Tag Archives: senior citizens

The Myth of the Greedy Granny Strikes Again

Just about every week, it seems, the New York Times has yet another piece that adds fuel to what I’ve called the phony intergenerational conflict over health care. Last week it was about how we lucky Medicare-eligible oldsters are scarfing up our free health care while our slightly younger compatriots (ages 50-65) can’t even get health insurance.  This week it’s even worse: We greedy old geezers, it seems, are now responsible for the deprivations faced by helpless little children. 

In an “Editorial Notebook” entry this Sunday, Eduardo Porter laments the fact that a majority of people over 65 oppose health care reform efforts that would provide for the uninsured. Porter writes:

The elderly, of course, are already covered by government-run health insurance. The president’s plan offers them little. It might even trim some Medicare expenditures. But their opposition to the expansion of health insurance does make me wonder: what about the grandchildren?

So let me get this straight: The only way for the children of America to get the health care they need is for old people to give up some of ours? Never mind the insurance companies, whose useless, bloodsucking participation in the U.S. health care system raises costs by at least 20 percent. And never mind Big Pharma, who siphon another 10 percent or so directly into their runaway profit margins. Forget all about the bulging pockets of the private health care industry. The real reason little Timmy and Janey can’t afford to go to the doctor is because their selfish old granny wanted a hip replacement, and grandpa insisted on having his blood pressure meds.

But wait, that’s not all. Porter takes things a step further, suggesting that it’s old folks’ gluttony at the public trough that leaves millions of American children living in poverty:

The age gap sheds light on a deep generational inequity. In the United States, as in most industrial countries, government spending skews heavily in favor of the old. Social spending on the elderly amounted to $19,700 per person in 2000, according to one study; children got $6,380.

One might be tempted to think the spending imbalance reflects a difference in needs. After all, the elderly tend to get sick more and require expensive medical treatment. But children could do with more help too. The percentage of the elderly living under the poverty line dropped from 28.5 percent in 1966 to 9.7 percent last year. For those under 18, the incidence of poverty rose from 17.6 percent to 19 percent.

So let’s not talk about military spending, the Wall Street bailout, or the ridiculously low tax rates paid by the rich. Want to know the real reason why the world’s wealthiest nation can’t find money in its budget to lift nearly one in five of its children out of poverty? It’s all because of us greedy old geezers.

How the GOP Scams Seniors on Health Care Reform–While the Dems Stand By

The Republican strategy for defeating health care boils down to a game of smoke and mirrors, with conservatives scamming seniors into thinking that reform will be bad for them. In fact, most of the proposed changes to Medicare would be positive. As the New York Times explained in a Sunday editorial, ” the various reform bills now pending should actually make Medicare better for most beneficiaries—by enhancing their drug coverage, reducing the premiums they pay for drugs and medical care, eliminating co-payments for preventive services and helping keep Medicare solvent, among other benefits.”

That’s not to say there won’t be cuts. The Times points out:

The Obama administration and Congressional leaders are hoping to save hundreds of billions of dollars by slowing the growth of spending in the vast and inefficient Medicare system that serves 45 million older and disabled Americans. The savings would be used to help offset the costs of covering tens of millions of uninsured people.

One of the main reasons for the confusion that reigns over all things health care right now is the Democrats’ refusal to make a clear case for reform.They aren’t willing to go after the real enemies of affordable health care for all: drug and insurance companies. And so as usual, the ideological vacuum left by the Democrats is being filled by Republican misinformation and fear mongering.

The result is that any decent proposals that are quickly whittled down in favor of the drug and insurance industries. Last week, Sen. Max Baucus and two other Democrats—Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Robert Menendez of New Jersey—joined all the Finance Committee Republicans to defeat an amendment by Florida Senator Bill Nelson that would have demanded more concessions from drug companies. Most notably, the amendment would have allowed Medicare to buy drugs for low-income seniors at the same prices as Medicaid.

