“Divide and Conquer” is a strategy that has served conservatives well over the years. Remind younger Americans that their elders are “greedy geezers.” Set the middle-class against the poor, by telling tall tales about welfare queens. Pit the native-born against new immigrants.
And now, Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan for Medicare draws a bright line between Americans over 55 and those who have not yet reached that turning point in their lives. As I explained in an earlier post, Ryan would give folks in that younger group a voucher when they retire, send them out into the private sector to buy their own insurance, and wish them good luck keeping up with health care inflation. Those over 55, on the other hand, would be allowed to keep the federal program that guarantees their care. For once you may think, it pays to be older.
Not quite. First, the Medicare that a 56-year-old will sign up for ten years from now won’t be the Medicare that seniors enjoy today. The House Republican budget proposal would slash $30 billion from the program over 10 years. And while the Affordable Care Act strives to make sure that Medicare is shedding “waste,” not benefits, the Republican plan leaves it up to politicians and the lobbyists who counsel them to make the decisions. Good news for drug-makers, bad news for poorer seniors who can expect co-pays and deductibles to rise. Moreover, the Republican plan would repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would mean re-opening the prescription drug coverage gap (the “donut hole”). According to Families USA, this would expose beneficiaries to up to $6,000 in additional out-of-pocket prescription drug costs by 2020.
But that’s not the worst of it. What is truly vicious is the way the plan singles out older baby-boomers (born sometime between 1946 and 1956), separating them from the herd, and preparing them for slaughter—even while seeming to favor the cohort. Keep in mind, this group is not well-liked by the generations that followed. The first wave of boomers is widely perceived as having gotten virtually everything they ever wanted: the first crack at the real estate market when housing was truly affordable; the chance to put money in an IRA at the beginning of the bull market; the opportunity to land a job at a law firm, a university, or a corporation, while there was still plenty of room at the top. Adding insult to injury, before they grew up and grabbed all of the good jobs, they misspent their youth enjoying the illicit pleasures of the ‘Sixties’—plus Europe on $5 a day! And now they are going to get to keep their Medicare while younger boomers—not to mention Gen X & Gen Y—foot the bill?
No wonder they’re smiling
Baby Boomers– The First Wave, Born in 1946 Source: Flickr.com
As Paul Krugman has observed: “the supposed transition strategy under the Ryan plan in which everyone currently over 55 gets Medicare as we know it, while everyone younger than that gets vouchers that won’t be enough to buy adequate insurance, sets up an unstable political dynamic.” To say the least.
Krugman provides a link to Matt Ygleisas’ ThinkProgress where Yglesias paints a grim picture of the future: “You’ll have an ever-growing pool of people born after 1956 who’ve been told that they’ll never benefit from Medicare no matter what happens, but who are being asked to pay the taxes that finance it. . . You’ll also have a declining set of people born before 1956” trying to defend “their” Medicare.
In that Darwinian contest, who do you think is going to win? Those who were “lucky” enough to hold onto Medicare can count on watching the program shrivel just when they need it most.
Today, Merrill Goozner offered his generation some wise advice: “I’m over 55. In theory, I don’t have to worry about Paul Ryan’s plan. But here’s my message to my cohort: We can hang together, or we can hang separately.” The only way to combat “divide and conquer” is with solidarity. Everyone over 55 should get behind those under 55 and send one message to Washington: Every senior needs and deserves Medicare.