Old people to America: Drop dead

I work with seniors, and I'm 62 -- but I'm stunned by the selfishness of the old when it comes to healthcare reform

Topics: Healthcare Reform

Old people to America: Drop deadOld people to America: Drop dead

One score and 14 years ago, our president’s denial of federal assistance to a strapped New York was captured in a famous headline: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war over healthcare, and the greatest generation is standing on the battlements against federal assistance to the uninsured. They’re the old man in the neighborhood yelling “Get off my lawn!”

Their lawn is Medicare, and alone among generations, our elders are virtually 100 percent insured. There is that ancient injunction to honor our elders, and we currently honor them so much that they get far more out of Medicare than they pay in.

Meanwhile, according to the Urban Institute, up to 22,000 Americans are literally dropping dead each year due to lack of health insurance, and thousands more suffer through a lowered quality of life from failing to receive treatment for debilitating and chronic diseases.

I’m 62 — old enough to cash in my 401K, yet still too young for Medicare — and, despite my advancing age, some might view this as just another infantile boomer rant. But I want to put in a word for the idea that the elderly among us are just plain selfish — as is any group with health insurance that believes what’s good for them is threatened if made available to others.

Where is the idea of community, the idea that we sacrifice and help others? Those who oppose government, conveniently forget that the community, “we the people,” wrote the Constitution to “promote the common welfare.”

It’s not my boomer self but the elders who are acting infantile.

As someone who works with old people as a psychologist in nursing homes, resisting ageist stereotypes is part of my job, but polling indicates that when it comes to healthcare, resistance to change is a stereotype that has a whiff of truth. A poll released Aug. 20 by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that 34 percent of those over 65 believe they would be worse off with healthcare reform, while 23 percent think they will do better.

In contrast, among those under 65, the numbers flip. Thirty-nine percent think they would be better off, 30 percent think worse off.

Polling by the Annenberg Institute indicates that old people have historically been the most opposed to spending more on healthcare for children.

So much for the idea that Grandma will do anything for her grandchildren.

Another stereotype of the elderly is that they are confused, and these polling numbers may partly explain the senior citizen who stood up at a town hall and exclaimed, “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare!”

I can accept the idea that they’re worried about change, but I’m chagrined by the attitude that I’m OK, but I don’t care if you’re OK.

President Obama is proposing that there can be Medicare savings of $500 billion over 10 years. I don’t know if this is possible, but the old are too ready to accept the idea that any savings in Medicare would be pulling the plug on them. The millions without insurance would love to have that kind of plug pulled on them.

Meanwhile, I’d like to think that I’d be noble enough to wait a month or two for a hip replacement so that a child could have basic, primary care. It will cost more to insure all, and this could be readily achieved with an overall increase in taxes — anathema in our political culture. Plus, there’s that other myth that higher taxes are incompatible with capitalism.

But consider that when the World Economic Forum annually ranks countries on global competitiveness, the U.S. is the only one in the top 10 without national health insurance.

Sure, the other countries have higher taxes, but they also have six-week vacations and paid maternity and paternity leave, and they look at you with puzzlement when you ask whether anyone in their countries goes bankrupt over crippling medical bills. It’s the the No. 1 reason for bankruptcy in the U.S.

The Forum asserts that healthcare “is necessary to enable individuals to effectively engage in economic activity.” Just think of all the entrepreneurial activity that could be unleashed if even those citizens who had employer-based insurance did not have to cling to their jobs with a death grip, knowing they would have to spend an average of $15,000 each year to attain what most of our competitors consider a basic human right.

So, Granny, get over your selfish fear of change and think for a minute about the other generations. By the way, you might get something back. If you were living in, say, Sweden, one of those countries with “socialized” healthcare, you would not have to impoverish yourself to pay for a nursing home. You’d have something to leave to your grandkids other than your love.

Ira Rosofsky is a psychologist and the author of "Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Old Age and the World of Eldercare." It is an account of his work in nursing homes, and the story of caregiving to his own frail, eldery parents, to the accompaniment of ruminations on mortality and being old in America.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>