Meanwhile, Obama’s hands are tied. He can’t stand up for seniors, because he already made a deal with the drug companies. In a June agreement with the administration, Big Pharma promised $80 billion over 10 years towards health care reform. Thinking this was a solid deal, the drug companies began running ads in support of Obama’s plan. Nelson’s proposed schemes of cuts in the form of rebates, according to the New York Times, “would have more than doubled the amount of money to be given up by the industry.” But fortunately for the drug industry, and unfortunately for everyone else, the finance committee senators ensured Nelson’s amendment went nowhere.

Big New Fear: Can Demented Geezers Wreck the Economy?

As we grow older more and more of us will suffer from dementia. A new research study by David Laibson, a Harvard professor (and colleagues at NYU, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Federal Reserve Board in Washington), reports dementia doubles every 5 years after age 60 until by age 85 some 30 percent of the population is dotty. And even old people without dementia have “substantial cognitive impairment.” All told, nearly half the population between 80-89 is either demented or has cognitive impairment, according to the report.

The researchers are worried about all of this because people suffering from these maladies just aren’t up to handling their finances. Even taking into account the 401K crash, there’s a lot of money among the elderly, and if some old screwball starts fooling around, it could all go down the drain. Think about it: Geezers could wreck the Wall Street rally.

So what these professors and economists propose in their paper, entitled “The Age of Reason: Financial Decisions over the Life-Cycle with Implications for Regulation,” is a series of options. As reported in Pensions & Investments, an online service that follows the ups and downs of pensions, these include:

….Improved disclosure is less paternalistic, although the authors doubt such actions will effectively improve financial choices. “Even for cognitively healthy populations, there is scant evidence that increases in disclosure improve decision making,” the paper said…

A more paternalistic option, the report said, is “gentle nudges” from plan executives to steer older participants into the proper investments. But while the authors said they weren’t opposed to the nudges, they said older adults with “significant cognitive impairment may be no match for highly incentivized parties with malevolent interests and ample opportunities to nudge in the wrong direction.”

Other policy options in the paper: laissez faire; requiring participants to pass a “licensing” test if they want to opt out of a safe harbor investment or make other significant investment decisions; requiring older adults to develop a financial “advanced directive,” such as appointing a standard fiduciary, before reaching age 70; regulating financial products like “dietary supplements,” with safety and quality standards; and requiring “explicit regulatory approval” of financial products.

Bottom line: Tons more business for the mutual fund industry, which already provides investment advice—much of it bad– to 401Ks, but now can argue that it needs to protect the nation’s wealth by becoming fiduciaries for old zombies. And who’s going to make that happen? The Congress,which will enact regulations that allow private companies with their superior knowledge to handle the money.

Now to be fair about all this, rip off is not what Laibson has in mind. But given the existing political climate, with a Congress and a series of administrations that came to the verge of turning all or part of the Social Security system over to Wall Street, that’s what is more than likely to happen.

Big Meaning: Here’s how, in the name of the nation’s public financial health, a new sort of “rationing’’ can lead to the greatest robbery of the elderly in the nation’s history. First Wall Street tells us to take charge of our own investments and get big brother off our back. Now, with dementia as its guide, Wall Street can opt for a solution some might label “socialism”–if only private industries weren’t making so much money off of it.

Ten Questions on Health Care to Ask at a Town Meeting

This from a buzzflash.com guest blog by Dave Lindorff, based on an idea from one of his readers. Should you go to one of the town hall meetings on health care reform, here are 10 good questions to ask. The questions about Medicare, which I’ve highlighted in boldface, are especially good ones for older people to ask. This is especially important because the media seems to be full of tales of loony geezers claiming the government is going to mess up their Medicare–if it doesn’t euthanize them first.

