The Old Man loved to play the game whenever he had an audience. He would flash a nickel and a dime, explain that the dime would buy twice as much candy as the nickel, and then give his five-year-old grandson a choice. The kid would always grab the nickel and run, as the Old Man exclaimed to those in attendance “that’s one dumb kid.”
When an observant privately asked the kid why he always took the nickel, the kid’s response was classic: “If I took the dime, the Old Man would stop playing the game.”
That’s our Medicare challenge in a nutshell. Like the kid, many of our leaders keep leveraging the ignorance of us seniors and boomers by serving up a wrong answer to get our vote and keep the game alive. They are not going to tell us that this out-of-control program needs to be reformed now in a way that will significantly reduce our benefits. Their sole strategy is simply to demagogue anyone who dares to send us that message. They’re convinced that we couldn’t stomach the dialogue, the hard facts, or the medicine. So why put the game in jeopardy by acknowledging the screw-ups of the past and saying and doing what has to be said and done to aggressively and responsibly tackle this monster?
Leaders in both parties are committed to the game. Those who refuse to play risk their political future. When House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan offered his comprehensive long-term plan, it was clear to all that he was completely rejecting the game by telling it like it is. Although many applauded his political courage, he quickly became a target. Obama immediately fabricated scenarios about Ryan’s plan to scare seniors and boomers and demonize Ryan’s efforts. The Democrats and media followed suit. Websites popped up attacking Ryan, including one titled “Hands Off My Grandma.” Even Donald Trump, now a devout Republican, called Ryan’s efforts a “Death Wish” for Ryan and the Republican Party. Trump’s attacks were not directed at the substance of Ryan’s plan, only at the fact that Ryan was no longer playing the game by pandering to the ignorance of “scared seniors.”
All of us seniors and boomers should reset our expectations about Medicare right now. Although Social Security might be “saved” for many of us by doing an ugly number on our kids and grandkids, there’s no hope for Medicare. At age 63, there’s no way I am going to get the Medicare benefit levels of today when I need expensive treatments 15 or 20 years out. And I shouldn’t. The seniors and boomers have allowed our leaders to perpetually violate the most basic laws of money, create impossible expectations, and ignore countless warnings by forever playing a game to protect us from the truth. We created this mess, and we should take the hit by expecting less and getting less. Any attempt to shift pain from ourselves to future generations, `a la Social Security, should be resisted with full force.
Of course, many of my fellow boomers and seniors will reject this plea. I call them the “Old Greeds.” Their hope is that the game continues and nothing gets done to impact their remaining days. They know their finish line is getting close, and their sole focus is on maximizing their benefits. Some are just scared and don’t know any better. Others just don’t give a hoot about the carnage that’s left behind when they exit this mortal existence. Many are headline-educated blowhards who would take the last dollar from their grandchild’s piggy bank with only one regret – there’s not another dollar to take. They regularly pledge allegiance to the AARP, whose power is predicated on milking every benefit by keeping the game at fever pitch.
Ignorance shouldn’t remain the driving force. More seniors and boomers need a little education. It’s not about favoring the right or the left or loving or hating Obama, Ryan, Romney or any other politician. It’s about a handful of basic non-partisan numbers, simple arithmetic, and options for controlling costs and managing and allocating finite resources to mitigate the hits we’re all going to take.
Without this expanded awareness, it won’t get done. Like the kid, our leaders will just keep playing the game as long as we’re willing to oblige. We need to wise up and speak up. We need to outnumber and outperform the Old Greeds. Above all, we must send to those who want our vote, and anyone else who will listen, one overriding, unequivocal, bottom line message: Game Over.