December 12, 2003

The Medicare Drug Benefit & Why Seniors Are So Spoiled

meds.jpgIn the wake of the Medicare drug benefit legislation President Bush signed this week, I was browsing Steve Chapman's biting piece on Slate, "Meet the Greedy Grandparents: Why America's Elderly are so Spoiled". As we look forward to future generations of Americans having footing the bill for today's free drugs to keep aging Baby-Boomers chugging along into their hundreds, the subject of entitlements for seniors - whether that's ensuring the Social Security safety net or making sure drug companies don't profit unfairly by "forcing our seniors to choose between whether to buy food or their arthritis medicine" (in the words of our President) - we should consider remember that senior citizens have never had it so good in these United States, and if not for their huge voting bloc, they wouldn't be so well off.

Here's a choice excerpt:

    From gratefully accepting a basic level of assistance back in the early decades of Social Security, America's elderly have come to expect everything their durable little hearts desire. They often get their way, as they did recently when years of complaints finally induced Congress and the president to agree to bear much of the cost of their prescription drugs. From the tenor of the debate, you would think these medications were a terrible burden inflicted by an uncaring fate. In fact, past generations of old people didn't have to make room in their budgets for pharmaceuticals because there weren't many to buy. If you suffered from high cholesterol, chronic heartburn, or depression, you were left to primitive remedies, or none. Today, there are pills and potions for just about any complaint—except the chronic complaint that many of them are pricey. It's not enough to be blessed with medical miracles. Modern seniors also want them cheap, if not free.

Here's another:

    Why do we keep indulging the grizzled ones? The most obvious reason is that they are so tireless and well-organized in demanding alms. No politician ever lost an election because he was too generous to little old ladies. A lot of people are suckered by the image of financially strapped seniors, even though the poverty rate among those 65 and over has been lower than that for the population as a whole since 1974. But it's not just the interests of old coots that are being served here. Young and middle-aged adults tend to look kindly upon lavish federal generosity to Grandma because it means she won't be hitting them up for help. Paying taxes may be onerous, but it's nothing compared to the cost, financial and otherwise, of adding a mother-in-law suite to the house. Working-age folks also assume that whatever they bestow upon today's seniors will be likewise bestowed on them, and in the not too distant future. It's not really fair to blame the greatest generation for this extravagance. They are guilty, but they have an accomplice.

And, finally:

    To fund all the obligations of the Social Security system, payroll taxes will have to more than double by 2040—on top of whatever it costs to buy all those prescription drugs. At that point, our children will realize the trick we've pulled and start to hate our guts. That would be a cruel blow to a generation that thinks of itself as the most wonderful parents in history.

Maybe today’s twentysomethings should start getting out the vote a little better than they’re used to, if for no other reason than to raise attention for their own future plight in having to pay for today's senior gravy train.

- Arik

Posted by Arik Johnson at December 12, 2003 03:38 PM | TrackBack