1. If Canada’s single-payer system is so god-awful, why have repeated Conservative governments at the provincial and national level in Canada never touched it? Canada is a democracy. If Canadians don’t like their health care system, why haven’t they gotten rid of it in 35 years? Since the system there is run by the separate provinces, many of which are very politically conservative, why has not one province ever tried to get rid of single-payer?
2. Why is rationing by income, as we do it here, better than rationing by need, as they do it in Canada?
3. Wouldn’t single-payer mean that companies could no longer threaten working people with the loss of their health insurance? Why is this a bad idea?
4. The bigger the insurance pool, the better. So doesn’t having a national pool, as with single-payer, make the most sense?
5. Why should we be allowing politicians who are taking money from the medical industry to write the new health care legislation?
6. How can the Congress be developing a health system reform scheme and not even invite experts from Canada down to explain their successful system?
7. If Medicare–a single-payer system here in America–is so popular with the elderly, how come it’s no good for the rest of us?
8. Isn’t it true that Medicare currently finances the most costly patient group–the elderly and infirm–so that extending it to the rest of the population–most of whom are young and healthy–would be much cheaper, per person?
9. The AMA, the Pharmaceutical Industry, and the Insurance Industry all bitterly opposed Medicare in 1964-5 when it was being debated in Congress and passed into law, with the right, led by Ronald Reagan, calling it creeping socialism. It became a life-saver for the elderly and didn’t turn the US into a soviet republic. Why should we give a tinker’s damn what those same three industry groups and the Republican right think of expanding single-payer now?
10. The executives of Canadian subsidiaries of US companies all support Canada’s single-payer system, and even lobby collectively to have it expanded and better funded. Why does Congress listen to the executives of the parent companies here at home, and not invite those Canadian execs down to explain why they like single-payer?

Arresting Kids and Elders Who Lobby for Health Care Reform

If you missed this piece by Donna Smith, a community organizer for  the California Nurses Association, earlier in the week, it’s well worth taking the time to read–and take a look at the videos, as well.

If you  doubt for one moment the power of money and its control over whether or not our nation will grant the human right of healthcare to all, just look at who has been arrested speaking up for publicly funded, privately delivered healthcare in the past 90 days.

Frankie, 11, and eight others were arrested in July in Des Moines, IA, as Blue Cross felt a little too much pressure to answer questions about their denials of care and their profits:

In the offices of Senator Diane Feinstein, D-CA, eight senior citizens were arrested in July because they wanted just a few minutes of the Senator’s time — by telephone, not even in person — to make the case for some sanity in healthcare reform.


And we all know about the nurses and doctors and single-payer advocates arrested in the Senate Finance Committee hearings in May. They were asking for a seat at the infamous table where the big boys and girls get to play — err, I mean where the stakeholders who have given enough in campaign contributions get to sit while the health insurance industry, the big pharmaceuticals and the huge for-profit hospital corporations design our reform to make sure their profits grow ever larger and that Frankie in Iowa, the seniors in California, the nurses and docs in DC are silenced by whatever means necessary.

Are we hearing this? Are we seeing it? Are we holding this government, under Barack Obama and his allies in Congress, accountable for arresting 11-year-olds and seniors and nurses and doctors simply because they speak out and ask for their own human rights accountability?

Pro-life? Give me a break. Pro-family? Not hardly. Healthcare as a human right? Nope. We are so far from that point that every one of us ought to be preparing for the time and the issues we hold dear to be targeted and to have its discourse and potential outcomes so orchestrated and controlled that we’ll see ourselves handcuffed and locked away for simply whispering an alternate option.

Read the here on the Progressive Democrats of America web site

Randall Terry: Obama Wants to Kill Granny with Death Care

As I recently predicted, right wingers are rolling out scare tactics to turn people against health care reform. The creepiest of the lot is the myth that Obama’s socialist government is planning to create the setting for euthanasia. This has special resonance with Catholic and fundamentalist protestant groups, which the Republican right always want to assuage. Drawing in more and more Catholics is especially important to keeping this base alive and festering. The phony euthanasia scare could also give new energy (and new funding sources) to the right-to-lifers, who are caught between a pro-choice federal government on one side, and on the other a radical fringe that thinks shooting doctors outside their churches is heroic act.

Art by Colin S from the animation and art blog.

