Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 11:08 am | Fair 64º


Harris Sherline: In Defense of Old People

The prospect of rationing services under a government health-care program raises concerns for the elderly

Thanks to the debate about health-care reform, one issue that has garnered public attention is the rationing of health care, and the conversation — if it can be called that — has necessarily focused on the elderly.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the elderly — actually, the very elderly, in the view of many people. I have lived a long and full life, much longer than I thought I would when I was in my 30s and 40s — even my 50s — and I have experienced a series of health crises along the way, some of which landed me in the hospital.

The fact that I’m still around and functioning reasonably well at the ripe old age of 80 is testimony to the miracle of modern medicine and the skill of the doctors who have cared for me. And, since I ran a hospital for nearly seven years, I also have a pretty good idea of how they function and what they can or can’t do for patients.

That said, should senior Medicare patients be worried about the health-care plan being hotly debated across the country? Yes. Although the “public option” appears to have been dropped from the House legislation, it’s very likely to appear in some other form in the bill that is ultimately adopted.

As a beneficiary of Medicare insurance, however, I’m primarily concerned about the specter of the rationing of health care, which is a major component of all the government health plans. Canada, the United Kingdom, Oregon and Massachusetts, to name the most widely cited, all ration care in addition to requiring people to wait to see a doctor, to have various tests done, such as MRIs and CAT Scans, or to be admitted to a hospital.

Furthermore, Medicare is already a major financial loser, with an unfunded liability of about $11 trillion even before adding another 74 million baby boomers to the pool. In other words, it loses money — big time.

The claim that it’s possible to provide health insurance for an estimated 45 million additional people without increasing the deficit or significantly raising taxes is ludicrous. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has scored the cost at about $1.6 trillion.

It’s a simple concept, and no matter what the proponents of expanding the nation’s health-care insurance may assert, not only will costs go up, but it must result in the rationing of services. In addition, providing health-insurance coverage for another 45 million people will cause a significant shortage of doctors and nurses, which will increase the difficulty of getting care when it is needed.

What else concerns me, as one of the nation’s elderly citizens? How about out-of-control deficit spending?

Given my age, you may wonder why that would matter to me. The answer is easy: Uncontrolled spending is inflationary, and inflation is an extremely worrisome problem for seniors, most of whom live on a fixed income. Rapid inflation reduces purchasing power by depreciating the value of a nation’s currency, and its most virulent form, hyperinflation, causes money to depreciate so rapidly that it quickly becomes worthless. With the present administration, that worries me. Those who are living on a fixed income are the most vulnerable to the effects of inflation, and I would at least like to have the purchasing power of our income last as long as my wife and I do.

Another concern for the elderly is what happens when they reach the point where they’re no longer able to care for themselves. The cost of assisted-living or nursing-home care is prohibitive for most people, many of whom may become a financial burden on their families. Not everyone has children who are willing and able to care for an elderly parent, which can cause a variety of problems.

Yet another concern for the elderly is the potential loss of their eyesight or hearing, especially to the degree that it threatens their ability to drive a car. In that sense, we are like teenagers. The ability to drive is very important to our sense of independence.

Finally, and perhaps the most worrisome concern for the elderly is the possibility of becoming afflicted with a condition such as dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. For a generation of people who have generally led independent, active and productive lives, the specter of these diseases can be especially troubling.

Fortunately, aging is not all bad. In spite of advancing years, there are still many benefits, such as reading, taking an afternoon nap, watching a favorite TV programs and good movies, and remaining active in a variety of other ways, such as playing bridge or golf and enjoying the company of friends and family. In my case, I write. It helps keep me alert, informed and engaged.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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