On May 13, 2011, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced that Medicare would run out of money in 2024, five years earlier than last year’s projection.
The disability benefits fund portion of Social Security will be exhausted in 2018 because the number of people receiving such payments is rising significantly. As a result, the fight over Medicare and Social Security benefits are being played out on the floor of Congress daily as the argument over increasing our nation’s debt limit goes on unabated. Medicare covers more than 47 million elderly and disabled Americans.
Before we address some of these issues, we should examine how Americans got into this mess in the first place. In 1968, against the howling opposition of the sixties antiwar generation, the government adopted a unified budget. The surpluses in Social Security trust funds were converted to the general fund and used to offset the national debt. Our national debt had been significantly increased by the war in Vietnam. By converting Social Security’s trust funds, it made the national debt appear to be much smaller than it really was.
The other purpose of the unified budget was to continue funding the war in Vietnam without having to raise taxes in the coming years. To get political support, the older generation was made the same hollow promise as was made to this generation of 55-year-olds on May 13th. If the next generation of seniors supported the change, it would not affect them in their lifetime.
The sixties generation, now becoming seniors, was asked to pay for the war in Vietnam, despite its unanimous opposition. Now, the generation of under 50-year-olds lawmakers, conservative Republicans and members of the Tea Party have decided to “screw” the sixties generation again by taking away future benefits and offering “cheesy” vouchers.
This is because, for the first time, Social Security began paying out more in benefits than it collected in taxes and now faces insolvency in 2036.
This crisis only exists because Congress did not have the courage to face the realities of the war in Vietnam when they should have. Nor did the older generation at that time think for one moment about how their actions would effect their children and grandchildren. They were still caught up in Cold War fears of a communist “domino principal” that evaporated with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Now, the same short-sided view of the economics is haunting Americans after nine long years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. General Santayana once said, “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.” And here we are in the 21st century facing the same problems as the late sixties.
GOP leaders used this latest report to push for more aggressive action to reshape the 46-year-old Medicare program which would include 44 million Americans losing Medicare coverage.
Instead of addressing the huge cost of the war and foreign aid to countries like iraq and Pakistan, which is the home to many terrorist groups, Congress prefers top cut benefit programs. The question is “Is it more important to conduct foreign wars and build hospitals in Iraq than take care of America’s elderly?”
For example, in 2010 and 2011, the U.S. gave more than $3 billion in aid to Mexico to educate prosecutors and the police while we are laying off teachers in our country and leaving veterans living on the streets. Our war veterans had to sue the U.S. government in Los Angeles in 2011 to get benefits!
Sadly Americans are paying for Mexico’s social programs on the backs of Americans addicted to drugs. The Mexican government prefers to do nothing to aid its population leaving them to cross our borders in search of health and education services. We pay for their medical treatment, offer them discounted tuition to our colleges and many other benefits not offered in their country.
The sum total spent by Congress in aid to Mexico and their illegal immigrants has had a major impact on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. This is made worse by the fact that illegal aliens not only don’t pay taxes, they send their illegal earnings back to their families in Mexico. The cost of these benefits paid to illegal aliens from all countries severely impacts the cost of Medicaid which reduces dollars available for Medicare. In simple words, our seniors are being penalized because of the benefits paid for treatment of illegal aliens.
It is hard to believe that Americans are still providing foreign aid to Mexico at the same time that Americans are burdened with the huge cost of providing these benefits to people who are forced to escape the oppressive conditions fostered by the Mexican government.
So, the House Republicans’ plan would effectively privatize Medicare starting in 2022 by giving seniors vouchers to shop for commercial insurance plans instead of receiving the current guaranteed government benefit. In essence, the government would contribute to your insurance premiums and then you would be on your own. This plan would fail miserably.
Just look at the actions of insurers such as Anthem Blue Cross to get a preview of how Americans would be treated under a voucher system. In California, Blue Cross is being forced to refund $167 million to customers this year and another $10 million to doctors and hospitals. This underscores how much they have overcharged on insurance policies and how they have increased profits by cutting costs by denying valid claims.
Deductibles are going up and now Blue Cross has announced that your policy is going to be month-to-month with the ability to cancel you anytime they want. How will a voucher help when Blue Cross cancels a policy on one of your elderly parents? How can you trust them to protect your elderly family members?
According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and not surprisingly, our government would save billions of dollars by shifting an increasing share of medical costs onto seniors. Under this plan, seniors, who could least afford it, would pay almost twice as much out of their own pockets — or more than $12,510 a year by 2022.
All this while members of Congress receive “sweet-heart” benefit packages and a lifetime income for serving just one term. There is clearly a double standard for how members of Congress and the elderly are treated. Why should they care? It will not affect their lives when they become seniors. While you are receiving vouchers, their health insurance policies will be paid by your taxes.
Would you trust private insurance companies to take care of your aging parents? What will children do when they discover that their elderly parents are not receiving either social security or the vouchers are ineffective? Will we have another generation of elderly move in with their children as they did in the Great Depression?
