As a doctor and a blogger and a friend of elders I tend to steer clear of electoral politics. After all members of all political parties (and their loved ones) grow old. Aging is an equal opportunity experience.
For the most part I think America has done pretty well balancing the needs and demands of opposing interest groups and factions. I am certainly proud of my country and its history.
There is one set of issues, however, on which I do feel compelled to take a public position.
I believe that older Americans have paid for and deserve to receive the benefit of an effective social safety net that can protect their dignity and well-being in their later years.
The line between a comfortable old age and wretchedness is much narrower than most people suppose. We are, as we are constantly reminded, the richest nation the world has ever seen and we CAN protect older people from the terrible burdens of poverty and pain that lie so terribly close by.
Too often lost in the debate over these issues is the fact that social insurance programs (that are intended to support older people) also provide young people with the freedom and resources they need to learn, grow, explore and achieve.
I can illustrate this often unrecognized dimension of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with an example from my own youth.
When I was in my second year of medical school, I came home for a visit and– of course– stopped in to see my grandmother. When I was getting ready to go she said, “Billy can you look at something for me?” She opened her mouth on the side of her tongue was an ugly looking tumor. It turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma. My grandmother needed radical oncologic surgery and ongoing chemo-therapy. Without Medicare, my family would have faced a cruel choice– cancer treatment for the grandmother or medical school tuition for the grandson. Like most families, we would have chosen the cancer treatment and I would have had to drop out of medical school.
Medicare can and should be reformed and improved. I have lots of ideas about how to to that!!!! Many people will disagree with the kinds of changes I would like to see. I am OK with that!!!!
I am not OK with undercutting the protections that older people and their families have paid for and should be able to rely upon.