Last year I joined the ranks of “the elderly,” which entitled me to receive Medicare. Later this year I’ll begin collecting Social Security. We old people, as you might surmise from watching Fox News or listening to Mitt Romney, are “moochers.” Most of us cannot afford to be self-reliant; we will depend on the federal government to supplement our meagerly pensions and pay for our rising health care costs. Hey. When you get old you get sicker, as much as I’d like to avoid both.
The U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of demographics, which include age along with sex, race, and bunch of other metrics. We are growing older.
Matthew Yglesias suggests that “we” will have a problem, and it’s all about us old farts. He writes:
So what are the real problems? Simple. One thing the government does is tax the labor and investment activities of non-seniors to cut checks to elderly people (Social Security). Another thing it does is tax the labor and investment activities of non-seniors to cut checks to elderly people’s doctors (Medicare). And a third thing it does is tax the labor and investment activities of non-seniors to cut checks to elderly people’s long-term care providers (one of Medicaid’s functions). In the future, the ratio of elderly people to non-elderly people is supposed to rise, and the ratio of doctors’ fees to average incomes is also supposed to rise. Which is to say that [even while] holding program functions constant the burden of placed on the non-elderly is expected to rise. But this increased burden exists whether the payment comes in the form of taxes (people don’t like paying taxes!) or in the form of borrowing (which will eventually lead to taxes people don’t like to pay!) so the issue is all about spending money on old people and not about debt or deficits.
Yep, we’re an expensive lot, we elderly, and expected to become even more so. One response to our changing demographics is to cut benefits or decrease the life-time payouts by raising the eligibility age. That may sound like music to your ears if you’re decades away from joining us. You don’t want to pay more taxes. I get that. Who does? But would you dig a little deeper to help out your aging parents, or would you just let them rot in their bedrooms? I’m guessing that you’d feel compelled to do something, however minimal.
I, for one, was grateful that my parents had pensions, Medicare, and Social Security to ease their financial burdens–and mine—as they grew sick and eventually died. That happens, you know. We all die sometime. I’m hoping that I won’t have to depend on my children for assistance, and that I can rely on what my wife and I have set aside and, yes, federal programs.
A more civil and humane culture would want to care for the elderly through insurance at levels far grander than America’s public programs. But paying for a more European system would cost us more in higher taxes.
However, they wouldn’t have to be so high were we to get serious about reining in the private health care sector, including Big Pharma. In effect, we Americans have allowed the Rest of Us to transfer our wealth to insurance companies and the makers of drugs, the latter insisting that we be denied much cheaper generic versions. (The New York Times writes about the latter here.) Yglesias talks about the artificial supply constraints on doctors and mentions the Canadians:
We either need more doctors or more adequate substitutes for doctors. We need more long-term care providers. Taxpayers don’t need to foot the bill for the whole thing, but the whole medical infrastructure is very bound up with public policy and something has to be done. Canada reduces the burden that health care places on the taxpayer by paying providers less for the services they render, which could be a promising start.
So let’s get started.