On the other hand, Democrats want to resolve the problem by a series of cuts to hospitals and other medical providers designed to spur increased efficiency. The report suggested that these efforts would slow the growth of Medicare costs by 25% over the next 75 years. Considering our government’s history of inspection and policing of hospitals, good luck with that.
According to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, chairman of the board of trustees of Medicare, “Americans are living longer, and healthcare costs are continuing to rise. And if we do not do more to contain the rate of growth in healthcare costs, then our commitments will become unsustainable.”
Jason Fichtner, former chief economist at the Social Security Administration, warned that “If we reform the program today, we can hold harmless people who are 55 and over. If we wait, we may have to reduce benefits for everyone.” Does anyone trust our government when they make promises like this?
Basically, our government is saying that if people over 55-years-old support this plan, we will exempt you. But people 55-years-old will only be 68-years-old in 2024 and just entering the system. How can this plan guarantee coverage to elderly Americans and still lower the costs? It is simply not logical.
These reports and plans offered by both parties have so many failed presumptions that their credibility is strained beyond belief. The reports and projections fail to measure many different and important factors:
- Employing their logic, the increase in the number of children reaching employment age, will likely exceed the number of deaths dramatically. Based upon their numbers, the increase should result in larger work force paying more payroll taxes. Inflation will increase the amounts deducted. The problem is not with the economy, the problem is that industry does not want to pay its fair share of contributions to Social Security or any other retirement benefits, for that matter.
- The population projections fail to factor in the reduced life expectancy of generations surviving on fast foods and other cheap packaged foods containing as many or more than100 different chemical ingredients. At the current rate of attrition in the sixties generation, the number of seniors will be reduced by the effects of the poor quality of foods sold today.
- Our leaders fail to factor in the effects of eating genetically modified foods from Monsanto seeds that carry pesticides, bacteria, toxins and viruses in each strand of DNA that will lead to more illness, disease and shorter life spans. In 1990, cancer afflicted only about 1 out 11 people. Now, 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women will suffer from cancer in their lifetime. Attrition from illness and disease may be higher than any other generation in the last 100 years.
- Certainly the mortality rates of obese young Americans including those who eat far too much MSG, high fructose corn syrup, sodium nitrate and other carcinogenic foods will have its effect. There are nearly 10 million overweight and obese children in the U.S. today. Sixty-eight percent of adults are categorized as overweight, one-third of them diagnosed as clinically obese. Increased disability means people no longer working and paying taxes.
- Then, there is the effect of eating factory farmed (CAFO) meats fed with Monsanto Bt corn and soy, stuffed with animal growth hormones, given antibiotics daily, sprayed with pesticides and the effects of standing in manure all day. More diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal illnesses, cancer and disease.
- The government also ignores the problems with our contaminated lakes, rivers, streams, aquifers and underground water sources caused by Manure Lagoons, pesticide run-offs, acid rain from disasters like the BP oil rig and other industrial chemicals which will ultimately shorten life spans.
- And, deaths resulting from the epidemic of the more than 250 forms of food-borne illness including Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, with new and more deadly antibiotic resistant strains being discovered annually.
The decline in American health is undeniable. Just look around at the ages of people listed in the obituary columns daily. The stats supporting this decline are shocking and equally undeniable.
Whether you ascribe problems with Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare to economic decline or our government’s choice to spend more money on foreign aid and wars, it is clear that there are so many other factors affecting these statistics than the ones offered by our leaders. But, several actions and policy changes could reshape these statistics and reduce medical costs by improving the health of our nation:
(1) Cleaning up our waterways and sources of drinking water;
(2) Better inspection of food plants, egg farms, CAFOs and other meat sources;
(3) Banning MSG and the countless other addictive food additives contributing to obesity, illness and disease;
(4) Eliminating high fructose corn syrup from all soft drinks, packaged foods and fast foods;
(5) Compelling manufacturers of baby and children’s foods to meet a higher criteria for health and nutrition;
(6) Breaking up the unholy partnership between the U.S. government and biotech firms like Monsanto;
(7) Eliminating animal growth hormones for dairy cows;
(8) Blocking the use of cloned and transgenic meat and fish and the use of drugs developed in cloned or transgenic animals;
(9) Abolishing the use of genetically modified seeds and crops while we still have some heirloom seeds and plants to maintain nature’s pure foods;
(10) And, engaging in forms of preventive medicine instead of reacting to every problem after Americans die senselessly from industry mistakes.
But, if a recession and/or a depression continues for the next decade, history dictates that this country will be more concerned with a revolution by the poor – and maybe the disenchanted middle class, than vouchers. In either event, there will be radical changes in our government if there is no improvement in the job markets, health insurance and controlling greedy American Robber Baron corporations.
To understand and address the problems of Medicare, Medicaid, Disability and Social Security requires a closer look at the causes and not at politically motivated plans advanced by political parties with an agenda. It doesn’t matter which side of the political fence you are on, age, illness and death know no political party. An ounce of prevention is worth a billion dollars in budget cuts.