What Would a Citizen Do?

Seal of the United States of AmericaThose who insist that the US government “live within its means” just like its citizens must in our own lives, are absolutely correct!

So, let’s play out that comparison, from which we can then determine the best strategy for our lawmakers to embrace.

Our government owes more than it brings in, so it must borrow money to meet its obligations.  Its been doing this for decades, with the blessing of both Republican and Democratic legislatures.  Many US citizens have done the same thing, a vast majority of them Boomers.  Now, if the government does not borrow more, it will default on what it already owes, its credit rating will be devalued, bills will go unpaid, and an already weak economy will become even weaker just when it needs a boost to avoid a second recession.

Here’s the same scenario but for a US family.

For the past decade, the Highlife family has been borrowing to make ends meet as they spent more than they brought in.  This included a second mortgage on their home.  But now the home’s value is less than half what it was three years ago when they took the second mortgage, and their first loan value is upside down.  If they don’t meet their fiscal obligations they’ll lose their home which will add yet another empty, unkempt property to their neighborhood which in turn will harm the values of their neighbors’ homes, their credit rating will tank making recovery from this bad situation that much more difficult and lengthy, and all who depend on them (children, elderly parents for example) will suffer as a result of their inability to provide the assistance they need to live decently (home care, books for school, etc.).   If you were the Highlifes, what would you do to dig yourself out from under this terrible mess (besides change your name…)?

What the vast majority of us have and would do is:

  • reduce our expenditures as much as possible without harming the basics we need to live (food, clothing, shelter, safety for us and our dependents, transportation, etc.)
  • bring in extra income to bridge the AP/AR gap (take another job, have the older kids work)
  • to avoid the disaster that defaulting on what we owe would bring to ourselves and all around us, we would use the credit and borrowing power we have available to us, but much more smartly, to get us through while the other strategies start to bear fruit, building our 5-10 year plan on the bedrock that, once a certain level of solvency is accomplished, we will no longer rely on borrowing to pay our bills
  • and….we do all the above with the clear understanding that digging out will require years to accomplish safely.

There you have it.  What the US government must do to handle this economic crisis just like a citizen would.

What Are You Willing to Sacrifice?

‘Tis the season for health care reform overreacting, from Democrat Pelosi’s very silly & counterproductive “unAmerican” remark, to the unbeknownst-to-anyone-including-those-creating-the-bill “death panels” – aka having access to good & factual information from your doctor on handling end-of-life preparations – charged by Republicans and on which Republicans are now backpedaling as, yes, another overreaction.  This made more interesting by the fact that it was a Republican, Senator Johnny Isakson of GA, who introduced the bill’s end of life counseling option for Medicare… Oh, and by the way, my fellow Boomers, according to Medical News Today, one of the top 10 most common medical challenges for us as we age: Death & Dying, e.g. deciding how we want to live out the end of our lives and how we want to die….

What is not being discussed, and must be if we hope to reform anything, whether it’s our evermore dysfunctional health care system or a shaky marriage, is the “give” part of “give and take”…

And I’m not referring to Congress; I’m talking about…us.

It is an accepted fact that at times we must sacrifice for the greater good.  We Boomers’ parents did that big time to ensure a world free of fascist domination; foster parents make many sacrifices so they can care for others’ abused/neglected children; and, of course, our military men and women make huge sacrifices, as do their families, to keep us safe.  Americans often are willing to sacrifice a little – and sometimes a lot – to help others.

So I asked myself, “what am I willing to sacrifice when it comes to health care reform, so that others (many) who are suffering because their insurance dropped them for having a disease that is too costly, or are uninsured and as a result are not getting the healthcare some of them desperately need, will no longer have to live that way?”  Because that, to me, is what underpins much of the debate, fuels much of the fear, and ultimately decides the outcome: “you’re asking me to give up something for this, and I don’t wanna…”

It’s natural to think only of ourselves, what we have, and that we don’t want to chance losing something of our own so that others we don’t know can gain.  But, in retrospect:

  • it’s a good thing the Continental Congress ultimately fought that desire (for 2 years the vast majority of representatives wouldn’t even discuss the option of independence, in part because they knew it would be considered treason, but in greater part because they were afraid of losing their property and standing);
  • I’m very glad those who stormed the beach at Normandy didn’t feel that way, and;
  • I’m deeply grateful that those who ultimately lost their lives to gain basic civil rights for all, didn’t place their own self-interests above that of millions of fellow Americans subjugated to egregious forms of discrmination.

Now that I know that 10’s of millions of my fellow Americans, a number that keeps growing, have, over many years, experienced serious health ramifications because they have no coverage to get then well, this is a big enough problem to warrant serious consideration of my part in fixing it. 

I am thrilled that my 89 year old mother, and all of America’s elderly (and not so elderly…) have Medicare so at least here in America we don’t let our elderly go without all the care they need to have a quality life.  But that has only been since the 1960’s, prior to that, we did treat our elderly as we do our younger citizens now, and that’s nothing in which to take pride.

So, am I willing to pay a little more so that others can be healthy?  Am I willing to get a little less so someone with cancer will be covered after all?  Doctors, are you willing to make $3K instead of $4K a year* and perhaps drive a smaller BMW?  And, of course, we already know that the insurance companies are not willing to sacrifice anything but those who cost them too much, unless forced to do so…

A major objection from the most vocal of opponents, is based in this concern: “I like my insurance (whether private of Medicare) and don’t want it impacted at all!”  Is that reasonable or completely selfish?  Is it unreasonable to ask those who feel they are not impacted by the health care issue, to make some potential sacrifice so others may have even some of what they have (the operative word being potential, as for many it may never happen)?

My answer is, I am willing to pay a little more for the same coverage if that will help others – I am not willing to continue to pay more for less to benefit the insurance companies as \is happening right now.   I say that not completely selflessly (of course…): I know full well that I do already pay for the uninsured through the 33% hike I’ve seen in my premiums over just the last year.  If you think that’s not happening to you as an insured, just call your insurer and ask why premiums keep rising – they will readily admit that it is in part because they must try to recoup the rising costs of hospital medical care, for instance, associated with the mandate to care for the uninsured regardless of their ability to pay. 

Even those with good coverage know that at any time they can be denied care for a needed procedure, canceled, or as has happened regularly over the last many years even w/employer underwritten group health plans, pay ever more for less coverage.  This while insurance executives fly to their next stockholder meeting in their private planes with gold-rimmed dinnerware and hand & foot service (I’m not fabricating this – an ex-insurance exec told all recently to the St. Pete Times, and this was part of his story).

So, now I ask you: What are you willing to sacrifice for the greater good on this issue?  A little something can really go a long way.

*According to a 2008 survey of MD’s by Modern Physician, Physician’s salaries range from a low of $175K/yr (Internist), to a high of $600K (Radiologist): averaging $387K/yr.