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Seniors already getting big bailouts

By Staff | Sep 11, 2009

When the greed of the Wall Street manipulators pushed the country toward bankruptcy, citizens across the country were outraged at the bonuses being paid to the people who created the problem. Then when the Bush and Obama administrations put up billions to stop the hemorrhaging, the public rhetoric reached hysterical proportions. Bailout became the nation’s dirtiest word.

While those responsible for the banking crisis deserve to be abandoned on some desolate Pacific atoll, we seem to have lost our perspective on bailouts.Those of us in the Social Security age group and there are a lot of us in North Dakota -have been benefiting from the biggest bailouts since the Berlin Airlift.

First, there’s the cornerstone of retirement for many seniors Social Security. The depression of the 1930s proved that millions of Americans didn’t have the foresight or the means to provide for their retirement. The government stepped in with Social Security. The program can be called a bailout because millions of aging beneficiaries are drawing out more money than they or their employers ever paid in. Other beneficiaries never paid anything at all.

From Social Security, we move to an even bigger bailout Medicare. According to recent polls, the folks on Medicare have little sympathy for the 45 million uninsured Americans waiting for some kind of health care. They favor more and better coverage for themselves but no expansion of coverage to the uninsured.

Seniors are already gobbling up a disproportionate share of the medical dollar. As our bodies start falling apart, we look to Medicare to provide us with the better pills and more surgery. Medical advances have resulted in longer lives, meaning more older people who need even better pills and more expensive surgery. The cost of this medical care is beyond the personal resources of most Medicare recipients. My stent surgery was a bailout.

From Medicare we go to Medicaid, a program that was intended to provide medical care for the poor but ended up benefiting the elderly. The program has been diverted to financing long-term nursing care until one-third of all Medicaid expenditures go for nursing home care.

Of the 5,800 North Dakotans in nursing homes, 55 percent are being financed by Medicaid. Some of these 5,800 made themselves poor by transferring their land and money to family and relatives so they could get nursing home care at government expense

Medicaid is a bailout not only for nursing home residents, but it is also a huge bailout for their families. With Medicaid, families are off the hook when it comes to caring for parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and other loved ones.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all have justifiable goals in a humane society. But for the seniors who turn purple raving about bailouts or who spurn the pleas of the uninsured, it is time to admit that we are already standing in a pretty big bailout trough.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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