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Retirement Planning > Social Security


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Politicians know Social Security is fixable. The repair is raising payroll tax rates and/or the extension of benefit start dates. The extension idea makes sense, since we are living longer.

Politicians also know — if they are students of political history at all, or even of survival (sometimes I think it’s not the lowly cockroach that outlives civilizations, it’s politicians; yet, since the politicians of Rome did not survive, I guess I’m wrong) — that Roosevelt, a canny politico if ever there was one, knew if Social Security was not for everyone, rich and poor and conservative and liberal, then, ultimately, the conservatives would dismember it. 

So, instead of repairing Social Security — really easy work for anyone who understands defined-benefit plans — they bemoan it as some sort of huge problem and float the idea of treating inflation differently. Government already has its own version of inflation, which discounts food and energy costs 100 percent as being “too volatile.”  Now it wants to use a different metric to calculate inflation, throwing out expensive items that it says we don’t use, thus reducing the periodic inflation upticks. Using this idea would eliminate “expensive” medical care or high-priced breakfast cereal since, if it became pricey, we would not use either. Yes, government logic is wonderful.  

The real problem — the elephant in the burning room — is health care. By focusing on alarming pronouncements about Social Security, politicians sidestep the elephant. Obamacare will fix some things, although I could argue that those of us with incomes already paid a medical tax. One reason for high medical costs and health care inflation is the “free” treatment provided to the indigent. My hospital room might cost half as much if I did not have to pay for the guy next to me; ditto my doctor visit.

But Obamacare does not seem to fix: (1) a chronic and increasing shortage of doctors; (2) doctors leaving medicine early due to lower incomes and excessive regulation (hard to be a doctor if you are bound tightly by red tape and rules); (3) health care for all, but a ridiculously low tax on people who won’t buy health insurance until a few days before they are diagnosed with something really serious — that dog won’t hunt; and (4) the fact that doctors now have really poor diagnostic skills. Doctors seem to have forgotten how to diagnose conditions. You may be okay if you arrive at an ER with heart attack or stroke symptoms, but God help you if you are out of the norm. I’ve had a board-certified dermatologist miss cancer a number of times. My wife’s serious condition was misdiagnosed by a series of doctors, one Harvard trained, for 2.4 years. A poor diagnosis once almost cost me my life. And, recently, a doctor missed shingles in favor of pulled muscles. Honest, I can point to probably $50,000 worth of needless Medicare expense, and all because doctors no longer seem able to diagnose. And I only picked on four problems, not all of the medical problems.

Most all of us old dudes bought into the system — I have been contributing to Social Security since I was fourteen, served in the U.S. Navy and have generally been a good citizen and taxpayer. It’s not my fault the politicians spent money foolishly. Instead of trying to bamboozle us with B.S. and inventing new dishonest ways to calculate inflation and so forth, politicians need to honestly fix problems.