The Phony Age Gap War

| Tue Sep. 15, 2009 2:25 PM EDT

In “Politics and the Age Gap,” featured in Sunday’s New York Times, Adam Nagourney adds to the litany of recent articles that position old people as a primary obstacle to health care reform. In part, the target of these pieces is the tea party geezers who rant about socialism--but it goes well beyond that. Seniors tend to be depicted, explicitly or implicity, as obstinate or selfish because they fear cutbacks in Medicare will be made in order to provide health care for younger people. What’s more, they refuse to accept that Medicare benefits must be cut now to keep the program from going bankrupt before younger generations even get to use it.

Thus, the argument goes, what’s really going on in the health care struggle is a fight by the old against the young, in which we miserly old coots are unwilling to give up what we’ve got for the sake of the greater good. “As the population ages and the nation faces intense battles over rapidly rising health care and retirement costs,” Nagourney writes, ”American politics seems increasingly divided along generational lines.”

But the whole intergenerational conflict is a phony one. This health reform debate is about substituting a trumped up intergenerational war for what ought to be, if anything, a class war--pitting the old against the young, instead of pitting the rich against the poor, or the corporations against the little guy. 

If health reform moves forward, there surely will be cuts to Medicare--that isn’t some paranoid fantasy on the part of demented old folks. And you can be sure the cuts won’t only apply, as promised, to “waste and inefficiency.” But the real scandal is this: The only reason that any cuts at all need to made to Medicare is because pols are unwilling to cut the profits of insurance and drug companies. That’s where the money to finance health reform really should be coming from.

In other countries, single-payer systems deliver better health care at far lower cost.  If we did the same here--or at least made moves in that direction--there would be enough for everyone. We could have Medicare for all--the young as well as the old.

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