We hear it all the time. The media, politicians, pundits, and even President Obama have endlessly referred to Social Security and Medicare as “entitlements”. Republicans talk about these programs as if people don’t actually pay for them, and distort the word “entitlement” as if it means something horrible. The Right Wing, as always, is wrong.
Social Security IS indeed, an entitlement. Signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, Social Security is a program that keeps the elderly and disabled out of poverty. But the government does not pull the money out of thin air to do this. Each and every working American pays a special tax known as the payroll tax (FICA). This tax is placed into the overall Social Security fund which is administered and managed by the Social Security Administration. When an American turns 65, they are able to claim their piece of the Social Security pie. This is a guaranteed income for those that are no longing working or are disabled. The money does not come from the government. It comes from the people of the United States.
The same is true for Medicare. Created in 1965, Medicare is a government insurance program that covers up to 80% of health care expenses for those who are 65 and older and those with disabilities and debilitating disease and illness. And like Social Security, we pay for it through the payroll tax (FICA). But the payroll tax isn’t the only source of revenue for this program. Like any other insurance company, people on Medicare must pay a premium. The difference is that Medicare doesn’t screw people over like private insurance companies do.
Social Security and Medicare serve a purpose in our society. Social Security was created to keep the vast majority of senior citizens OUT of poverty. During the Great Depression, poverty rates among seniors exceeded 50%. Today, the poverty rate among senior citizens stands at 9.7%. This is because of Social Security. If you think the current poverty rate among seniors is bad, just imagine if we didn’t have Social Security. Medicare also serves a purpose. The popular health care program was created because private insurance companies were not, and still are not willing to risk their ridiculous profits on the always uncertain health of someone who is 65 or older. The solution of the federal government was to offer seniors public health insurance. This insurance is not free. Everyone pays for it and when you enroll in the program, you pay monthly premiums. Those premiums, however, are less expensive than private insurance premiums and the best part is, your coverage is guaranteed. Unlike a private insurance company, you CANNOT be dropped from the federal insurance rolls. Medicare is also less expensive because prices are capped and has virtually no overhead costs.
Using the word “entitlement” in a derogatory manner is inaccurate. Social Security and Medicare are paid for and earned by Americans. The true meaning of the word “entitlement” is “privilege or right”. In other words, as Americans, we have the right to claim and use Social Security and Medicare because by the time we turn 65, we have EARNED them. We paid for it with taxes, so we better damn well get it. Think of Social Security and Medicare like a car that you make payments on for 40+ years before you finally get to drive it. Wouldn’t you be pissed off if some politicians told you that you shouldn’t have it, even though you’ve been paying for it your whole working life?
WORKING Americans paid into Social Security with every pay-check. Their benefits aren’t some kind of charity or handout. Congressional benefits include free health care, outrageous retirement packages, 67 paid holidays, three weeks paid vacation, and unlimited paid sick days. Plus, Congressmen have the power to raise their own salaries which is already too high at $170,000 or more. And yet, Congressional Republicans have the nerve to decry Social Security and Medicare as programs Americans aren’t entitled to. Do you want the power to vote for your own salary? How about the power to increase your own benefits, vacation days, etc…? Then fire the Republicans in 2012 and give the Democrats overwhelming control of Congress. Then unionize and fight for the benefits and pay that you are entitled to as a hard working American citizen. Because if our representatives can have all these things, everyone else should too.