Viewpoint

I’m 64 and knocking on Medicare’s door

Town hall meetings are happening across the country.
Town hall meetings are happening across the country. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The envelopes started arriving about a month ago. To tell you the truth, I haven’t read the contents thoroughly yet, but I’m getting to it. I know what’s inside. Having gotten about six months from eligibility for Medicare, it’s time to “begin the process,” as they say, of signing up.

I recalled, on seeing the first envelope, a time some years ago when a cousin and I ran into our 10th grade English teacher, a woman with a grand and pointed sense of humor. She looked us up and down and finally said, “I can’t believe … you boys got so old.”

Indeed, I’ve been enjoying the Thursday discounts at the grocery store, and at the movie theater. At both places, such graces are awarded to “senior citizens,” a group I happily join and embrace. Signing on to Medicare just sort of makes it official. Indeed, you have to be 65.

The law was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, and the first person to enroll was President Harry Truman. In the ensuing 50 years, Medicare has been a literal lifesaver for tens of millions of Americans, who might have died from a lack of medical care or fallen into dire poverty without it.

With Social Security as another safety net the plain truth is that people are alive today, with a measure (however small) of security and safety they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Without these benefits, America would be very different, with permanent poor houses and soup lines and tent cities for millions and millions of people. (Such things are the reality, sadly for too many of our fellow travelers.)

I don’t care for the views of steely-eyed “reformers” like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who appears to flirt with reforming Medicare and Social Security, “entitlement programs” they’re called, in the name of balanced budgets. When these discussions happen, panic ensues and understandably so among some of my fellow seniors or near-seniors.

But take heart, all you boomers.

The recent town hall meetings, at least those of members of Congress who had the guts to show up, looked more like sieges, with constituents shouting their support for “Obamacare,” which President Trump and Republicans ran against as if it were some kind of Russian plot (sarcasm intended). All that reform sounds good in the cloak rooms of Washington, where the politicians are talking only to each other.

But back home, things proved to be different. And if our Washington representatives were shaken by the reaction to the possible end of Obamacare, just flirting with reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits will make the last town halls look like a third-grade square dance. Tar. Feathers. Rails. Duck tape. And come the following November, they’ll just need that one-way plane ticket home.

Because, though groups of regular Americans can be manipulated by demagoguery or anger or dissatisfaction, to sometimes vote against their own interests, sooner or later their better angels take flight, from the Women’s March to the town halls. Democracy rises up.

And, when that happens, a fever sweeps the cloak rooms, because the one thing, and sadly for many the only thing, some of those pols care about is getting re-elected. And suddenly cutting Medicare and Social Security looks like a very bad idea.

Take my advice, dear senators and representatives. Forget it, adjourn, and catch a movie. I might be able to get you a discount.

Email: jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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