Art by Colin S from the animation and art blog.

Former Operation Rescue head Randall Terry, forever trying to resuscitate himself, is a leader in the drive to stop the President’s “death care.” The Washington Post on Saturday reported how Betsy McCaughey, the whacko former New York pol and health care reform assassin, told former senator and flopped GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson on talk radio that the health reform bill contained mandatory counseling sessions for seniors how to “to end their life sooner”‘–by showing them how to “decline nutrition..and cut your life short.”

What is all this about? According to the Post:

The controversy stems from a proposal to pay physicians who counsel elderly or terminally ill patients about what medical interventions they would prefer near the end of life and how to prepare instructions such as living wills. Under the plan, Medicare would reimburse doctors for one session every five years to confer with a patient about his or her wishes and how to ensure those preferences are followed. The counseling sessions would be voluntary.

But on right-leaning radio programs, religious e-mail lists and Internet blogs, the proposal has been described as “guiding you in how to die,” “an ORDER from the Government to end your life,” promoting “death care” and, in the words of antiabortion leader Randall Terry, an attempt to “kill Granny.”…

In the past two weeks, AARP has fielded a few thousand calls from people who mistakenly think the legislation would require every Medicare recipient to “choose how they want to die,” said James Dau, a spokesman for the organization.

At a recent AARP session on healthcare reform, Obama was asked about “rumors” his reforms would include the so-called death care initiative. The President answered the question by discussing living wills, which both he and and his wife have.

That makes sense, right? Getting a living will to kill yourself?

More on the Pharma Con Job

By the way, there’s more than one reason for the purported $80 billion in drug company largesse to the decrepit classes, which I discussed yesterday. This most recent ploy is yet another of Big Pharma’s machinations to extend the life of drug patents, and keep people taking their exhorbitantly priced brand-name drugs. As Reuters points out today, when seniors reach the Medicare Part D donut hole, the majority of them percent either stop taking some of their drugs altogether, or switch to cheaper generics. To keep that from happening, the drug companies are more than willing to offer oldsters their “generous” discounts on brand-name drugs. 

Right now, a company winning regulatory approval of a new drug from the FDA can get monopoly protection under the patent law for 20 years. (Since the patent clock starts ticking before clinical trials begin, the actual life of the patent can be anywhere from 7 to 12 years). Once that time is up, the firm can then file for an extension which can run another 30 months. During that time,the big pharmaceutical company can sue the companies that want to put a generic equivalent on the market, and hence keep the patent in place. And when that time is up, the company can slightly alter the chemical composition of the drug whose patent is running out and introduce an entirely new drug (like Nexium replacing Prilosec). If the FDA goes along with that, the clock starts ticking all over again.

Carolyn Caffrey, an Unsilent reader, makes an important point in her comment on yesterday’s post, which helps explain why the drugmakers are grasping at every possible ploy to keep brand-name drugs sales going.

A LOT of their “cash cow” drugs are up for patent expiration in the next few years. They stand to lose HUGE money. And quite a number of those are drugs used widely by Medicare patients…like Aricept for Alzheimers. So, they’re trying to cut their losses by discounting ONLY brand name prescriptions as a way of squeezing extra life and dollars from those through the Medicare program. I just completed a little summary of 18 of the top “patent cliff” drugs whose patents expire in the next 3 years. But here is a partial list of top sellers that will be open to generics:

in 2010: Lipitor (the #1 drug in retail sales with annual sales in 2008 of $5.9 BILLION); Advair, Levaquin, Cozaar, and Aricept.
In 2011: Seroquel, Zyprexa, Actos, Xalatan, Aprovel, and Plavix (#3 at $3.8 billion);
In 2012: Lexapro, Avandia, Singulair, Zometa, Diovan, Crestor, and Symbicort.

Yeah, some gift to the elderly huh. Don’t you know the advertising is going to be fierce too, and targeted, to keep seniors asking for those, and doctors prescribing them.

I’d be tired…if I wasn’t so DAMN MAD!!