Social Security and Medicare: A Policy Primer

Article excerpt

This book is a useful addition to the knowledge base pertaining to the federally administered, complex social and health insurance systems that are designed to serve the needs of eligible aged and disabled persons. Written in a basically nontechnical style, the book serves as a useful introductory treatise for the general reader and is a good source of data and information for the technically oriented, as well. It provides a lot of useful historical information about how Social Security and Medicare were created and how these two programs have changed over the years.

Social Security and Medicare: A Policy Primer was written by Eric R. Kingson, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Social Work, Boston College, and Edward D. Berkowitz, Professor of History and Public Policy and Chairman of the History Department, George Washington University.

One of the book's strong points is its emphasis on approaches that aim toward a synthesis of the programs and policies that strengthen the social and economic fabric of American society. This positive emphasis is a pleasing departure from the chorus of voices that reflect disparate and often counterproductive proposals for addressing the Nation's pressing health and economic well-being problems. In his foreword to the book, Arthur S. Flemming (former Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) emphasizes this program synthesis when he concludes that the vision of Social Security called for "...a package of programs ail under the name of Social Security and all dependent on one another to ultimately lift our nation out of poverty."

Kingson and Berkowitz begin with a discussion of the social insurance approach. As the authors point out, "Social insurance, a near universal response of industrial nations to common hazards, has become the nation's preeminent social welfare technology." Three basic mechanisms for transferring income from one group to another--social insurance, welfare, and tax transfers--are discussed. The authors maintain that transfers include the vehicles individuals, families, employers, and government use to protect citizens against risks to their economic well-being. Two key concepts of social insurance, "adequacy" and "individual equity," are also discussed. Next, the authors describe the benefits of the present Social Security and Medicare programs. This description is followed by a discussion of several pending issues raised by special groups: Does Social Security provide adequate protection now, and will it do so in the future? What are some of the financing problems that Congress will face in the years ahead, and how should these problems be addressed? …


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