Archive for May 20th, 2011


Where do I start?

Entitlement [en-tahy-tl-muhnt]


1.  the act of entitling.
2.  the state of being entitled.
3.  the right to guaranteed benefits under a government program, as Social Security or unemployment compensation.
Since no one else seems to be concerned with the question, I guess its up to me to ask.  How is it that certain people became entitled to have their healthcare paid for by the taxpayer, on no other basis than their age or their income?
Certain entitlements are at least rooted in the country, and by extension the taxpayer, having benefitted and therefore owing the recipient a quid pro quo or two.  These would be entitlements like the right to burial in a national cemetery, the G.I. Bill, or V.A. Benefits.  There is at least a semblance of a corolation between the grantor and the grantees of this entitlement. 
However, this doesn’t explain why it is that I am expected to reduce the options for my own family so that I can contribute to the care of Mrs. Jones up the street.  Especially when Mrs. Jones is engaged in a “spend down” of her assets by making inter vivos transfers of her money, real property, and other assets to family members, so that “when the time comes”, she will be eligible for Medicare? 
Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen.  As part of my duties as an estate planning attorney, I have been asked to give advice to help the client to do just that, so that they can make sure that their kids and grandkids “get something”, which is frequently considerably more than merely. Even in today’s battered real estate market, a completely paid-for home can fetch a tidy sum, even when sold at a loss.  And I know many attorney’s who can apparently give that advice without even thinking, let alone asking “What in the Hell makes you think I want to subsidize your gifts to your heirs by paying for your medical care?”
What I find to be the real “entitlement” is the too-often held belief that this is perfectly ok.  Honestly, Mrs. Jones never even asks herself “Is this right that I make everyone else pay for my care, including these heirs that I want to give my assets to?”
For some it is a mindset.  Like Social Insecurity, they have “paid into it” all their lives, and cling to the fantasy that there is an account somewhere in Washington D.C. with their name on it, and all they are doing is “getting back what they paid in”, despite ample evidence that no such account exists, that the benefits that many receive would far outstrip the amounts paid in, and that sticky fingered politicians long ago used their “payments” to buy votes from some other sucker they wanted to make dependent upon their largesse.  This isn’t the case, and sadly, we’re rapidly approaching the point where this nation can no longer afford to indulge the fantasies of grumpy Mr. Wilburson, Mrs. Jones, or even our parents.  The time has come and gone for some brutal honesty and tough love.
Medicare is failing.  It isn’t just that the program is going broke, (which it is), but it is also the fact that payments on medicare claims are so delayed and so pitifully low that many healthcare providers refuse to accept medicare patients.  They can’t afford to do it for free, and “I’ll gladly pay you next year for a cheeseburger today is a crummy business model.
I have long admired Harry S. Truman, if only for the fact that a common man could so flummox the establishment, time and time again, with a certain flair that few people could carry off.  That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he did.  Desegregation of the military?  Thumbs Up.  The Steel cases?  Thumbs Down.  Recognizing Israel?  Thumbs Up.  Pissing off the D.C. Establishment?  Thumbs Up.  Clemency for his would-be assassins?  Thumbs Down.  His enthusiastic support for Medicare?  That deserved a Gibbs-style headslap, but the guy was a senior citizen, and I’m not a grandpa-beater.
I still challenge the notion of such an entitlement to begin with.  It was a building block for other dubious entitlements, all generous, in part because of the myth that someone else was the one who had to pay for it.  This is a delusion that is only harming the country now.   Debt limits choices, as any law school grad is well-aware, and the nation’s growing debt doesn’t just limit our generation’s choices, it threatens the choices of my children and my grandchildren.  Pretending that its ok to continue to borrow money from China so politicians can continue to buy votes from those they would enslave and pretending that there is no reason to change the practice is an unserious answer, and it is time to be serious.
And since some would say that conservatives never have proposals, here are mine:
(1) I understand that today’s retirees have planned on these programs, and although I find them extravagant and repellant, I would preserve them for anyone age 50 or over with means testing…real means testing, that will not permit a spend down, and that will only provide partial benefits based up on your ability to pay.   Yes, I understand that means grandchildren and children like me might only get the photo album and a few small possessions, and I’m ok with that, if it means that the entitlement stops.
(2) For those age 50 to 21, you continue to pay into Medicare to support those on it, but it is with the understanding that it won’t be there for you.  This means that you have to do your own planning.  Maybe this means that you don’t have all the possessions that Grandpa and Grandma had, but at the same time, they wouldn’t have had them either, if they were actually saving for their own old age.
(3) Under 21, you don’t pay into Medicare, and maybe you have to help with taking care of your own Grandpa and Grandma when they get old.  Worse sacrifices have been made, and they are your family.
I know.  It will horrify those who like to talk about the wealth of this country, and how shameful such an idea might be.  But keep in mind, these are the same people who know damn well that the wealth they are referring to actually was earned by and belongs to someone else, and for all their lip service about it, their only real interest is in confiscating it so they can buy votes with it.  Say “No.” and reserve entitlements for something more significant than simply drawing breath and living long enough.

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