Posted by Sy Friedland, Chief Executive Officer
"The prosperity of a country is in accordance with its treatment of the aged."
The Bratslaver Rebbe
What a modern and timely thought written by Reb Nachman, who lived in the late 1700's. He died at the age of 38, so these words are clearly not self-serving, and in fact come from the perspective of a young man. They come to mind in the midst of the controversy about Medicare. The modern version of this wisdom now seems to be that "the treatment of the elderly threatens the prosperity of the country." It is a reversal of meaning that is not only ominous, but also disappointing.
Social Security and Medicare were created to guarantee the viability of later life. The goal was to ensure that when Americans became old, they would not have to worry about economic survival and adequate health care. "Safety net," "guarantee," and "obligation" are all words frequently associated with these programs. Wikipedia defines a voucher, one of the recommendations for "fixing" Medicare, as "a small printed piece of paper that entitles the holder to a discount or that may be exchanged for goods or services." Somehow, I don't think Reb Nachman or the authors of the original legislation had this in mind when they sought to free elders from anxiety about what would become of them.
More than 50% of our agency's resources go towards helping the elderly. Medicare makes a good deal of this happen. Over the last 14 years there has been some erosion in this important entitlement, but the fundamental base for care has remained. Quality of life, if not life itself, would have been threatened without the assurance that Medicare provides. It is a mistaken notion that charity and volunteerism can replace this federal benefit. In the late 1990's I was in Washington advocating for restoring some of the cuts in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. I met with an important congressman from a southern state who bemoaned the fact that people had become dependent on Medicare rather than "taking care of their own folks." If you are part of the Sandwich Generation and a member of a family where all adults are working, you know that this idea is naïve and unrealistic. If only kinship care were possible, most people would have to forego prosperity and their own quality of life.
My hope is to remind all of us of the need to remember basic principles – the fundamentals that should guide our lives and how we live with one another. This reminder is particularly important at a time of stress and anxiety. Caring for the elderly is one such fundamental and should remain so.
I am a clinical psychologist by training and for the last 17 years have been the CEO of JF&CS of Greater Boston. I am interested in photography, art, and music. I try to combine these with a great deal of enthusiasm about travel. Visit my blog, WorldWideSy.