies wanted to divorce freedom from responsibility, and now as middle-aged voters, they want their parents to be cared for--just not by them. Dick Gephardt apparently is no exception. Surely, he must have one constituent out of 600,000 in his district with difficulty affording prescription drugs, yet he chose to whine about his own mother--whose Congressman son earns a cushy six-figure salary.

Rather than assume the sometimes-messy job of caring for aging seniors, boomers have tapped the same source they have turned to for fixing a whole host of other problems: government. No doubt they also want to be spared the onerous task of actually socking away cash for their own health care during retirement. But as big brother always does, it has mucked things up--and will do much worse if politicians have their way.

Government has already incentivized the erosion of family responsibility, supplanting boomer children with government-funded strangers, i.e. - health care "professionals". Massive bureaucracies have been built up around this analgesic for boomers' guilty consciences. How about a simpler idea: Lowering taxes to make it financially feasible to directly care for one's aging parents.

Obviously there are many boomers who want to do right by their ailing parents, but simply don't have the resources to do so. Government programs, however, are geared to help them be less involved in their parents' lives, not more. After all, imagine a politician making the following pitch to voters: "I created an environment where people could care for their parents in the way they used to before government got in the way in the first place!"

In their zeal to "save" seniors, politicians are overlooking the obvious: the free market has largely worked very well. Seniors are living longer, healthier lives, and they are doing so at prices that would have been unthinkable even 15 years ago. Two-thirds of seniors have some private health insurance for prescription drugs, and those medications have dramatically altered the health care landscape.

Prescription drugs are the remedy of choice precisely because the free market has been allowed to operate. Pharmaceuticals made a boatload of cash producing drugs that lowered the cost of health care and reduced the incidence of invasive surgeries. Not surprisingly, they're still at it--but only so long as they can continue to profit from making us healthier.

Dick Gephardt looks at a glass that is more than half-full, and he declares the water intolerable. The situation that caused the Democrat demagogue to quiver with emotion? His mother has to pay $200 a month for glaucoma medication. $200 for her eyesight--less than 2% of her son's monthly paycheck--would seem a small price to pay, yet Gephardt's entitlement mindset has led him to believe that he should not be responsible for shouldering such a light burden.

Dick Gephardt may not want to care for his own mother, but the rest of us should want to care for our own families. Government has far better things to do than get in our way.

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© 2002, Joel Mowbray