Just think for a moment about the 55-year-old Tea Party activist who today is caught up in the excitement over Rep. Paul Ryan's "bold" Republican budget. Picture the activist adjusting his tri-corner hat, waving his yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag, and thrilled that finally someone is getting serious about dismantling the socialist tyranny of Medicare.
Assuming the Tea Partier gets his way and sees Ryan's budget enacted, it would certainly be one of the happiest days of his life, with "liberty" winning out over the hated "guv-mint." Along with Ryan's $4 trillion in domestic spending cuts, the detested "Obamacare," with all its red tape restricting the freedoms of the insurance companies, would be gone, too.
Then, let's dial ahead a decade or so when the activist is reaching retirement age. Let's assume he was lucky enough to have had a job that offered health insurance, which enabled him to handle his diabetes and to get his wife treated for her cancer.
But now he is heading off into the cherished "free market" with what amounts to an $8,000 government voucher to buy health insurance.
The only problem is that $8,000 doesn't get you very far with the private insurance companies, whose principal responsibility -- as any Ayn Rand fan knows -- is to return a hefty profit to shareholders. For someone over 65 with a checkered health history, the insurance companies won't exactly be lining up to take on his business.
The Tea Partier can expect to pay -- on top his $8,000 government "premium support" -- perhaps $1,000 a month or more, along with a hefty deductible, perhaps another $5,000, and after that, co-pays. Plus, since thankfully Obamacare was repealed by Congress (or struck down by Republican justices), the insurance companies don't have to cover any of those pesky preexisting conditions.
So, his diabetes drugs are excluded. And if his wife's cancer flares up again, that treatment would have to come out of his pocket as well.
Plus, since the insurance companies were liberated from Obamacare's oppressive regulations requiring that 80-percent or so of premiums go to actual health care, the industry will have every right to short-change its customers, while paying fat salaries to top executives and enjoying lavish corporate perks.
And, as happened to pretty much everyone in America, the Tea Partier's employer would have dumped the old-fashioned pension plan, replacing it with a skimpier 401(k) policy. So, there's only a small pot of money that he managed to squirrel away, along with a modest stipend from Social Security.
His house equity would have taken a big hit, too, thanks to the Republicans eliminating the detestable Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Home prices never would have bounced back.
So, the aging activist will soon have some tough choices as he enjoys his freedom to negotiate with giant insurance companies holding all the cards.
Assuming he can convince one of the companies to take him on, he will quickly deplete his retirement fund for the premiums. Out of pocket, he'll also have to handle the costs from those preexisting conditions. There will be little left for food, travel or anything else.
Not too far into his "golden years," our Tea Partier will find his money gone but his health needs growing. Then, he'll have the freedom to turn to his children and beg them to chip in for his and his wife's health expenses, even if that means deferring their own dreams and ignoring the needs of the grand kids.
Or, he can choose to go without medical treatments, hoping that his wife's cancer won't spread too quickly and that his diabetes won't require amputations. He might not even be able to afford the amputations, so the real freedom that he'll face is the freedom to die prematurely.
Our Tea Partier will face another indignity. Despite his personal sacrifices, he won't even have the pleasure of knowing that the federal budget is finally in balance and the national debt is getting whittled down.
That's because while Ryan's 2012 budget got rid of Medicare for people who were then 55 or younger, much of the savings went to reducing the tax rates for millionaires and billionaires, to 25-percent from 35-percent, the lowest rate since the early days of the Great Depression.
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