|Saturday, March 26 2011 15:31|
It pains me to hear my age peers described as selfish. When they are called “greedy geezers,” my heart recoils.
This insulting phrase gets used, I am convinced, mostly because it’s cute. It also features alliteration, always an attraction to the phrasemaker.
To my mind, older Americans are no more selfish than people of other ages. Quite possibly less.
As often happens, I may know the wrong people. But those age peers I do know care a whole lot, not just about their children, grand and great, but for members of the younger generations at large.
What prompts this discussion is data showing that much of the opposition to the new health care reform law has come from the older population. Before last fall’s congressional elections, older Americans turned out in large numbers to voice their disapproval of the legislation.
It grieves me to have so many of my age peers opposed enough to the health care reform package as to vote against members of Congress who supported it. To my mind they were voting against their own interests.
Unfortunately, their views prevailed. The victorious candidates were precisely those who had pledged to repeal the new law. Quickly following through, Republican members of the House in fact have already voted for repeal. Fortunately, the Senate does not appear to agree with the House’s action.
Although the repeal effort appears doomed, I worry that the new health care system could be severely damaged. Republican leaders in the House reportedly plan to weaken its impact, possibly by cutting funds needed for the new health plan to work. Even more threateningly, a federal judge in Florida has ruled the law unconstitutional.
Opposing the health care reform has been made easier for office holders in Washington because polls show how divided Americans are about it. Much to my chagrin, the largest age group who stand opposed are still those over 65.
However, the polls have shifted somewhat and now show fewer people opposed. The shift may have happened because some good effects of the reform have already emerged.
A prime example would be payments of 250 dollars made this year to older people trapped in the so-called “doughnut hole,” a gap in insurance coverage of prescription drugs. So is reversal of the lifetime limits that up to now has halted coverage of costly treatment of serious illnesses.
One professional who feels enthusiastic about the new reform is Stuart Altman, dean of Brandeis University’s Heller School. He served in the federal government way back in the Nixon administration and has been working on health care reform since the late 1960s.
Speaking to the Massachusetts Gerontology Association this fall, Altman addressed the topic “Health Care Reform and Medicare: What’s An Elder To Do?” It was a talk that I wish more of my age peers had heard.
He admits that the new system is neither perfect nor simple. Like virtually every other bill, it shows the signs of sometimes regrettable compromises, made necessary for legislative passage.
Altman emphasizes, however, the aim of the reform: to reduce health care expenses rather than allowing uncontrolled expansion. And he lists the many advantages the reform brings. Among them are free annual physicals, as well as preventive care services such as cancer screenings.
Stuart Altman gives three reasons for the opposition coming from older citizens. First, they do not believe the numbers. Second, they see the government as evil. And third, over time, this reform will lead to the deterioration of our health care system, especially Medicare.
I do not share these viewpoints myself though I do sympathize with those who find the Affordable Care Act difficult to fathom. The legislation has about a zillion pages that make reading it next to impossible. And many of its provisions take effect years from now.
But the most important effects make it well worth valuing. It provides for some 30 million Americans who were without health care insurance. It does away with denial or loss of coverage due to pre-existing conditions. And it promises to establish fiscal control of a health care system that has been wildly out of control.
I would like the new plan even better had it kept coverage of end-of-life counseling. But too many elders were deceived by critics who dubbed this program “death panels.”
One reform that did make it into the final bill is the Class Act devised by Ted Kennedy. It provides long-term-care through a voluntary insurance plan. I mentioned this in an earlier column, and also hailed a little-noticed plan for adult protective services, a way of combating elder abuse.
We in Massachusetts can take some pride in the new national legislation being modeled, in part, after what we have been already doing. Our state government and our people deserve much credit for this pioneering initiative toward health care for all.