The Ostrich Syndrome
For many years before I was a lawyer, I was an ostrich. Okay, I know that sounds crazy, but let me explain.
I was married and wanted to make my wife and family happy, and so I often said yes when I should have said no. And the credit cards came out, and purchases were made. And in making those purchases, the monthly payments went up. And up. And up even more.
As long as I didn't think about it, I could deal with it. I got part-time jobs. I would from time to time whittle away at the debt. But while I made incremental progress, I never made any real progress because for every week I brought home $1,000, we spent $1,100.
With your head in the sand you can ignore the obvious. You can ignore the dwindling balance in the bank. You can ignore the collection phone calls. You can block it all out. Eventually, I dealt with the problem on my own, without a debt-consolidation loan or a credit-counseling service. I worked my way out of debt eating bologna sandwiches and walking four miles to work every day. I fixed my problem, and I've had a good life ever since. If only others could do the same!
I share this with you because if you work in health care, or in an area that depends on health care (for example, medical manufacturing), you need to start thinking about the coming medical recession. It will be here next year some time. Budgets will be tighter. Positions will be cut. Payrolls will diminish. Reimbursement will be tighter. Demands on caregivers will be increased. There is no question about whether the recession in the medical field is coming. There is only a question of how long it will take to reach you.
The federal budget has gotten out of control. There is plenty of blame to be passed around. The Republicans will blame the Democrats because there is a Democrat in the White House. The Democrats will point to the last occupant of the White House and then point out that on the last day of Mr. Clinton's term there was a budget surplus.
But in the end it will not matter who or what caused the huge deficit, what will matter is how the deficit is attacked. Congress is right to conclude that the debt business must be addressed now. But Congress is wrong to go about it the wrong way, which is what they're doing. Right now, Medicare and Medicaid are the primary targets. Congress intends to balance the budget on the back of health care - or to put it more bluntly, on your back!
Paul Ryan, a Republican, wants to throw out the baby with the bathwater and eliminate Medicare. Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, says that savings can come from Medicare because while it provides great health care, it does so inefficiently. Everyone is fine with trimming the fat - the problem may be that the people wielding the knife can't discern adipose tissue from vital organs. It seems everyone is willing to accept cuts in Medicare, with the provision that people on Medicare now won't have to pay more. Now, wait a minute there!
When I was in the eighth grade I went to work. I have worked, steadily, for the last 42 years. Every time I got a paycheck in that time there were deductions taken out for Medicare and Social Security. The promise to me (and to you) was this: pay us a little bit now, and when you're retired, you won't have to worry about health care and having enough money to live on. None of us got to vote on that plan. None of us got to opt out of this system. We were given no choice. We could only pay and pray that what we paid would be returned to us in our old age.
Of course, like any governmental program, Medicare was badly designed. An average worker will pay in about $25,000 in his lifetime to Medicare. Assuming that was placed in an account earning compound interest, that amount would have grown to something over $50,000 in the course of an average worker's life. The federal government currently estimates that it pays out about $250,000 in Medicare benefits over the life of an average recipient. This means that when "boomsday" hits and all the baby-boomers retire, the impact on the Medicare Trust Fund will be catastrophic. The time to fix the problem is long past due.The answer is to increase the taxes being paid. But everyone is afraid of that option.
Now Washington wants to increase the retirement age, increase the age when we become eligible for Medicare, and make other cuts because (1) we didn't pay enough in to fund our healthcare over the last 42 years; and (2) because Washington spent the money on other things.
It is easy to find your congressman or senator. There are ways to send email, or good old-fashioned postal mail to Congress. No matter what your party, no matter what brand of politics you subscribe to, the fact is that very shortly your own economic well-being will be affected. If Congress cuts $100 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, the impact on you will be swift and immediate. And if they change the entitlements, you may find yourself unable to retire when the time comes.
It is time for you to let Washington know that fair is fair. They made a deal; they should hold up their end of the bargain. We didn't get a chance to opt out. They shouldn't get one now just because the bill is coming due. Congress needs to step up and fix this in a way that doesn't cripple health care, and knee-cap those of us who've paid into all our adult lives.