Friday, December 7, 2012

Reason #266: Old People

As we inch ever closer to the cliffpocalypse, I thought it was time for another of my periodic "the Republicans have a point" moments. To wit: the Medicare age should absolutely be raised.

In 1965, when Medicare was created, the average life expectancy in the United States was 70. Now it's 78, an increase of a little more than 10%. If the eligibility age had been going up proportionally all this time, it would now be at 72.

To my thinking, that is already enough of a reason. Full stop.

Currently on the table, however, is a gradual raise from 65 to 67--in other words, pretty much what both sides agreed to do with Social Security 30 years ago. While there are some compelling side-effects to factor into our equations, in particular rising premium costs both for active Medicare recipients (as their pool gets proportionally older) and regular insured people (as their pool absorbs more 65- and 66-year-olds), I don't see why this is even a debate, and it's surprising to me that the eligibility ages for retiree aid programs weren't married to life expectancy in the first place, the same way congressional districts are married to census data.

For one thing, on the subject of potential increased costs to individuals, I don't see why the argument would go one way where Obamacare is concerned (the Supreme Court ruled that federal manipulation of the insurance industry was allowable under Congress' power to tax, and Dems rejoiced) and another way where Medicare is concerned. In both situations, the premise is the same: the system is becoming skewed, and action should be taken to keep the reality in line with the ideals. If my premiums were to go up, I wouldn't see it as an arbitrary raise, but as their being corrected to where they would've been already if Medicare's initial intentions had been carried through properly over the past fifty years or so.

Second, there's still the matter of means-testing--and if ever there was an idea the Democrats should love, it's this one. Means-testing is the, well, means by which premiums and benefits are adjusted based on what a given individual actually needs, and can afford. Just as Warren Buffet's taxes should be higher than the 80-year-old wiping tables at Wendy's, he shouldn't be eligible for an identical entitlement package as her.

And speaking of Wendy's lady, that's the reality of retirement in America as I see it. To the people who really need our assistance, 65 versus 67 doesn't make a shred of difference, because they can't afford to retire anyway. Speaking as someone whose mother actually did turn 65 and retire this year, I can say with confidence that her Medicare eligibility was hardly the deciding factor--those that can retire will do so when they're good and ready, and those that can't aren't even close.

We should be talking about how to help them.

Further Reading

Google Public Data - United States Life Expectancy

GOP plan would raise Medicare age, lower Social Security COLAs, while raising $800B in revenue

Obama Non-Committal on Means-Testing Medicare

Trade-offs In Raising Medicare Eligibility Age

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