Privatizing our future — this is as personal as it gets
November 21, 2016
OK, let's get personal for a moment.
I'm a working man and have been all of my adult life, putting in hours and earning a salary, hourly wage or some combination thereof.
I've never wanted to own and run my own business, preferring to simply work for whatever salary I can get, pay my taxes and make my life fit around the potentialities represented by that salary.
I, in other words, am like most of you out there — we work for decades until we're too old to keep it up, and then we retire with whatever meager savings we've been able to accumulate (since the days of job-related pensions have long faded away for most of us).
And at that point, we depend to one degree or another on government assistance in the form of Social Security and Medicare, two programs passed by Democrats back when politicians seemed to still think their jobs involved making life as easily navigable as possible for as many Americans as possible, which mainly refers to the middle and lower economic classes.
According to published accounts, some 56 million U.S. citizens depend entirely or partly on Social Security, and approximately 45 million are enrolled in Medicare. Even if you assume that those numbers must be combined to some extent to reflect the interrelationship between the two programs, that's at least 15 to 20 percent of the entire population, each of whom depends to some extent on these programs, and I'm one of them. Quite probably, you are, too, or your aging parents are.
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If these programs suddenly are privatized, and if it turns out badly and both programs are ruined beyond repair, where do we turn for that help?
I've been reading with growing horror in recent days about plans afoot in the Republican-controlled Congress to reform Medicare, the 50-year-old landmark health care legacy of former President Lyndon Johnson.
This is something that failed vice-presidential candidate (he ran with Mitt Romney in 2012) and current Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan has been talking about for years.
But it also is an issue that was scarcely mentioned during the 2016 presidential race.
In fact, candidate Donald Trump at one point seemed to promise he would not mess with Social Security and Medicare, which are separate programs but tied together in many ways.
Now that he's won, however, Trump has been falling in line with Ryan's thinking, which is to privatize Medicare, modifying it into some kind of voucher system and turning it over to the insurance industry, leaving it up to us to find insurance and figure out how to pay for it.
Apparently not that many people remember that navigating the insurance industry's various health care plans was a nightmare of frustration and disappointment for anyone on the lower end of the income spectrum, even if you weren't one of those with "pre-existing conditions" that meant you were left out in the cold where health care was concerned.
Some of you might remember how difficult it was to even get insurance companies to pay out on legitimate medical claims, how they'd fight over pennies, demand quick payment of any amount they didn't cover (often quite substantial amounts) and threaten to end your coverage or hike your premium rates if you became too troublesome.
Just imagine a return to those piratical days, then think of yourself in your dotage, having to annually fight your way through a jungle of dismal health insurance plans that mostly just take your money and give you little in return.
Sound like fun?
No one is sure what the Republican plan for Social Security might turn out to be, though we certainly know what's been proposed in the past — turning the Social Security trust fund over to Wall Street, on the theory that Wall Street does so well for its investors that it will do just as well for our retirement needs.
Never mind, I guess, that we're still climbing out of the most severe recession since the Really Big Depression of the 1930s, which was caused by Wall Street malfeasance coupled with a failure of government oversight.
Never mind that it is built into our capitalist economy that Wall Street occasionally experiences severe slumps and crashes.
Never mind that in every such crash or slump, the ones who suffer the greatest harm are the little people at the bottom of the Wall Street ladder (unless you or someone you know happens to be one of the brokers who jumps out a window in shame and fear). Which translates into a likelihood that, when a crash comes, our social security cushion will be in monstrous jeopardy.
But the Republican proponents of this idea seem not to give a damn about all that, although I cannot quite fathom that disinterest — even disdain — for the fates of millions of Americans.
So, to all of you out there who voted for Trump, here's the first real look at what his presidency could easily mean for most of us — severe hardship, if these two vital pillars of support for our later years are yanked away from us and turned over to private interests who have shown us quite plainly that their primary interest is in making money from us, not giving it to us.
And if 50 million of us find ourselves suddenly without the thin financial cushion represented by Social Security, and without the basic health care insurance of Medicare, what then?
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