‘Entitlement' not dirty word despite what some believe
When my Medicare card arrived in the mail this week it brought a new perspective for me to the idea of so-called “entitlements” as I prepare for my own retirement at the end of the year.
Frankly, for most of my life any discussion of Social Security or Medicare would tend to make my eyes glaze over. I knew it was there, but it was so far off there that it didn't really have a lot of meaning. That isn't the case anymore.
These benefit programs for the elderly are often seen as the “third rail” for politicians. The real third rail is the conductor of electricity to some railway cars – touch it and you die.
That is why ongoing discussions over the fiscal cliff and the nation's debt are so difficult. There seems to be a consensus among deficit hawks that some fiscal “controls” – that means reductions in my mind – need to be brought to these “entitlements” if we are to deal successfully with the nation's financial situation. That's dangerous territory for a politician.
It seems to me that the word “entitlements” is used in almost a derogatory fashion these days by those who seek change – as if these programs are things Americans don't really need or deserve. I think they are very wrong, if that is their way of thinking.
Polling has shown that most Americans like and want these programs – and they don't want them significantly changed, at least if that means downgrading them. Critics say this is the equivalent of wanting steak for the price of hamburger – it simply isn't possible.
In truth, these programs are about real life needs of people.
Most people who have Social Security and Medicare would have a difficult – if not impossible – time surviving without them. They are not luxuries. To recipients, they are not remote fiscal issues to be debated with a calculator in hand while you decide what to cut here or there. They are literally life and death issues, particularly in the case of Medicare – which is currently in the fiscal target in the crosshairs of politicians.
The cost of medical care can be sky high, especially for the elderly – who, let's face it, are often the ones in the most need of it. Most seniors simply could not afford care without this vital government health care program.
In fact, some can hardly afford it even with Medicare. Some elderly folks have a difficult time paying for their medications and take only half the prescribed amount so they will last longer. Others avoid needed procedures because they fear the ancillary costs that may not be covered.
I know the amount some people get from Social Security. Frankly, I don't know how they can possibly live on it. The benefits are not generous – they are basic.
When critics seem to imply that Medicare recipients and Social Security pensioners are “greedy” or trying to take advantage of society through “entitlement” programs, I think of my own parents, who are now gone.
They worked all their lives doing hard, exhausting jobs for small amounts of money. They had no ability to put aside retirement money – they were lucky to keep our family fed and clothed from paycheck to paycheck.
My father didn't live long enough to get these programs. He was what the actuaries count on – someone who pays into the program but never is able to collect. As the age to get benefits is pushed higher, which is what fiscal hawks want, the number of people like that increases, saving money that would otherwise have to be paid out.
When my mother grew old, she welcomed Social Security and Medicare. She lived modestly and was thankful. She was not taking advantage of anyone.
We as a nation decided that the elderly should be provided with an opportunity to live their final years with dignity and some small level of comfort. I think these programs are among the greatest achievements of our nation, and I think most people are happy to support them, even if it means they may have to pay a little more.
Yet, some still reject them as too-costly “entitlements” – perhaps because they never supported them in the first place – seemingly sneering at those who are able to live long enough to take advantage of them.
Enough, I say. Most people are like my parents were, and they deserve respect and understanding of why they strongly support the continuance of the programs. While those currently on the programs, or soon to be, will not likely feel the changes that are being proposed, that does not mean they are not concerned. They want what they have to be there for their children too.
The fiscal hawks say this is impossible. No, it is not. Some changes will be necessary, true, but AARP – which has long fought to protect these programs – has offered various proposals that do not require the kind of dramatic alterations some are proposing, yet keep the programs intact without bankrupting the nation.
I hope my fellow citizens are as sick as I am of the constant drumbeat against these programs that I think reflect a truly caring nation – programs that deserve support, not constant attack.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun's News and Information Center. Email: email@example.com. Telephone: 539-6870.