Medicare costs threaten to make a mess of the future
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, May 26, 2011

On Memorial Day we honor those who died while fighting for freedom. We also thank the remaining survivors of American wars.

Later, while enjoying a cookout, we might want to ask ourselves if we deserve their sacrifice. Are we planning to pass on the America they saved to future generations; or simply enjoy its blessings ourselves while spending the future?

Yes, Memorial Day is a good time to talk about the national debt, the annual deficits that equal half the annual budget, the interest that we borrow more money to pay, and fiscal insanity in general.

Embarrassingly, some members of my own generation (seniors over the age of 55) are scolding the few responsible politicians who are trying to get a grip on the nation's fiscal crisis.

The majority of the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, passed a budget that begins to address the unsustainable federal entitlements. There's no way to control the national debt without dealing with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

I'm a proud tea partier who wishes someone had stopped that one tea party activist who carried a handmade sign saying "Keep the Government's Hands off my Medicare" before we all had to live it down.

Even seniors who don't care about anyone's grandchildren should be aware that the word "entitlement" means nothing if those government programs run out of money in the next few years. Along with the interest on the national debt, they'll eventually swallow so much revenue that other vital government functions can't be funded.

Yes, we all paid into Social Security and Medicare. I looked up my own and my employers' contributions to SS, then added the estimated amounts I could have earned if I'd been allowed to put the FICA payments in an interest-bearing account for all my working years. Barring high inflation, the total amount will carry me until I'm almost 80. When it's gone, I'll be getting welfare checks from workers whose own SS "accounts" will be empty.

As for Medicare, after one major surgery, my contributions to my Medicare account will be used up; from then on, when I need medical help I'll be on welfare. Hard to face, but true.

Medicaid is always a welfare program, not just for the poor who use it at a younger age, but for those needing nursing homes after their savings are exhausted. I don't know about you, but at that point I want a friendly "death panel" offering me a tray of little pills to facilitate my peaceful ending.

On the other hand, I might figure: I tried to save the nation's grandchildren from living in poverty while they subsidize my ongoing care; so if the American Dream has come to this sad end despite my objections, bring me my subsidized meal and fluff my pillow.

My mother once asked me to write her congressman about a proposed increase in her supplemental Medicare premiums. When I balked, she said, "Young lady, your father and I worked all our lives, paid our own way, and asked for nothing in return. We supported various welfare programs for other people with our taxes. Then your father died before using up his paid-in Social Security monies. Now I want what's due me."

I had to admit she had a point, especially when taking into account that my parents paid for the Catholic schools I attended, while also paying for the public schools I didn't; and that as conservative Democrats they didn't deliberately vote to create a welfare state.

I like to think they'd like Paul Ryan, who has the courage to try to not only save Medicare as an ongoing, more affordable insurance program, but begin to reduce the deficits that damage the country their twin great-grandchildren will inherit.

The House-passed budget plan would cut $4.4 trillion from the federal budget over 10 years. It would repeal ObamaCare, from which the AARP which enthusiastically supported it has just received a waiver from the Obama administration so this greedy-geezer group can make money with its own insurance plan. Ryan's Medicare plan would keep the present system for those 55 and older, then issue vouchers to future seniors to purchase their own health insurance in the private market.

Far from being radical, this is similar to the system we seniors use now for our supplemental plans, where we look for the best deals based on our individual preferences and needs.

But opponents are running a ridiculous ad showing a Ryan look-alike pushing granny over a cliff, which would be hilarious if it wasn't scaring politicians who should be joining the solution brigade. Scott Brown, the first Republican senator to come out against the House budget, is pushing Ryan and House reformers over a cliff.

Someday there will be a Memorial Day parade for the heroes of this latest battle to save America, one which doesn't risk their lives, but does require some political courage. Congressman Ryan will be leading the parade, while Sen. Brown follows it on his bicycle with playing cards between the spokes, making irrelevant noise.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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