Flummox and Folly: Elders Write a New Chapter of Dissent in the Health Reform Saga

By Retsinas, Joan | Aging Today, September/October 2009 | Go to article overview

Flummox and Folly: Elders Write a New Chapter of Dissent in the Health Reform Saga


Retsinas, Joan, Aging Today


Currently, a vocal cohort of America's older citizens is writing a new chapter of dissent in die long-running saga entitled "Health Insurance Is a Right". This saga began in 1965 when me government stepped in, via Medicare, to guarantee health insurance to everybody age 65 and older, and to the permanently disabled. Since men, whenever the federal government might have extended coverage, a powerful bloc (physicians, big business, insurance companies) has yelled "no!"

Today some elders - all of whom are enrolled under Medicare and are satisfied with it - have joined the naysayers. They've shouted down reform at town hall meetings, written letters to the editor and cajoled their senators. Last month, CBS reported that up to 60,000 AARP members had resigned in protest of its support of healthcare reform.

The duc de la Rochefoucauld would be flummoxed. This 1 8th century French social reformer and philosopher proclaimed that people always act in their own self-interest: Even philanthropists give to the poor not because of altruism, but because they enjoy the sensation of philanthropy - it makes them feel good about themselves. In la Rochefoucauld's view, in order to understand people's actions, you have to cherchez the ego.

FUSSAND CACOPHONY

The Medicare protesters explain mat they are protecting their interests.

Some fear that the government would finance an extension of coverage by paring Medicare benefits, even though nobody has proposed slashing Medicare.

Omers fear higher taxes. Whatever the merits are of expanded coverage, they don't want to pay Uncle Sam anymore. So long as they are ensconced in their government-subsidized insurance lifeboat, they don't want to finance lifeboats for those 47 million uninsured Americans.

At first, these protesters seem to affirm la Rochefoucauld's principle of self-interest. Indeed, the larger cacophony surrounding healthcare reform - coming from a din of lobbyists who are cloaking their employers' self-interests under the mantle of the public interest - affirms la Rochefoucauld's maxim.

Yet these elder nay-sayers are acting against meir self-interests: In the true spirit of la Rochefoucauld, they should be lobbying to extend coverage to the 47 million Americans who have none. They should do this, not for moral reasons (the fiscal bottom line generally trumps any "brother's keeper" concerns, as our wily French philosopher would have predicted), but for extremely selfinterested ones.

They - indeed, all of us - belong to a larger body politic - literally, vulnerable human bodies.

DEGREES OF SEPARATION

Germs, microbes and viruses travel freely among our entire population, whether we are insured or uninsured (and they make no distinction between legal and illegal residents of this country). Tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza, measles, chicken pox and the escalating HiNi virus are real threats.

Every insured person is one, or maybe two, degree of separation from an uninsured person: the waitress, the nursing assistant, the garage mechanic, your fellow bus passengers - any one of these individuals may be uninsured, as well as their spouses, children, lovers and friends. Uninsured people rarely get regular vaccinations, immunizations and preventive care. …

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