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Every federal election in our time is about health care. It is not on the ballot in words, but it is there as a preexisting political condition. Every session of Congress, liberals will try to improve what exists; conservatives will oppose any expansion. Liberals will talk inclusion. Conservatives will talk breathlessly about an unbalanced budget first, and then about encouraging unnecessary treatment, malpractice suits, and government interference in private matters. he date changes, but the script remains the same year after year. And so does our civic responsibility. When we vote in 2022, we choose which side we are on. Will the person we elect vote for more needed health care or less?
When American life expectancy was shorter, people retiring at 62 or 65 faced only a few years of possible physical, but certain financial, pain. Today, life expectancy is 75 years, many of us living on to 85 and some beyond. (I’m 93.) More than ever, whether you live on a farm in Iowa or in a high rise in New York City, our social and medical programs are essential to dealing with aches and pains. Yet, from the Social Security arguments in the 1930s to Medicare in the 1960s, to Obamacare beginning in 2010, to Joe Biden’s hopes today, conservative opposition made healing hard for millions of us, and not just for the poor.
As the cliché would have it, “I am comfortable.” I’ve had good jobs, earned a reasonable amount of money, and, today, have a savings account, a few investments, and no debt. But, at my age, major illness could come close to reducing that comfort significantly. Most Americans have not been as fortunate as I. Getting seriously ill doesn’t always lead to proximate death, but it inevitably leads to a financial hit and, possibly, an uneasy older age beyond.
That is why we have Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare. Millions of Americans, without those safety net social programs, would have no security, no affordable insurance or available health care. In their old age, social insecurity will be the defining words.
Certainly, the increase in longevity is not the result of Social Security and Medicare alone. But they do relieve anxiety and the ability to face decline. They help in a major way.
Sixty-four million people receive a monthly check averaging $1,475. Not many of those dollars go into a savings account. They are spent almost as quickly as they are received. Over a trillion dollars a month flow into the economy.
In Congress, the conservative fight is never about people. It is about numbers. “We will need higher taxes to pay for the Democrats’ socialism. We must balance the budget. We cannot afford it.” The programs they oppose allow people, including their own constituents, who aren’t otherwise covered by employers, a way to get affordable insurance. That is not socialism, but decency and democracy. It is not government interference, but encouragement of a good life to the end.
Simply, from Franklin Roosevelt to Joe Biden, the liberal efforts were intended to make more people more secure in retirement years, and they have.
Norman Sherman of Coralville has worked extensively in politics, including as Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary, and authored a memoir “From Nowhere to Somewhere.”