Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Benefiting Seniors

I just finished reading a short article at The Weekly Standard, by Gary Andres, about how the new Medicare prescription drug program is going. It's actually looking pretty good, with seniors who were once frustrated at the confusing process of choosing from the myriad of plans now settling in and feeling comfortable with their choices. Andres says that 90 percent of eligible seniors now have prescription drug benefits, and are responding very favorably in opinion polls as to their satisfaction with their coverage. What's more, it's becoming clear that the program is actually going to cost the government considerably less than first predicted, due to private sector involvement and market competition.

Andres focuses on the fact that this good news could help the GOP politically, since it was Republicans who pushed the coverage through, despite objections from both the left and the right. (Libs thought it didn't do enough. Cons thought we didn't need another costly entitlement.) Most Americans think there should be some kind of coverage, so Republicans probably won't lose any political points on this one, especially since it's off to a good start.

That concerns me less than the benefit this is to people I know and love. My mom, for example, has been telling me some of the good results she's had from the program lately, with unexpected prescriptions not creating a burden for her financially. She, like so many others, was somewhat frustrated with the choices involved at the plan's inception, but it's looking like a blessing now. I'm not very fond of entitlement programs, particularly when they push individual social responsibilities off onto government. However, if this continues to be a good thing for seniors, especially if the cost continues to fall under expectations, I'd say this may work out all right. If we're making the decision as a society to value our older citizens, and provide the medication that will keep them with us longer, that's a good indication that, at least in some areas, our values aren't totally off base. I don't care politically whether that benefits the Republicans, the Democrats, or the Friends of Green Leafy Vegetables Party, as long as it benefits our moms.

Update: I felt the need to clarify, because of a comment I received. The comment was in essence that the elderly and young should be guaranteed the necessities of life. I sympathize with the sentiment, but can't agree with it in practicality. People ought to provide for themselves wherever possible. I don't believe that anyone should fail to prepare for their own retirement, and expect other people to foot the bill when they get older, which (human nature being what it is) I fear would be the result of a social assurance that all ones needs would be met at a certain age. That concept would foster irresponsibility on the part of the young, and a selfish perspective, only focused on the now, leading to short-sighted decision making. Further, because most would never save for the future, they would have nothing left to share with others who have less than they do, thus depriving them of the benefit that comes from being a blessing to others instead of a burden.

It is not always possible for well-meaning people to prepare adequately for retirement. Life is full of uncertainties. In an ideal world, everyone would earn their way, and have an abundance to give to others. The world is not ideal, however, and there are true needs that we face as a society. My point in the post was that, as entitlement programs go, this one could end up being less troubling than originally expected, and that it is a good thing that we are showing value for our parents--as long as we can do it without stealing from our children at the same time, by contracting them to pay for programs that are financially unsound and provide insufficient benefit to the elderly they are intended to aid. The prescription drug program looks like the benefit might balance the cost (largely due to private sector involvement and the forces of competition in the market), which makes it much more worthy than many government endeavors. As long as it continues in that direction, it's a noble effort that might fulfill its promise.

1 comment:

  1. Amen. Our seniors, especially those of our mother's generation, are particularly vulnerable in todays financial climate. Our mother is blessed in so many ways. And she knows it now, emotionally that is the biggest blessing. But in particular she has always been so hard nosed about her frugality (current indulgences don't count :):) She has money in the bank for many reasons, but noone disputes how hard she worked all her life. She deserves to be taken care of, whatever form that takes. In whatever manner we are capable of acting on.
    So many of our elderly are trying, "trying", to live on very limited incomes in a world that is so very expensive and getting more so every day. I see people every day who count their change carefully, look at the price signs and budget, and who appear to be quibbling over small things. But you know what? we have no idea if that $1.50 price difference might mean more food in their mouth or gas in their car. If they are counting just because they are careful and frugal, more power to them. They are surviving because of that. No matter what, entitlement programs should never (my opinion of course :)) be held back from the elderly or the very young in this country. They deserve care. What is misuse and abuse is usually attributed to those that are young enough and strong enough to be working but find it easier to benefit by affiliating themselves with babies and old people as "caretakers".
    That's a shame. But the bigger shame would be not providing for our elderly. I know that this will sound extreme, but I would rather see no public parks, or no protected salmon, etc....than to think that any one of retirement age who is truly needy would ever go hungry, or be cold, or not get the medicine that would make them more comfortable,let alone keep them alive. I think elderly homes should be free and their Social Security used to live a more carefree life. Get to go to Hawaii. End of rant. I know that this is complicated too.
    I just think it so sad that we all, all of us, have to fear old age in this country because even if we have money now, we might not then. And some of us know we won't have it then. At least not enough to not have to count pennies and worry about the cost of a loaf of bread. And eat chicken legs because they are less expensive. God knows what they will cost when we are old. Medication should be free. Health care should be free. Barely surviving is always expensive. For everyone.