How many squashes?

My garden seeds arrived in the mail last week. It’s time to start my favorite tomatoes, peppers and other long-season crops. I probably should have started them a week ago, but there was still three feet of snow under my clothes line and my garden beds were no where to be seen. It was hard to get inspired to dig out the flats and potting soil when I couldn’t see any evidence of spring. The packets with their picture perfect examples of the delicious potential inside are dangerous. I’m afraid I will succumb to planting too many of them. You’d think I would be able to use some restraint since I have some of my bountiful squash from last year still in storage. I tend to quickly forget the hard work of harvesting all that squash.

Like the overwhelming piles of squash which have now been reduced to just a few tasty remainders, our memories of the past, both good and bad quickly seem to quickly fade. The ability to learn from the past is even more unlikely if our only experience with it is on the pages of our history book or in a documentary on the “History” channel. It is not surprising then, that politicians in Washington have forgotten the reasons why our country established programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Few of them have personal experience with being old and poor and without a Social Security check or access to affordable medical care. A commonly quoted statistic is that without Social Security, 50 percent of our nation’s elderly would live below the poverty level. That means that even with Social Security, 50 percent live just above poverty because Social Security checks are not extravagant. Social Security is not responsible for our nation’s growing debt.  Yet, it is portrayed as being in dire trouble and in need of drastic, immediate, overhaul. While the long-term viability of the program requires some adjustments to benefits paid out and/or how we determine who and how much is paid by workers, doing so is not an emergency. We can take our time and do it right without destroying a program that works. Before we use an axe on Social Security, let’s spend some time looking back and remembering why the program was instituted in the first place.

Representative Paul Ryan has also proposed drastic changes to Medicare and Medicaid. His proposals, couched in the language of “competition” and “individual responsibility” really will do nothing to slow the rise in the cost of medical care for the elderly or anyone else. His voucher plan, increased deductibles and co-payments do not cut the cost of health care. His plan simply shifts those spiraling costs. Instead of all of us working together to pay the bill, it will increasingly be the elderly and disabled, those least able to afford it, who will bear the cost of medical insurance and for the services received. The increased cost to senior citizens will be felt across all of our communities as senior citizens are left with fewer dollars to pay their rent, to buy groceries, heat their homes and eat in the local restaurant. At the same time, insurance companies will receive subsidies and very possibly a guaranteed profit for providing coverage to these new high risk customers. Will these new plans be easier to understand that Medicare drug coverage plans? Will it cost less than the Medicare Advantage plans that were supposed to cost less than regular Medicare, but actually cost significantly more? What kinds of care will be covered? Will patients have the choice of seeing their present doctor or will they be forced by cost to see doctors selected by their insurance plan?

Asking the elderly to cut medical costs by requiring them to shop around to find the best deal is unrealistic and callous. Has Rep. Ryan tried to understand all the options and subtle differences between Medicare drug coverage plans which need to be reviewed and renewed annually? Does he really believe insurance companies will compete to insure the elderly, the sick, the poor and the disabled–those most likely to need care– at prices they will be able to afford even with the proposed vouchers?

Obviously Rep. Ryan has not stood beside the bed of an elderly parent who has suddenly become incoherent with pain after falling and breaking her hip. He doesn’t seem to understand that you wouldn’t really have thought to have gotten on the phone and called around to see which ambulance service offered the best fares or which emergency room charged the least per hour. In rural areas, we just call the only hospital in town. When the doctor tells us Mom needs a hip replacement, we rarely question the need for the procedure, nor do we get quotes on surgical fees or types of hips available. We don’t get to choose the radiologist who reads the X-ray, nor do we think to ask for a generic form of the pain medication she is given. We just take the advice of the people who are there when we need them. We do what has to be done to alleviate the pain of those we love. We don’t go shopping for the best deal while Mom lies on the gurney in the emergency room. Real life just doesn’t work that way.

We need to take care we don’t get so carried away with the idea that our nation is in crisis, panicking and believing that we are on the brink of bankruptcy. We should be careful not to throw away the very things which make our country what it is. We should not forget what life was like for the most vulnerable among us before Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid were established.

How many squash plants did I plant last year?

Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains