Public Policy

Medicare Funding May Become Enormous Burden for Generations of Future Taxpayers


 

February 2033

Dear sons:

Now that most of my baby boomer friends are 80 or 90 years old and are still hanging on, I wanted to apologize for leaving you in such a mess. Looking back, we all should have made some tough choices back in 2013, when some thoughtful belt-tightening would have created a fiscally sound ability for our country to provide healthcare and a safety net, not only to our senior citizens, but to all Americans. After today’s riots across the country, I felt I had to reach out to you and beg you to let rational minds prevail.

My fellow seniors, who paid into the Medicare and Social Security programs through our payroll taxes during the 30 to 40 years we worked in American industries, believe we are entitled to live forever with unlimited healthcare paid for by you. We are lined up almost every day at one doctor’s office or another to have our fourth joint replacement or our monthly MRI. Even though the actuaries tell us we all blew through our own contributions to Medicare sometime around our 75th birthdays, the general thinking of my friends on the golf course is that we paid for our parents’ healthcare and retirement, and you should just suck it up and stop whining.

Our generation did some great things with immunizations, cancer prevention, reducing the risks of coronary heart disease, and stroke prevention and treatment. The end result is that many of those who would have died earlier have lived beyond our country's means to provide for them.

Now I do admit that my friends tend to overlook the fact that when we were just in our 50s, like you are now, there were eight or nine workers (i.e. taxpayers) for every retiree. Now it seems it is one taxpayer working to support one retiree. The math just doesn’t work anymore. No wonder your tax burden is so suffocating that young workers can’t afford a home or a second car or even a vacation. I can see why there is talk by some of rationing care, but some of the rhetoric is kind of frightening.

Yes, there are more 90-year-olds with severe dementia on chronic dialysis than I would like to see. I don’t necessarily agree that everyone has a right to die with a normal BUN. Our generation did some great things with immunizations, cancer prevention, reducing the risks of coronary heart disease, and stroke prevention and treatment. The end result is that many of those who would have died earlier have lived beyond our country’s means to provide for them. For heaven’s sake, there are more than 1 million Americans over the age of 100 today. Once a woman gets past 65, it seems they are destined to live indefinitely.

Believe it or not, I was around in the 1960s when Medicare was first discussed and people were looking at life expectancies in the early 70s. No one saw the advent of so much expensive technology in diagnostic testing and surgical intervention. Despite more bipartisan national commissions and reports than I care to remember, no president or Congress has had the cojones to make the tough choices to provide the basic health needs for seniors in a fiscally sound system that doesn’t overwhelm the workforce.

I know the slogans urge a move from Medicare to “MediCan’t.” I know some want to bar seniors from getting flu shots and want to have pneumonia be the old man’s friend again. I sense a feeling that the elderly are becoming the enemy of the working class. I hear the rants that most of our nation’s wealth is held by those over 65, yet my generation wants more and more, feeling we paid for this and we deserve everything we have coming to us.

Once again, sorry this all had to fall on you, but I have got to run. I am going to see your grandmother. I can’t believe how well she is recovering from arthroscopic surgery. Pretty amazing for someone who is 105 years old.

Love,

Dad


Dr. Wellikson is CEO of SHM.

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