President George W. Bush signed the Medicare Prescription Drug bill into law on Monday. It would not have passed without the backing of the AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons. The bill has been estimated to cost $400 billion over the next ten years. The price tag for the children and grandchildren of today's seniors has been estimated at a stunning $6 trillion.

In spite of that, some members of AARP have already protested the inadequacy of the bill, burning their membership cards. Protests were nationwide. In Washington, Senator Ted Kennedy railed against the bill. In Seattle, AARP chapter members dissented. Nine of the seventeen Democrats in the Texas Congressional delegation signed a letter resigning their memberships in AARP.

So let me tell you the other side.

I am not a member of the AARP.   I have never been a member of the AARP. I will never be a member of AARP.

I say this in spite of repeated solicitations over the last 12 years. I say this in spite of being 63 years old, only two years away from Medicare eligibility. I made this decision because I am a father and a grandfather. My wife and I have three children and five grandchildren. For their sake,   I will never join this organization.

Let me explain why.

Prescription drug costs are a major expense for senior citizens. This is universally understood. But while our President, the Republicans, and the Democrats pander to this powerful voting group with unlimited notions of entitlement, it remains that this bill is yet another step--- and a big one--- toward economic suicide for the entire country.

If you are 65 (younger if you are disabled) you are eligible for Medicare. Virtually all senior citizens have it, which means virtually all senior citizens have medical insurance. The prescription drug benefit, while significant, is an add-on.


•       Our most recent report on health shows that 16 percent of all people under 65--- nearly 40 million people--- have no health insurance at all. Worse, some 11 percent of all children under age 18 are not covered by health insurance. Note that the subject is not a particular insurance benefit. It is having any health insurance at all.   If our children and grandchildren aren't protected, how can we demand it for ourselves? It's not right. It's wrong.

•       This is not a problem experienced by a downtrodden underclass. It can, and has, happened to millions of mainstream Americans. Indeed, one of the issues in Silicon Valley is the number of high tech workers who no longer have health insurance. The worst fear employees who are over 50 have is how they will pay for health insurance if they lose their job.

•       According to the March 2003 survey of employers, only 56 percent of establishments with fewer than 100 employees now offer health insurance as a benefit.

•       In larger companies, many workers don't have health insurance as a benefit because they are part-time employees--- and will always be part-time employees. The Wal-Mart alternative is to have the employee pay nearly half of the premium for a limited coverage plan even though the employee often earns less than $12 an hour.

•       Rising corporate health insurance costs--- much of it the result of cost shifting due to low Medicare reimbursements--- are threatening real worker wages. After bottoming at a 2.0 percent annual rate of increase in 1996, employee benefit costs (largely health insurance) were rising at a 6.5 percent annual rate at the end of September. This is the "wage base" that carries the entire weight of Social Security and Medicare. Without it, neither can exist.

Social Security began in 1935 as a "social contract" between those who still worked and the elderly who had seen their savings wiped out in the Great Depression. It was a good and compassionate idea. It was enlarged with the creation of Medicare in 1965.

But you can have too much of a good thing. Medicare has now become so large and so costly that it is literally destroying the social and economic structure that supports it.

Address that problem, and then we can talk about pills.  

No Health Insurance Coverage Among Persons Under 65