AARP & Healthcare: The Shafting of the Un-Seniors
Unlike Britney Spears, I've been a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) since 1994, and I find myself opposing most of their public policy stands. Yes, they do support what they perceive as the "interests" of older people, but they adopt positions inimical to nearly everyone under the age of 50. They don't recognize -- or don't care -- that efforts to shift public monies to older citizens often work against younger people.
In the current edition (January, 2007) of the AARP Bulletin, one article deals with "Health Care for All." It quotes a billionaire investor named Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., who says, "We [meaning thee and me] need some form of universal [health care] coverage that would be centrally funded [taken out of tax dollars] by the government, but delivered privately through existing mechanisms like HMOs."
Much as I criticize the American health care "system," I profoundly disagree with Ross. If his view prevails, one thing we can certain about is that billionaire Ross will not be waiting in the health care lines with the rest of us unbillionaires, The Great Unwashed becoming The Great Untreated.
As Dr. David Gratzer says in his superb book, The Cure, there's nothing wrong with universal health coverage -- unless, of course, you get sick. Gratzer talks about the day he came to disbelieve in the approach used in his native Canada.
He says, "On a cold Canadian morning about a decade ago, late for a [med school] class, I cut through a hospital emergency room and came upon dozens of people on stretchers -- waiting, moaning, begging for treatment. Some elderly patients [note well, AARP] had waited for up to five days in corridors before being admitted to beds. They smelled of sweat and urine."
Regarding the much-praised Canadian system, Gratzer says that on that eye-opening day he had "begun a journey into one of the great policy disasters of all time." Billionaire Ross, meet Dr. David Gratzer.
The major problem with universal care is that it doesn't do a good job providing care for people who need it. It also pretends -- and Ross seems to go along with this -- that the care is "free." He says it "will be centrally funded by the government." How nice of the government to use its own money, as opposed to our tax money, to fund health care for all God's human creatures.
Americans need many things, but we don't know to bankrupt ourselves throwing money into the great maw of an out-of-control health care beast. Also, we don't really to lie around in our sweat and urine waiting for someone -- anyone -- to provide us the treatment we need. Somehow I don't imagine Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. sweating away in an overheated hallway, waiting interminably to see a specialist.
In health care, the government spends money much faster than taxpayers can get it to them. In 1970, the health program for the poor, Medicaid, cost the nation $5 billion. This year, it will be well over $350 billion -- a 70-fold increase in little more than a generation.
Spending for Social Security, most of it of course going to older Americans, in 2004 was $492 billion -- well above the spending for national defense. Spending for Medicare and Medicaid was more than $600 billion, 30%-plus higher than defense expenditures.
Gee, who's paying most of the costs? Hint: It's not the big contingent of retired people, including yours truly. Its our children and grandchildren, through their "contributions" to Social Security and Medicare, as well as their tax dollars.
My congressman, Jason Altmire, has a net worth that Wilbur Ross, Jr. would regard as chump change, but he apparently advocates health policies roughly similar to Ross's -- while leaving out the business about involving HMOs, which under the Ross Plan would become nothing more than extensions of government bureaucracies.
As for the AARP, it looks at public expenditures as a zero-sum game. It wants us, the seniors, to get more -- while our benefactors, younger Americans, inevitably will get less. By the time they're our age, today's young whipper-snappers may get nearly nothing at all, which will irritate them greatly.
No, we don't need universal coverage, an insight present congressman Altmire and future President Hillary Clinton will never share. We need more doctors who will charge lower prices; we need real competition in the pharmaceutical industry; and we need patients aware of the true cost of their care. In short, we need what Dr. Gratzer recommends: capitalism.
Finally, we need an end to the geriatric greed symbolized by the AARP. An alternative is emerging -- in the form of the United Seniors Association, a grassroots organization approaching two million members. It appeals to Republicans and others who believe in fiscal sanity and demographic fairness.
More about United Seniors later.