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Mary Pitt: Hip Deep In The Trickle Down

Hip Deep In The Trickle Down

by Mary Pitt

HUZZAH! The old folks are getting a raise in their monthly pittance next year. We are to be eternally grateful that we are allowed to be blessed by the trickle-down that has finally reached us, Compassionate Conservatism at its best. With this Cost Of Living Allowance, their lives will be so much easier.

But wait! Surely they will not be allowed to luxuriate for long with this untold wealth. As with the paychecks over the years, we must count the "deducts". While the news reports that the average retiree recieves the grand amount of $1,049 per month currently and will gain $33.00 per month, the average couple now receives $1,658, since the "dependent" wife receives a much smaller amount than does the wage earner, and that will increase to $1713 in 2007, a whopping $20,556 per year. However, the amounts deducted from these checks will be reduced by the insurance premium for Medicare Part B. This insurance, which pays for doctors' office visits will also increase to $93.50 each, or a total deduction of $2,244 per year. In addition, the people at Social Security tell us that the average charge of Medicare Part D is another deduction of $20. In fact, this deduction will normally be closer to $40 per month for those who receive no State assistance with the cost, another deduction of $960 per year per couple. This leaves a net income of $17,352 per year per couple, a whopping $723 per person per month with which to pay housing expenses, food and clothing.

That is not the end of the primary drain on this glorious windfall. Each of these Medicare benefits carries "deductible and co-payments", amounts that must be paid by each person before any benefits accrue. Each year, the medical bills must be paid in full by the patient before any doctor's visits or hospitalization are covered until the deductible figure is met, just as with the health insurance that working people carry. Once those amounts are paid, each illness carries a co-payment that must be paid by the patient. Of course, these co-payments will vary with the cost of the hospital stay but it would be safe to say that, after each hospitalization, the patients will find that they will owe a minimum of $1000 more which will need to paid from the Social Security check.

Under Part D, after the deductible is met, each medication requires a co-payment which varies according to which medication is prescribed and some of the newer, more effective medications are not covered at all. Then the patient has the option of buying a generic and, probably, less effective medication which is covered, in effect placing their health further at risk due to possible side effects or dosage instability. And then there is the dread "donut hole"! When Medicare Part D was intitiated we were told that "when you have spent $2500 on medications in a year", you will be required to pay the full amount until you have paid a similar amount out-of-pocket when coverage will again kick in. According to the way the program was presented to the public, the elderly and their local pharmacists assumed that it meant the amount that THEY were required to pay as counting toward the $2500 limit. Foolish old people! It counted the TOTAL cost of the medications, a combination of the amounts paid by the patients AND the insurance, and left them being required to also pay from the monthly checks for medications that cost tens of dollars PER TABLET. With the fine print in the law which prohibits Medicare from bargaining for lower prices with the pharmaceutical companies, the elderly are faced with the choice of buying their medicine or eating and heating their homes; in some cases losing their homes or their lives as the result. The major improvement created by the plan is that all the old folks will die at the end of the year, mostly after election day.

Do we suggest that they appeal to their middle-class Baby Boomer children for financial assistance? Those "children" are also up to their buns in trickle-down, with their own children paying ever-increasing college tuition and, despite the family help, will graduate with thousands of dollars in student-loan debt. In additiion, they are trying like mad to prepare for their own approaching retirement while paying their own mortgage and the rapidly-growing property taxes and insurance, as well as fighting the roller-coaster of gas prices for their daily commute. With the advent of the Bush tax cuts and the resultant cuts in Federal sharing with the states, the states have had to increase the taxes on property, income, and sales to compensate, making the tax burden even heavier on the shoulders of those who live in the less prosperous states. But these elderly people, who were born during the 'thirties and early 'forties,. are accustomed to sacrifice. They are a part of the "Greatest Generation", who suffered the privation of the Great Depression, lived with the shortages and rationing during World War II, and put their lives on the line in order to "make the world safe for democracy". They will die quietly rather than to "become a burden on their children".

George W. Bush was elected on his promise to be a "compassionate conservative", but we have seen little of either. The profligate spending on the illegal war in Iraq has alienated even the most dogmatic conservatives and the compassion is nowhere to be found. Now, all he asks is two more years of a Republican Congressional majority so that he can have another try at "reforming", (translation: destroying). Social Security, Medicare, and all the other "compassionate" programs for the benefit of the poor, the disabled, and the elderly. He lauds the "great and prosperous" economy which would indicate that there is a lot of money out there.......somewhere. But, somehow the matter that is trickling down is definitely not money. And, if the Democrats are not able to regain Congressional control, we will all be drowning in it!


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