IPFS Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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Imagine for a moment the federal government owned all the supermarkets.

They wouldn’t have different names, anymore. They’d all be emblazoned with the blue-eagle logo of the NSA -- the Nutritional Security Administration.

But this would be a good thing. In the bad old days -- as all children will be taught in school -- fancier supermarkets in nice neighborhoods offered a taste-tempting variety of fresh breads, pastries, and produce, while the stores that served poorer people tended to be dirtier and more cramped, and to offer a far more restricted selection. Thank goodness those inequities have now been corrected!

Passing through the security checkpoint and entering the NSA store, you form up at the back of the “canned goods” line. A mere 45 minutes later you reach the front, noticing that the woman in front of you bought precisely what you need -- two cans of red kidney beans, for a mere $3.45 per can. (Overhead goes up a bit, when the government runs things.)

You present all your government ID to be scanned, and order your own, identical, two cans of kidney beans.

“There you go. That’ll be $27.60 plus $5.52 tax, your total is $33.12.”

“There must be some mistake,” you explain. “The cans of beans are only $3.45 apiece.”

“Nope. Here’s the read-out, $13.80 apiece, plus tax.”

“But the woman ahead of me paid $3.45 a can.”

“Sir, privacy laws prevent me from confirming that, but as I’m sure you know, not everyone shows the kind of income and assets that I see displaying on your account. Why, just look at the equity in your house -- you’ve been turning down all those offers for third and fourth mortgages, haven’t you? You can’t really deny that you’re able to pay more than that poor young mom who left her husband, never finished school, and can’t keep a job because of her alcoholic disability, can you?”

If this all sounds far-fetched, consider that Americans have been told for 40 years that Medicare is not a welfare program for the poor, but rather an old-age insurance program, like Social Security. We all pay in our “premiums” (well, they’re seized before we see them, actually, but that doesn’t sound as nice), and we all get the same benefits, at the same token cost, after we retire.

Only ... not really. In fact, there are no Medicare or Social Security “trust funds.” The Ponzi schemers on the Potomac regularly admit in court that they have always poured those receipts (and our employers’ matching share) right into their general fund, while they know full well they’ve promised far more in benefits than they’ll ever be able to pay -- unless they inflate the dollar to the point where your promised “$2,500 a month” (or whatever) will barely buy you a week’s groceries.

To start solving the problem, as of this coming January, they’ll be applying to Medicare the same doctrine that ruled in our hypothetical federal grocery store.

It’s called “means testing.” Phased in over three years, a new law enacted in 2003 means that about 1.5 million seniors -- single beneficiaries with incomes higher than $80,000, and couples with incomes higher than $160,000 -- will pay more for their doctors’ visits and outpatient care, calculated on a sliding scale. For the wealthiest Americans, the government will eventually pay only 20 percent of costs, while those who worked and saved less will keep getting the current 75 percent.

(Don’t you love that phrase, “the wealthiest Americans”? I especially love the way it implies they were all born in a pink bubble bath and have never done a lick of work, that not a one of them has ever performed brain surgery or invented a computer or worked 80 hours a week launching a company that created a thousand jobs. I always try to read it as “greedy scumbags who’ve been making us look bad ever since we were kids whose stuff we haven’t finished grabbing yet, but just you wait.”) If rich people will get lesser benefits down the road, does that mean they can pay less in Medicare “premiums” now? Ha, ha. You’re such a joker, Vin.

By 2009, beneficiaries with incomes over $200,000 will be expected to pay $314.60 per month for Medicare Part B -- more than three times the premium for those with incomes below $80,000.

Medicare Part D -- the new prescription drug coverage -- already incorporates a form of means-testing, points out former U.S. Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana: Poor people pay lower premiums for their drug coverage, regardless of the cost of the drugs they use.

And a lot more of this may be coming. University of Pennsylvania professor Mark Pauly tells the Wall Street Journal he sees means testing of the Part B premium as “just a drop in the bucket.” Eventually, Professor Pauly envisions “affluent” seniors covering the entire cost of new medical technologies, while under his plan all the fancy new technologies would go to extend the lives of lower-income beneficiaries, free of charge.

These “New Deal” and “Great Society” programs have never been “insurance policies” in the true sense. No actuaries set their rates according to anticipated liabilities -- or exclude those at high risk -- like a true insurance company. Instead, the genius of the arrogant welfare pimps Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson was to set up the levies for these collectivist schemes to LOOK like insurance premiums, so recipients wouldn’t feel they were “on the dole” -- while roping in the wealthy by making sure the programs weren’t really optional, at all.

Medicare, like Medicaid and Social Security, is a redistributionist welfare program, and always has been. As time goes by, it becomes clearer and clearer that the doctrine on which it rests is the familiar “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

But the system’s backers and proponents realize instinctively they can’t call it that, since support for a program of “charity at gunpoint” would erode far faster than if they can maintain the illusion that we’re all “entitled” to equal benefits, since we “paid our premiums,” all those years.

Now: What’s the easiest way to reduce the unsupportable burden which the retirees of the 2020s and 2030s will place on the Social Security system, do you suppose?

“Yes, yes, I see where they promised you a monthly check after you turned 70. But that was only if you NEEDED it, you see. Our FINCEN report from your bank says you still have plenty of savings to live on. After all, you wouldn’t expect a rich person and a poor person to pay the same price for a can of beans. ...”