We admit it: 2016 was a rough one. But with the flip of a calendar page we have the symbol of a new beginning, a fresh start, a farewell to the crappiest year ever. Here are five things midlifers can look forward to in 2017, sort of:
1. The end of Medicare as we know it.
Traditional Medicare ― overwhelmingly loved by pretty much everyone on the planet except Paul Ryan ― is about to be blown to smithereens. No, you really shouldn’t be looking forward to that part. In Medicare’s place will be a federal voucher to help those 65+ pay the expensive premiums that seniors will be charged by commercial insurance plans. Ryan calls this voucher system “premium support.” We are more inclined to think of it as more of a reality TV show where older people with pre-existing conditions compete to find insurance in an unregulated marketplace. Kind of like “The Biggest Loser,” but without the weight loss.
So what part of this can we look forward to? The Great Mystery of what will replace traditional Medicare will finally be known!
During the interminably long election season, Donald Trump never actually said what health care for the elderly would look like after he fulfills his campaign promise of repealing Obamacare and leaving 22 million people uninsured overnight. We check Trump’s Twitter feed every day, hoping for clues.
This is what we know: When you repeal Obamacare, traditional Medicare feels the aftershocks. Ryan has said so. Under Ryan’s privatization plan, the elderly would be given a set amount of money to buy health insurance rather than traditional Medicare’s fee-for-service system ― where the government pays doctors and hospitals based on the services they provide.
How much money the elderly would get to buy insurance, the quality of the plans available, how the government would regulate them, whether this would be overseen on a state or federal level and a few billion other details have been, shall we say, unclear. Trump has said he wouldn’t mess with Medicare. Then he sat next to Ryan and nodded in agreement when Ryan said you can’t repeal Obamacare without messing with Medicare. Nod. Nod. Nod.
2. Boomers will get to dust off their protest signs.
Boomers haven’t been this riled up since the last Dylan concert where he cut the set short because, well, he felt like it. See, Nobel Prize committee ― it’s not just you he snubs.
When it comes to Medicare, boomers say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You can expect them to take to the streets ― or at least to their landline phones to call their congressional representatives. It won’t be pretty. Whether it will be effective remains to be seen.
3. We will get to test the veracity of the infamous “third rail.”
The third rail of politics is a metaphor for an issue so hot that it is untouchable to the extent that any politician or public official who tries to mess with it will suffer politically. The American third rail has always been Social Security. You can’t touch it without getting zapped, has been the common wisdom.
Then along comes Trump, who pushes every envelope, every commonly held tradition. Just how safe will Social Security be? The Social Security fund is projected to remain solvent through 2034. After that, unless changes are made, beneficiaries could see their checks cut by about 25 percent.
Trump’s broad answer about how he would “save” Social Security for future generations has been tied to the economy. He says he will create more jobs, employ more people, and thus have more workers contributing to the Social Security fund.
And if that doesn’t happen, will there be a sizzle?
4. It will be proven that hindsight is the perfect vision.
Boomers, by factor of their sheer numbers, have redefined culture since they came of age in 1960s. To some extent, they shaped everything around their needs. But since, by and large, they’ve walked around singing “Forever Young,” nobody paid much attention to the idea that at some point, they would all have needs connected to growing older.
You can look forward to wishing you had supported more public transit so that those who don’t drive can get themselves places; demanded higher standards for nursing homes so that the turnover rate was not 75 percent for nurses and 100 percent for nurses’ aides; had insisted on relief and support for family caregivers. Other nations have prioritized planning for the aged. In China, elderly parents can sue their adult children for neglecting them. And Japan celebrates a national Respect For The Aged Day. Changing the perception of older people as frail and burdens to something that recognizes their wisdom and experience would be a good start.
5. We will learn that you really can’t fix stupid.
Many older workers never recovered from the Great Recession. They lost jobs and homes and saw the value in their retirement savings drop precipitously. While home prices and stock prices have recovered, some people couldn’t hang on long enough for the rebound. Some had to drain their savings for the future to pay for their living expenses. Those foreclosure and short sale stains on their credit still linger in some cases.
Basically, Washington’s position has been to simply treat these people like they don’t exist. They aren’t counted as unemployed because they don’t collect unemployment benefits any more. They fly under the radar: Instead of a full-time job with benefits, they’ve subsisted by stringing together a series of part time gigs to pay their bills. Their health plan ― at least until Obamacare came along ― was to plan not to get sick until they turned 65 and Medicare kicked in.
How did this happen? We let them know that their skills were obsolete yet didn’t offer to retrain them. We failed to support them when they were discriminated against in their jobs search. Instead we handed them the proverbial can opener when they said they saw cat food in their future.
What will a new administration do for these folks? Probably make it illegal for them to sleep under the freeway.
What are YOU looking forward to in 2017? Let us know in comments.