In most cultures that are not American, the elderly are treated with respect and deference for their lifetime of experience and contributions to society, and despite the cost, most societies provide care and comfort to the elderly in their golden years. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw the need to provide a decent life for Americans’ in their old age, the Social Security Administration was created as a means of delivering a government administered pension plan to assure the people they would not starve or be homeless when they could no longer work. Still, only half of older adults had health insurance, and the other half either found coverage unavailable, or prohibitively expensive because their meager retirement income made health insurance unaffordable as they were charged nearly three times as much for coverage than a younger person. Thirty years after Social Security’s inception, Congress created Medicare under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history, and it has been a popular program ever since; except to Republicans.
For the past four years, Republicans have sought spending cuts that affect the poor, but they have threatened to enact brutal spending cuts to the elderly’s government administered healthcare that jeopardizes guaranteed access to health insurance for Americans ages 65 and older and younger people with disabilities. As a hateful attempt to cut the nation’s deficit, and avoid the dreaded fiscal cliff, the GOP is going all in to make cuts to Medicare by raising the eligibility age despite the damage to the nation’s elderly, and the budget. In 2009, Republicans assailed the Affordable Care Act as rationed healthcare and government-created death panels, but Medicare cuts Republicans are proposing will mean older Americans are bound for an early death under the guise of entitlement reform and deficit reduction. If they are successful, the dreaded death panels are due to begin in 2013 and their enactment is the goal of Republicans.
In fiscal cliff negotiations, the only specific proposal Republicans have made to date is demanding $600 billion in Medicare cuts over ten years by denying Medicare coverage to Americans during their first two years of eligibility by raising the eligibility age to 67. Because the elderly are prone to chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes which can be treated more effectively, and less expensively, with early diagnosis and intervention, it makes little fiscal sense to deny coverage to people aged 65 and 66. The result will lead to more severe infirmities, higher Medicare costs, and early death which may be the Republican’s ulterior motive and another means of cutting Medicare costs over the long haul.
If Republicans are serious about cutting Medicare costs, they should look at expenditures for unnecessary care, and fraudulent billing for care that is given. Of course, that means Republicans will have to address overtreatment that boosts corporate profits, and especially unnecessary procedures that can lead to pain, disability, and even death in older Americans. Republicans have rejected attempts to rein in unnecessary treatment in the past, and ironically, they used the government-imposed death panels argument to ward off attempts to control excessive treatment when the reality is seniors often suffer ill-effects of profit-driven overtreatment.
Medicare needs adjustments to account for the certain rise in participants as the population ages, but there are other means than raising the eligibility age. Since Medicare’s inception in 1965, the survival rate for older Americans increased by 13%, and if more Americans are forced to fend for themselves between age 65 and 67, the death rate is sure to rise with the eligibility age. As it is now, senior citizens participating in the Medicare program spend on average $4,600 per year in out-of-pocket medical expenses which is a major outlay for seniors surviving on meager Social Security retirement income. That amount is significantly higher for older Americans who are severely or chronically ill, and their numbers will explode if they put-off early detection and treatment by waiting two extra years before they are eligible for Medicare enrollment. One fact that is lost on Republicans is that by age 65, Americans’ bodies are worn out after working at physically demanding jobs that makes postponing medical care a tortuous proposition.
Americans already are more productive, work harder, longer, and are paid less than their counterparts in most industrialized nations, and yet the Republican remedy to deficit reduction is forcing them to go without medical care until they are 67 and choose between overpriced healthcare or food and shelter. A couple of weeks ago, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said Americans would have to work longer and “entitlements have to be slowed down,” and yet if Blankfein spent a lifetime doing manual labor and then two years without healthcare when he most needed it, he may have an entirely different outlook.
If Republicans want drastic Medicare cost reductions, there are other means than raising the eligibility age, but they are determined to go forward with cuts without upsetting corporate profits. They have resisted addressing overtreatment, overbilling, and out-of-control profiteering by the extremely profitable healthcare industry as well as rejected attempts to allow Medicare to negotiate for less-expensive prescription drugs to protect the pharmaceutical industry. Given a choice between strengthening an effective healthcare program and protecting profits, Republicans are choosing to protect the corporations and increase Medicare costs over the long haul. Democrats and President Obama must resist raising the Medicare eligibility age because Republicans are not proposing deficit reduction, they are suggesting cutting the elderly’s survival rate, and no matter how one looks at it, deliberately reducing survival is a death panel.