Each day, 10,000 people turn age 65 in America. Modern medicine and technology have done a fabulous job keeping older people alive longer and it is now popular to say that 70 is the new 60. This is remarkable when you consider that throughout the last 4,000 years of world history, 99 percent of the time, the average life expectation was under age 18. Think about this!
In my lifetime alone, and I’m now pushing 70 (I mean I guess I’m pushing 60!), I have seen breakthroughs in antibiotics, public health practices, increased success with surgical procedures, and incredible advances in anesthesiology. I, myself, have undergone well over 30 major surgeries grafting skin onto burned areas of my body after I suffered a terrible car accident at age 19 that exploded the gas tank of my car. My life would have ended right then and there if courageous doctors had not tried new medical techniques that gave me eyelids, tear ducts, and one new ear. Without new skin grafting procedures, covering raw flesh, I would have easily contracted staff infections and died within weeks.
Before these advances in medicine, people didn’t even know about how infection spread. The discovery of “germs” came about in the mid 1800’s when doctors were delivering babies in Germany who only had a 50 percent survival rate. Mothers were afraid of going to the hospital for fear of losing their child, and many of them died giving birth as well. Both mothers and children were getting infected and dying within days. Women would often not admit themselves, taking the chance of a difficult delivery on their own at home. But, one concerned doctor made a personal rule of washing his hands between each new baby delivery and noted that the mortality rate for his delivered babies went down dramatically! This is when the world learned that germs were invisible to the eye, but were present to infect and sometimes cause death.
Since that time we have made remarkable strides with polio, small pox, flu vaccinations, sanitation, health care, pain relief, heart/hip/organ replacements, and many more incredible discoveries.
Now for the problem…
Who is going to pay for all this? In the old days, there wasn’t nearly the problem we have today with Alzheimer’s, prostate cancer, heart disease, and other common aging problems because few lived long enough to develop them. Think of what retirement was like in 1960. When a person reached age 65 and retired from work, the average person lived three more years and died (of course women lived a little longer). So when actuaries were calculating how much Social Security benefit to pay, based on the FICA tax collected, they did this using mortality tables based on 1950.
Alan Greenspan, when he was chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, conducted a study in the 1980’s that indicated that for every ONE more year the population lived, it would cost $1 trillion more to pay out benefits. Well, we are now living 13 years longer than the tables were showing back then and it is killing our country financially. I’m not suggesting we should all just up and die! After all, if I had reached the age I am now in the 1950s or 60s I would be on my deathbed right now! Frankly I’m having too much fun ATVing, camping, hiking, spending time with family and teaching others about how to best manage their finances to die now!
The point is, that if we are now living much longer than we once did due to medical advances, we must be prepared to handle that longevity.
We hear a lot about how much debt our nation has, as in approaching $20 trillion. What we don’t hear about is well over $100 trillion of “unfunded” Social Security benefits and federal employees pensions! This huge burden is five times greater than our nation’s debt. So once again I ask, “Who is going to pay for all the increased medical costs that will keep the elderly living an additional 20 to 30 more years?”
Before we can come up with answers, we must clearly identify the problem. Answers will follow in my subsequent posts.