How Changes To Medicare Will Hurt Trump Supporters

In addition to leading a coalition intent on repealing the Affordable Care Act, Paul Ryan has long had dismantling Medicare as we know it in his sights. With complete control of Congress and Donald Trump in the Oval Office, the Speaker of the House may just get what he wants.

Ryan’s plan is outlined with commendable succinctness by Los Angeles Times writer Michael Hiltzik:

“He intends to replace traditional Medicare, an efficient program offering guaranteed treatment and featuring rock-bottom administrative costs, with a privatized program. Seniors would get a federal voucher to help them pay premiums charged by commercial insurance plans. Ryan calls this system ‘premium support.’
But since the value of the vouchers would rise at less than the rate of health-care inflation, and the costs of private insurance typically rise faster than those of Medicare, an ever-larger share of health-care costs would land on seniors’ shoulders.”

My health insurance premium under the Affordable Care Act just jumped, and even though I live in the supposed nanny state of California, my subsidy percentage went down almost 50%. And I’m under 40. And that’s with the ACA in place preventing denial of care for mental health, reproductive care needs, and spiking my premiums due to pre-existing conditions. I cannot even begin to imagine what seniors would be looking at cost-wise without Medicare. Should the ACA be repealed as promised as well, and that preexisting condition protection vanishes, well, as someone on my Facebook page said last week: “There are your death panels, folks.”

In thinking about the potentially bleak future of Medicare, my first concern — like most Gen Xers, I’m sure — is for my retirement-age parents. While I’m sure (even though we don’t talk) that my dad voted for Hillary, I’m equally sure my mother voted for Trump. My home state of Indiana went red the second that polls began closing — tied with Kentucky for the first to be called for Trump. I rolled my eyes at the expected result and contemplated how my upbringing accidentally (and to my mother’s dismay) molded me into a social justice advocate and outspoken activist on issues that turn her stomach, like LGBTQ rights and abortion access.

I have long wondered how my mother lives with the cognitive dissonance of Christ’s words ringing in her ears and the decisions she’s made about family and politics. Now I wonder how she’s handling the news that the legislative leader of the party she votes for because of a moral obligation is coming for her health care just as she’s about to retire. My heart hurts for her even as I know this is exactly what she voted for — what she has voted for since she turned 18. Nearly 50 years of supporting the party that has made her daughter’s life nearly unlivable at times and destroyed her husband’s livelihood (sales in the manufacturing field) might finally affect her in a material way she cannot ignore.

My mom represents a devastating and infuriating irony: The group that played such a significant role in bringing the GOP back into power may now see its way of life and standard of living land on the chopping block as a result. (Voters 45 and older are 55% of the electorate, and went for Trump by a nine-point margin.)

Part of me wants to rail about this. Indeed, for those of us who are despondent about a Trump presidency, it is tempting to shout “Y’all are getting what you deserve!” at these Trump supporters who turned their back on so many with their vote, and who now may face serious repercussions from their choice as well.

But to turn our backs on the older generation is to deny that we need them to fight back against an administration that will hurt so many Americans. Including me. Including my dad. Including my mom.

***

Since my mother mostly disowned me five years ago (she likes to pop in now and then so she can put our lack of communication on me), the majority of texts from her have been about how she and my father will be destitute after retirement. “It’s so hard knowing how little we’ll have,” she tells the daughter who’s lived below the poverty line while struggling with multiple health issues for the better part of 15 years. The part of me that has worked through the anger of knowing how stable my parents are — they own their house and both of their cars and my dad squirreled money away over the years planning for retirement — while I worked 70, 80, 90 hours a week destroying my body at physical jobs without help from them is tempted to take some satisfaction in her first moment of insecurity. She’s 65 and has never had to worry that she would have a job, a place to live, food to eat, or access to health care, while I have spent more than half my life living with the daily anxiety of knowing that I was one minor disaster, one slow bartending shift, one new diagnosis away from being homeless.

And when I finally was without anywhere to go last year, my mother was nowhere to be found.

At the same time, it’s also been hard to conjure compassion for my mother when it comes to economic and health issues. She has long ignored her doctors’ advice, swearing that walking three times a week, for example, did nothing to bring down her blood pressure. When I asked how long she tried, she said in a definitive tone, “More than a week!” I’ve held her hand as she pre-panicked that her husband wouldn’t take care of himself following a mild type II diabetes diagnosis in his mid-sixties — a condition his doctors said a minor diet alteration and a prescription would easily keep under control.

Because of all this, I struggle with anger and resentment. But I also understand that just being angry isn’t enough, and that I must set aside my frustrations to push for change on all of our behalf.

This isn’t just altruistic — the hard truth is that those in the younger generations are ultimately the ones who will have to shoulder the burden of fallout from ending Medicare as we know it. This will be the case with so many policies and laws and funding cuts almost guaranteed in a Trump-Pence-Ryan regime. Those from the sandwich generation raising children while paying off insurmountable college loan debt living in a home they’ll never own with an underwater mortgage and not enough space are the ones who will have to take their parents in. As seniors sell off assets to afford their skyrocketing insurance premiums and exorbitant health-care costs, many will be left without a place to live. According to the National Council on Aging, “over 25 million Americans aged 60+ are economically insecure,” living on less than $29,425 per year (for a single person). That amount is quickly swallowed up by what it would cost just to insure someone over 60 if private corporations are left to dictate premium prices.

When seniors are forced to sell the one asset many of them have — their homes — they will have to turn to their children. The financial and emotional burden will roll down hill as it always does.

It pains me that I can be of no help to my parents. I only have a place to live and a chance to recover and rebuild because of the kindness of a former stranger. And that relative security is threatened; my roommate has aging parents and of course their needs come before mine. In a post-Medicare world, they would likely have to move in here and displace me.

As with every policy promised by this administration, the effects of dismantling Medicare will be felt by Trump voters and Hillary voters and nonvoters and those too young to vote. And we must all serve in the resistance to these dangerous measures.

This is not say that you shouldn’t snark with close friends or siblings this Thanksgiving as you roll your eyes and try not to pull out your hair when your retirement age family members crow about Trump. Nor am I asking you to have compassion for the Trump voters in your life — quite the opposite, actually.

My request, instead, is to use this issue (and there will be so very, very many) to effectively mobilize people by bringing them out of their privileged bubbles. One way to start? Share Ryan’s plan with older Republicans you know so they’re aware of the proposals and how it will hurt them, and encourage them to call their representatives (you can find your rep and ALL their contact info HERE) to implore them to oppose privatizing and/or cutting Medicare. This group should be encouraged to remove their partisan loyalty blinders now that they are joining the ranks of the fearful masses.

This definitely does not mean tolerating the false equivalency of both sides needing to “come together.” As Establishment contributor Aaron Kappel wrote, “Hate cannot be loved into submission. Hate must be hated. And we cannot require or expect anyone to forgive the hatred that brought us here.” I’m not looking to normalize Trump’s America through acquiescing to the lowest common bigoted denominator.

But by deploying measured language and tactics, there’s a glimmer of hope that this group could join the masses in fighting back against a Trump-Pence-Ryan policy.

We should start pushing for that at our first opportunity.

***

Lead image: flickr/Dennis Amith