The ability to repair Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid is more a matter of will and compassion, not know-how.
If we’ve heard it once we’ve heard it a hundred times. “If we can send a man to the moon why can’t we fix ________”? – fill in the blank. This of course is the American know-how to get difficult things done. But this reference to the space program is a micro look at making things happen compared to more grander, complex issues that need fixing. Case in point: Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.
The news from the Social Security Administration this week comes as no surprise but is bleak none the less and indicates a failure on our part that the “can-do” spirit that created the means to propel men past earth’s gravity and reach the surface of the moon over 40 years ago is somehow sputtering. According to the SSA:
The financial conditions of the Social Security and Medicare programs remain challenging. Projected long-run program costs for both Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable under currently scheduled financing, and will require legislative modifications if disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers are to be avoided. SOURCE
It’s less clear that this problem with one of the most successful and necessary federally funded programs can be easily fixed than it is on how to deal with those who deem it unsuccessful and unnecessary and obstruct the ability to make necessary corrections to it; corrections that require those better off in our economy to pony up some of the excesses gained through measures that left the rest of us with lower incomes or none at all. With more demands being put on these programs due to retiring baby boomers and a higher rate of jobless people due to the Recession, payments at current levels cannot be sustained as long as they were earlier estimated to do.
Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund – which pays for hospital, home health, skilled nursing and hospice care for the elderly and disabled – will run out of money in 2024. That’s five years earlier than last year’s trustees report projected.
Social Security has enough cash to cover benefits for 25 more years, but will become insolvent in 2036 when revenue no longer will cover full benefit payments. Last year’s trustee report projected the Social Security Trust Fund would go broke in 2037. Longer life expectancy was the main cause of the year-to-year change. SOURCE
The efforts needed to address this issue are continually being kicked down the road, primarily by conservative forces in Congress and the private sector who feel such programs are not the responsibility of the government. Yet the fact that they exist at all is clear evidence that the free market system in this country has failed to address the needs of millions, who for reasons not always under their control, are unable to provide for the aging and health issues that are expensed beyond the reach of many seniors , poor families with children and those with mental and physical disabilities.
Clearly we have a moral obligation to “help the least of those” amongst us. This fundamental view is inherent in a religious philosophy by some who claim that America is a Christian nation. It’s always been a part of the idealistic view that neighbors help neighbors in times of strife; a view held by many of those conservative-oriented people who are often the obstructing force in establishing and sustaining social programs that help their neighbors.
These humanitarian views evolved from a time when there were fewer people who required our help and where aid was often nothing more than meeting basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Incorporated within these noble gestures was the understanding that this assistance was intended to get people by until they could get back on their feet unless of course your age or physical condition worked against this.
Families worked together within their small tribal existences to care for the elderly. children and disabled. Seldom if ever do we hear of cultures that wrote these people off or assumed they could fend for themselves. But this idea is being stretched as we ask people to express the same concern for their fellow human beings who they will never come into contact with. The idea that small clannish concerns could be extended beyond this level were never really considered because up until the Industrial Revolution some 250 years ago populations trends were pretty much the same as they had been for centuries.
With the means of production creating more abundance for people, life expectancies increased and populations began to grow exponentially. And with this growth came the same conditions that required a certain amount of care for the least powerful within society to survive. Though opportunities abounded and still do, not everyone can be expected to achieve financial success on their own. The need to help certain groups still exists but at a greater level that apparently hasn’t settled in with many who had no trouble with it on the smaller scale.
We cannot ignore that if we are still expected to live up to those values we once held so high that we must be willing to invent and carry out a process that achieves this in this newer age. That is what we have done with the creation of Social Security in the 1930’s and later in the 1960’s for Medicare and Medicaid. These systems still basically require us to share a portion of our financial resources, time and energy to care for those who simply cannot do it alone.
In order to do this we must have a large enough structure in place to meet the demands of this need. There exist none in the private sector. The private sector is more wrapped up into the self-interest philosophies of market capitalism. Entailed in this philosophy is the essential driving force of making a profit. Clearly there are no profit motives in monetary terms that encourage people to help others who cannot pay them for their time and services. Thankfully though we do have a structure in place with a certain mandate to provide for the “general welfare” of those people who fall outside of self-interest concerns found within the private sector.
The government is essentially there to insure security and economic progress for its citizens but unless there is also a system in place to provide for the education and good health of all of its citizens, prosperity becomes a task more difficult and more expensive for all of us. Unless we lose our moral compass and simply refuse to help those at a meaningful level who need our assistance we have to take necessary steps to ensure that those who have depended on us historically as family and neighbors are still taken care of.
The means to address shortfalls with Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid can be found in revenue sources. With more people out of work now the loss of tax revenue hurts our ability to sustain these programs at current levels. That means the more wealthier should be called on to alleviate our shortfalls until more prosperous times return. The sacrifice this entails for this income group does not diminish their ability to provide adequately and sufficiently for themselves and their families.
Spending cuts should be viewed only in terms of their effect on how they do or don’t remove basic needs of adequate health care and nutrition. Go after those who abuse these programs to line their own pockets. Ask the wealthiest who have ample pension retirement funds to forego the services of these programs aimed to help the poorest of the poor. Billions could be saved here to correct the projected deficiencies the SSA speaks to.
Seniors shouldn’t be forced to forgo necessary medications to sustain their health and children shouldn’t be expected to survive and fully develop without adequate nutrition and education. Nor should the disabled be expected to sit in some facility out of sight and waste away and until they are robbed of their will to live.
That same can-do spirit that enabled this nation to become one of the most economically successful and powerful nations in the world still resides within us. But we need to confront the reality that our social structures are not what they were a couple of centuries ago. Life expectancies are now greater than they were because of advances with medicine and nutritional food production processes. If we are to be a society that truly values every life then we must take the necessary action to promote that life and enable it to contribute to our continued success.
Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are now the manifestation of our compassionate actions that existed when we lived in small tribes and when essentials were fewer. If we come to the conclusion that our culture can only advance by methods that were adequate for tribal living then we are setting ourselves up for failure. We need that continued concern for the least powerful amongst us if we wish to claim we are a civilized society. This will of course entail some sacrifices by those better able to handle it in tough economic times.
Rather than complaining about what it’s going to cost in terms of our own personal treasures let’s look at what it’s going to cost us in terms of moral integrity if we don’t meet the challenges needed to sustain Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. There are doable plans out there where minimal sacrifices will allow us to keep these social programs viable for future generations. We just need to get past that belief that this is bigger than we can deal with. If we don’t then the systems of belief that advanced us to this point are no longer meaningful and become hypocritical when compared to our actions.