June 3, 2011

"For Every $1 the Federal Government Spends on Children, It Spends $4 to $5 on Seniors"

When I researched the previous posting about the decline in funding for NIH research into seniors' health issues, my first thought was "we need to lobby to reverse that trend!" But then I remembered the quote in the title above, which I've seen often in today's health care debate. It gave me pause.

I did some digging on this children vs. seniors issue, and everything I found confirmed a drop in the share of federal spending on children in recent decades, while the share for seniors has risen dramatically. The figures I've seen deal with overall spending, not just on health care. The share for seniors, for example, includes Social Security and Medicare -- gigantic programs.

One report showed that the federal spending on young Americans is about half what it was 40 years ago. In 1960, around 20% of the budget went to programs directed at Americans under the age of 18. Today it's 10%.

Conversely, expenditures on the elderly have more than doubled since 1960. And we've all heard (incessantly!) that Social Security and Medicare -- unchecked -- will consume an ever-increasing share of the federal budget.

These issues create a dilemma for me. I want to see more funding for research into Parkinson's and prostate cancer (I have both) and Alzheimer's and dementia (my greatest health fears). But I'm dismayed that achieving the American dream -- easy enough for my generation -- has become much harder for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I'm inclined to believe that additional funding for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's could greatly reduce the megabucks the government now spends caring for those sufferers. Sounds reasonable, right? But at the cost of jeopardizing funds for education and job training for young people? You tell me.

The issues involved in our health care system are much more complex, tangled, and nuanced than our politicians -- with their simplistic slogans -- often suggest.

I've heard enough from those politicians! Now, I'd love to hear from YOU. What do you think?

(I ask with some trepidation. I don't want this blog to become a forum for rehashing the politics of health care.)
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