In his 1994 book “Beyond Peace,” Richard Nixon predicted that our nation’s biggest challenge would not be war with a foreign enemy, but rather an internal “war” over how to allocate money within our borders. With our national debt about to exceed $17 trillion and another budget fight looming, his prediction is being realized.
Many current fiscal issues are actually decades old, but a newer economic and cultural war targeting seniors has been intensifying. The conflict will only worsen: Demographers tell us that about 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day for nearly the next two decades.
This war is being waged on numerous fronts: First, a vicious cultural divide is festering among younger Americans toward seniors. A Facebook study from March monitored 84 different groups of 20-to-29 year olds, conducted by the University of California at Berkeley, Yale University, Hunter College and Hopkins School in New Haven, Conn. The report’s findings, including the following comments, are alarming: “Seniors are a burden to society”; “I hate everything about them”; “They don’t contribute to society”; “Anyone over 69 should immediately be put in front of a firing squad.”
On July 30, a petition offered in San Diego supporting mandatory euthanasia of senior citizens had Obamacare supporters lined up to sign it. Even President Obama, during an ABC town hall meeting, said that at some point seniors just have to be told they would be “better off taking the painkiller.” Society is losing respect for and patience with seniors. Elder abuse is becoming more prevalent, and views on caring for seniors during their retirement years are changing.
Beyond this cultural bias, our own government is engaged in the full-fledged war, and seniors are losing.
Obamacare hurts seniors in multiple ways. The last government estimate cuts more than $700 billion from Medicare during its first decade. Additionally, it establishes an Independent Payment Advisory Board, tasked with reducing Medicare spending by 0.5 percent in 2015, increasing to a mandatory reduction of 1.5 percent annually by 2018. Fewer doctors, hospitals and clinics will participate in the Medicare program, making it more difficult for seniors to find doctors and secure appointments.
Second, the board will focus on reducing expenditures in Parts B and D (the prescription-drug plan) of Medicare. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, predicts that Medicare Part D premiums will increase 40 percent while drug costs and out-of-pocket expenses for medication also rise. Reductions to payees will place a greater financial burden on seniors, both for increased Medicare supplemental-insurance premiums and for treatments not fully covered by either policy.
Third, with bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel as a key architect/consultant for Obamacare, it was constructed with a bias against both the young and old. Those between the ages of 15 and 40 are given the greatest protection, based on the low investment already made for those under 15 and the belief that the return on investment for those over 40 is low.
Fourth, the Federal Reserve policy of zero percent interest rates is seriously hurting seniors. Many have saved for much of their lives, intending to live off of interest and growth from their investments. Zero percent interest means they must use their principle to survive, dramatically reducing the length of time their nest eggs will last. In 2012, economists James Harrigan and Antony Davies presented data showing that between 1998 and 2005, seniors’ net worth increased 11 percent annually, but between 2005 and 2010, it decreased 2.8 percent annually.
Fifth, there is momentum growing in Washington to follow Australia’s model and increase the qualifying age for Medicare and Social Security to 70.
Sixth, while seniors’ savings remain stagnant, their food and medical costs continue to rise.
Seventh, last year, the government decided to garnish seniors’ Social Security payments if they had co-signed on any student loans that became delinquent.
Eighth, there is growing bipartisan support in Washington for a chained consumer price index. The government would reduce Social Security cost-of-living increases by substituting products in the calculation, forcing seniors to change eating and living habits, reducing their ability to maintain a standard of living.
The war on seniors is not just an American phenomenon. A recent article published in the April Generation America magazine (GenerationAmerica.org), “No World for Old People,” details how seniors are being neglected, abused and marginalized worldwide. I’m not sure if this tide can be turned, but I hope our government doesn’t turn its back on those who helped make America a haven for the abused and oppressed worldwide.
I understand concern over the debt and the percent of the budget that goes to Social Security and Medicare. Remember, however, that seniors have paid, via a lifetime of payroll deductions, to cover this government retirement insurance. If our government hadn’t spent Social Security’s $2.7 trillion surplus and, instead, invested those dollars for seniors’ retirement, our elected officials could have avoided the current “crisis” they created.
This war on seniors is real, and I will continue to report on its progress and our efforts to stop it.
Chuck Woolery is a former TV-show host.