Socialism: Relax, it could be coming to your living room
So you’ve got a solid grip on your middle-class status, right? You have a decent job, you take care of yourself, and you don’t need no stinkin’ handout from the government. Handouts count as Socialism in your book, and that’s best left to the Europeans– is that the way you see it?
Well, picture this scenario playing out in your house: You’re standing in the doorway to your living room, figuring out how to transform this relaxation and entertainment space into a bedroom for your elderly parent, with the hospital-style bed right where your couch is now.
What’s that, you say? Your parents are not elderly? Think ahead to the time when your parents can no longer care for themselves, when they’ll have a hard time climbing the stairs to your guest room when they come to visit— or come to stay.
Perhaps they will have moved into a nursing home a few years before your living room makeover, but with the national average cost at $72,000 per year per patient in a nursing home (and that’s a 2011 figure), they have burned through what remained of their savings after retirement. (And, contrary to popular belief, Medicare does not pay for long-term nursing-home care.)
Right now, in 2011, there’s a safety net: Medicaid. I know all about the relief that comes with this financial buffer because my mother at the age of 89 went to live in a nursing home here in Charlottesville, where she remained until she was 93 and passed away there.
Mum was diligent with her finances over the years. She owned her condominium and invested a modest nest egg wisely, living on Social Security survivor’s benefits and a small pension from the time she retired.
But it wasn’t enough– Mum outlived her savings. About a year and a half before her death, the money ran out. All the proceeds from the sale of her home, every penny of the nest egg she tended so carefully over the years– all gone. The monthly Social Security checks and pension income were nowhere near enough to keep her in the nursing home.
And yet, my mother was well taken care of until the day she died. Thank you, Medicaid. Thank you, American taxpayers.
Now and then, you hear someone bemoaning the loss of the extended family in the United States, saying that the elderly should not be sent away to an institution, and are best cared for in the home. But in that rosy scenario, the crucial element is having a healthy adult on the premises at all times to care for Grandma or Grandpa. In the good old days, it was always the lady of the house.
Should your mother or father one day require full-time care, you will be faced with three options: nursing home, hire full-time in-home care, or you quit your job and stay home to care for your elderly parent. In all three scenarios the question is Where is the money coming from?
If the right wing of the Republican party has its way, the spigot of federal funding for Medicaid may well run dry by the time your now-vigorous mother and father will be made indigent following some extended period of time when their medical bills outstrip the savings they socked away during a lifetime of hard work. They will be out on the street unless they are rescued by a benefactor, which will be you.
The newly formed “Super Committee”– Congress’s Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction– will soon be deciding whether to implement Congressman and Tea Party darling Paul Ryan’s plan for our financial future, which calls for repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law, and includes a block-grant proposal for handing federal Medicaid payments to the states.
This restructuring of Medicaid would turn off the federal money spigot over the next ten years, leaving each state to figure out how to make up the shortfall. Cut Medicaid payments? Cut other state services instead? Raise taxes? All three?
If the Medicaid-is-Socialism voices prevail in shaping our financial future, then Medicaid likely will not be around to pay the nursing home bill after your parents' money runs out.
Perhaps you’ll bring your mother home and hire someone to look after her while you’re at work. Bear in mind that you’ll pay about $21 an hour for those services. Figuring your eight-hour workday plus time for commuting and errands, you’re looking at $210 per 10-hour day for that in-home care.
Should your parent need round-the-clock care, we’re talking $184K per year, which makes the nursing home look like a sweet deal at $72K.
And you thought sending your kids to college would be expensive!
In the absence of the Medicaid safety net, what happens when you have to raid your own retirement nest egg to fund your parents' long-term medical care? How will you send your children to college?
You could find yourself in an intergenerational downward spiral, tumbling into the underclass with no money for your own retirement, and no money for your children’s education. When it comes time for your own nursing home days, you're left with no Medicaid, no savings, and adult children who can’t help you because they didn’t have the financial leg up that a college education would have provided.
It’s not such a stretch to envision the hospital bed in your living room, right next to the oxygen tank and the wheelchair.
There are no easy answers here. But the next time you’re tempted to characterize Medicaid as “Socialism,” you might want to add: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”
The final night of Jaquith's mom's earthly existence was the topic of an April essay.Read more on: socialism