Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Gambling without Stakes

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Gambling without Stakes

Article excerpt

My wife might have been a cardsharp in a previous life.

She'll play any game that requires a deck. As an avid card enthusiast, she oftentimes convinced me to play poker with her, with one caveat: she doesn't play for money. Unless you count a stack of toothpicks as the pot.

I've argued that the underlying principle of poker is the willingness to win or lose something valuable, and the risk you take when you play.

Otherwise, shuffling, dealing, betting and bluffing mean nothing.

As our presidential candidates upped the ante on each other this past campaign season, they were gambling without stakes. Bush and Gore consistently increased the "stakes" on programs like prescription drug benefits -- an easy thing to do when you're playing with someone else's money (in this case, taxpayers' hard- earned cash).

But despite the political posturing, I suspect most people remain confused about the difference between the two political parties.

While both parties approach many health care reform problems with similar programs, each party takes a different view of government's role in our lives. Republicans believe in a less intrusive role, while Democrats feel it is government's responsibility to play a vigorous, active, and even parental role.

From the time that Medicare began in the mid-'60s, prescription drugs outside of a hospital stay were not covered.

In those days, the prescription drugs made up a small portion of a senior's health expenses.

Drugs weren't as numerous or as sophisticated as today.

Record-keeping systems for drugs were rudimentary.

Since then, the pharmaceutical industry has witnessed a wave of advances. Americans now rely on an array of medicines, many with high prices.

Since senior citizens constitute one of the largest and most active voting blocs, both political parties now see an opportunity to pander for votes with this powerful constituency.

Several years ago, experts predicted the death of the Medicare trust fund by 2025. Recent estimates indicate that with the relief the Balanced Budget Act provided, Medicare will live longer.

But we will soon face a ballooning number of seniors as baby boomers hit retirement age, outstripping Medicare's ability to keep up.

Adding another benefit like prescription drugs will only compound the problem.

Republicans approach the prescription drug issue by suggesting coverage only for low-income citizens.

Middle- and upper-income citizens could select a partial subsidization though private insurance plans.

But here, Republicans have created a major public policy shift away from the basic tenets of Medicare.

The program was founded in the `60s as social insurance for all.

Making government prescription drugs benefits available only to low-income individuals renders it more similar to Medicaid -- a program for the poor. …

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