Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Socialist Seniors

Support for the public option -- the health care reform bill -- is highest among those between 18-29, and lowest among those over 65 -- among whom only 35% support current proposals for health care reform. Seniors are particularly important right now as we approach the 2010 midterm elections -- in midterms, they tend to vote in large numbers, and were instrumental in putting a Republican majority and the Contract for America into power during Bill Clinton's first term.

Simultaneously, though, seniors benefit the most from government-mandated, government-run health insurance. While 28% of people 18-29 are uninsured, those over 65 are the least likely demographic to lack insurance, coming in at just 3.6%. Medicare is the difference. Moreover, the way that economic expansion and tax burdens have progressed over the course of the 20th century, seniors alive today have on average received $2.50 in benefits for every $1 they've paid in health-care related taxes. Not only that, but the costs of Medicare are increasing at about 8.8% a year -- high, but not as high as private insurance's 9.9% yearly cost increase.

As has been pointed out almost infinitely, senior anger over the public option can't rationally come from a fear or dismissal of government involvement in health insurance. Instead, I believe it comes from a desire to protect their benefits -- as is the case made in this Ezra Klein editorial. Health care reform, although the vast majority of it doesn't affect seniors at all (and this includes all parts of the public option, for which seniors are not eligible, since they're already covered by Medicare), does try to cut costs across the board, and some of those cuts -- even if they're just attempts to decrease non-beneficial waste spending -- may affect Medicare.

Echoing Klein, a note to everybody under 60: seniors depend on and prefer Medicare to the point that they will throw screaming fits when confronted with reforms for everybody else that affect their benefits. This is absolutely their right -- they got their Medicare benefits in the first place through vigorous participation in the political process, and by insisting that their government serve their needs. I don't think there are very many people who would begrudge the Greatest Generation a warm bed and a course of antibiotics when they're sick.

Don't we deserve it too, though? Isn't the conviction of the one population in the United States that enjoys socialized medicine a strong recommendation for a government option in health insurance? And don't they show us that we can improve our system and provide for each other through concerted effort, and American stubbornness?

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