August 19, 2003
By Derek Hunter
If you're in your 20s or 30s, one of the biggest decisions
affecting your life likely will be made this fall.
It's not whether to get married. Or to buy a house. Or even to
have and educate children. But it's a decision that could affect
your ability to afford any or all of those things.
That decision, which will be made by Congress, is whether or not
to give senior citizens, regardless of income or need, a
prescription-drug entitlement in Medicare.
The House and Senate each have approved separate bills that would
add a drug entitlement to the already cash-strapped Medicare
program. Each bill was initially estimated to cost $400 billion
over the next 10 years. New estimates peg them as being far more
costly. Still, a Capitol Hill committee is hammering out the
differences between the bills, and President Bush has indicated
he'll sign whatever they put before him.
Our futures are being formed. But are we paying attention?
Frankly, most lawmakers don't expect us to: We rarely make plans
for the weekend until Friday rolls around, so it's a good bet we're
not planning what will happen when we reach age 65 -- or how we'll
obtain medical care when we get there.
But there's one very good reason we should pay attention as
lawmakers tinker with Medicare. We (not they) will have to pay the
Think about the extra $400 billion in taxes we'll have to pay over
the next 10 years.
That's $400,000,000,000. How huge is that?
To give it some perspective, if you were paid $1 per second, every
second of every day from the moment you were born, you'd be a
millionaire in fewer than 12 days. But it would take you nearly 33
years to become a billionaire. That's right, 33 YEARS.
And still, to get the estimated cost of the proposed "reform," you
must multiply that 33 years by 400. The resulting number should
worry everyone -- especially young people.
Here's why: The 77 million baby boomers will begin retiring in
2011. Eventually, that'll nearly double the number of people on
Medicare. By 2030, the typical household will pay $2,855 for
Medicare, according to estimates from The Heritage Foundation.
That's without a drug entitlement. Factor one in, and that number
rises to $3,980 per household.
Heritage research also finds that between now and 2030, each
household will pay an average $56,022 for Medicare, $16,127 of that
for the drug entitlement alone.
Essentially, lawmakers are considering imposing a massive tax
liability on young people. Keep in mind that while the cost of
Medicare skyrockets, the cost of the rest of government (defense,
Social Security, etc.) also will continue to rise, and we will have
to pay for that, too.
There are poor seniors who genuinely need help and should get it.
But three out of four seniors already have some form of drug
coverage, many through former employers.
So why would Congress design a benefit for everyone when only a
quarter of seniors need it, and make us pay for it? As we've seen,
this bill covers everyone equally, rich or poor. Bill Gates, Ted
Turner, Michael Jordan and all the other rich retirees won't go
hungry if they pay out-of-pocket for prescription drugs.
What's worse, one-third of seniors with drug coverage through
their former employers would lose it because of this bill,
according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. Companies would
save billions of dollars a year by dropping retirees because the
taxpayer would automatically pick up the tab. So we get stuck with
the check. Talk about corporate welfare.
But it doesn't have to be like this. We could make it better, for
seniors and ourselves.
All we have to do is pay attention -- and now. Seniors vote in
large numbers. They contact their members of Congress and stay
involved. Unfortunately, too many of us in our 20s or 30s know who
won on "Survivor" or "American Idol" but can't name our senator or
We have to change that. Members of Congress need to listen, and so
do our parents and grandparents. Let's help those seniors who truly
need help with their drug bills. But let Bill Gates and friends pay
their own way.
No one is going to seek out our opinions. We have to speak up. We
have to be engaged. We'd better start paying attention because,
either way, we will pay.
Derek Hunter is a researcher at the Center for Health Policy
Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Distributed on the Scripps Howard wire
If you're in your 20s or 30s, one of the biggest decisions affecting your life likely will be made this fall.
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