Bribing the Elderly: Bush and Gore Push Free Drugs in Bid for Key Votes

By Michael Fumento

Investor’s Business Daily, October 6, 2000
Copyright 2000 Investor’s Business Daily

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I don’t dislike the elderly. Both of my parents are old and I hope to be a geezer myself someday. But when it comes to transferring money from young worker to old non-workers, we need to start asking ourselves when is enough enough? The answer so far is "never."

Several new proposals illustrate this nicely, if "nice" is the proper word. Two, offered by the presidential candidates, would extend Medicare to cover prescription drugs. Al Gore claims his plan would cost a mere $253 billion over the next ten years, while the Congressional Budget Office says it would actually be $338 billion. George Bush says his plan would be a comparable pittance, only $158 billion.

No, the elderly aren’t
thieves, but rather the
politicians who pander to them.

The plans vary in other ways as well, but virtually nobody is challenging the basic premise that somehow the elderly deserve drugs that young workers either subsidize or pay for entirely.

Yet the median net worth of retirees, at $86,000, is about 15 times that of persons under 35 and three times that of "working families" aged 35 to 44. The poverty rate for people under 18 is 17 percent, compared to less than 10 percent for the elderly.

Further, this disparity continues to grow. As to drugs, only 10% of seniors spend more than a thousand dollars a year out of pocket, and only 4% spend more than $2,000. Yes there are seniors who can’t afford the drugs they need or would like. This is also true of younger people, though, including those with children.

But Medicaid already provides drugs to the indigent of all ages and drug companies have special programs designed specifically to help the elderly afford the medicine they need. If this were really about the apocryphal little old lady forced to eat cat food to be able to afford her insulin, Gore and Bush would be means-testing their programs. They are not. Warren Buffett would be as eligible as any senior.

Indeed the whole purpose of both the candidates’ schemes is simply to take money from a less-powerful voting block and hand it over to a more-powerful one. Sixty-seven percent of retirees voted in 1996, compared to 49 percent of 25- to 44-year-olds and only 32 percent of 18- to-24-year-olds. You’d better believe Gore and Bush have these numbers memorized.

Yet the drug plans are not the only concessions to seniors this election year. Both the White House and GOP leaders are committed to restoring cuts from the Medicare budget enacted just three years ago, adding as much as $30 billion to the kitty. Never mind that the system is already slated to begin going bust in 25 years.

The ostensible reason for the restored money is that nursing homes, health care providers, and the managed care industry have been forced to cut back services. But a recent General Accounting Office study concluded that Medicare patients have suffered no decrease in quality or access to care.

"There is not much, if any, systematic evidence that seniors are having difficulty receiving care under Medicare," says Gail Wilensky, chairwoman of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

And please, don’t buy the malarkey that these massive spending proposals are okay because they’re coming out of the surplus. The surplus did not fall like manna from heaven. It’s because we’ve been taxed so heavily that we’ve managed to (temporarily) outstrip government spending.

More and more, these taxes are coming from young workers with dependent children and going to old non-workers without dependents. An economist will tell you this trend is bad for the economy. I’m not an economist, so I can use a word they don’t: unfair. It’s unfair to increasingly break some people’s backs and give others bennies strictly on the basis of age.

And you needn’t be young to see that. When my friend and syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin criticized the Medicare drug proposals she was deluged with letters from seniors supporting her.

Wrote one 72-year-old woman, "It’s sickening to see the politicians, on both sides, pandering to the elderly for a few more votes. I have asked several of my senior friends how they feel about this whole ripoff of the young and they have all said, adamantly, ’Stop doing this!!!’"

Bless you, lady.


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on politics and on economics.