Watchdog Blog

Saul Friedman: On Behalf of Older Americans

Posted at 7:39 am, October 17th, 2006
Saul Friedman Mug

When is the last time you heard someone in the well-heeled White House press corps ask the president or one of his flacks a question on behalf of older Americans? If you can’t remember, neither can I. And on behalf of older people I’ve been paying attention. But they should be asking penetrating questions on the future of Medicare, Social Security, and long term care.

Aside from the possibility that most of the White House press types are too young to know or care about the issues affecting their parents or grandparents, there is little excuse for ignoring them. After all, they may one day have to care for their elders. But, from the media’s point of view, the press is ignoring one of its best audiences.

Older Americans, 50 and up, constitute the 45 million members of AARP, the largest membership organization in the nation, save for the Catholic Church. Another several million are active in the union-backed Alliance of Retired Americans. And unlike younger Americans, who are given too much space too many newspapers, magazines and television news shows, older Americans actually read newspapers and they vote at rates upward of 70 percent.

Yet because the press has paid little attention to the issues vital to older Americans (and the rest of the nation), the Bush administration and its allies in Congress have been able to slip in under the radar and virtually destroy Medicare as we’ve known it through privatization. Few newspapers assign reporters to cover elder issues.

Many cover health issues, but as good as they are, these reporters cannot or do not provide context. The problems of the Medicare Part D benefit have been documented, and have been attributed, correctly, to the policy of turning the benefit over to dozens of insurance companies. But few newspapers and television news segments have seen this as the privatization of Medicare, which Republicans have promised for years.

On January 1, affluent beneficiaries will be required to pay sharply higher premiums for their Medicare Part B. One wonders how many in the White House press know about Part B (which helps pay doctor bills). Or care that the wealthy will pay more. Yet it strikes at the heart of universality, a basic principle of Medicare. And it means that 40 million plus Medicare beneficiaries will have the IRS and Social Scurity snooping in their tax returns.

Finally, the president has promised to revisit his effort to convert Social Security from an insurance plan to millions of investment plans, like 401 (k)s, which, he says, are favored by young people. My own experience as a columnist has taught me that younger people would rather have a 401 (k) to invest in than an old fashioned pension like Social Security. One reason: They are generally ignorant about how “defined benefit” pensions like Social Security are different from “defined contribution” plans like 401 (k)s. Should the issue return, with or without the backing of this president, how many in the White House press corps will know enough to understand why older Americans are so adamant about the potential disappearance of Social Security as well as Medicare?

One Response to “On Behalf of Older Americans”

  1. Peter Jacobs says:

    The oil disaster is crazy because the leak is so deep. I hope BP do all against the spread of the oil. The nature will be destroyed for a long time.

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