The Burden and the Privilege
It is time for our society to engage in a serious conversation about what I choose to call the economics of aging. With every Boomer at least 50 years of age and with the fact that, at present, someone turns 65 every 8 seconds, and with the fact of longevity; we need to address the issue of the costs associated with aging. In his two books on economics, Dr. Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University, gives us ample warning that the population pyramid will not support continued growth in health care costs. Something must give.
We are growing older and there are not enough people to take care of us or in full time employment to pay into government support programs. According to Kotlikoff, the ration of workers to retirees in post World War II was 7 worker to 1 retiree. That ratio is now close to 2:1. In his two books, “The Coming Generational Storm” and “The Clash of Generations“, Kotlikoff warns that unless something is done, we may be passing on to our children and grandchildren an undue financial burden that could undermine society as a whole.
Drug costs continue to skyrocket. A recent article in the Washington Post (March 30, 2015) noted that Medicare spent $4.5 billion in 2014 “on new pricey medications that cure the liver disease hepatitis-C”. 60 Minutes recently spent a section of its’ program detailing the extraordinary costs for some new cancer drugs. All of this is “good”, as they help prolong life, cure or control life threatening disease. Yet, we need to ask the question, can society afford this? Can we, as individuals afford this?
There is also emerging another factor in this discussion. In her new book “The Age of Dignity“, Ai-Jen Poo, head of The National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across America, writes of the pressing need to raise the profile, pay and professionalism of home health care workers. Many of us have had to walk that path of finding home health care workers for a loved one and then re-arranging our own finances to pay for that care. As she writes: “Seventy percent of people aged 65 or older need some for of support. By 2050, the total number of individuals needing long-term care and personal assistance is projected to grow from 12 million to 27 million.”
Lets be honest, this is not an easy subject to discuss. Millions of families, however, are, at this moment, having this conversation. They are having it not in theory, but in real time. Sadly, our government refuses to engage in serious discussion. Yes, politics rules. However, when will the reality of people’s needs take priority? The financial burdens on too many families are very real. Is it moral in our society that a family must be impoverished so that a loved one can get drugs to stay alive or care to give them proper quality of life?
Religious communities as well need to make their voices heard. That clock is ticking. The challenges of caregiving for someone are immense. To have these moments defined by economics is nothing short of in-humane.