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Corporate America’s Plan for the Future: A Nation of Retirees Left for Dead

by Dave Lindorff Tuesday, Sep. 14, 2004 at 5:23 AM
dlindorff@yahoo.com

With few people paying attention, corporate America is doing away with retiree health benefits. Couple that with the ongoing attacks on Medicaid, and the picture for the next generation of retired Americans is not pretty. So where’s John Kerry?

One of the big non-stories in this election campaign, and in the national corporate media, is how middle-class Americans are losing their healthcare--not so much right now, though that is happening too, and getting some attention--but in the future, when they will be retired.

Not too long ago, it was common for employers to offer retirement coverage to employees--coverage that was designed to be based on, but to supplement, basic Medicare coverage.

The out-of-pocket cost of Medicare has been rising for years, to the point that today, retirees pay more in constant dollar terms for supplemental coverage and co-payments to cover all the gaps and inadequacies in Medicare coverage than they were paying on their own for healthcare before Medicare was created back in the mid-1960s. Now, there is a concerted effort by most American corporate managers to eliminate even what coverage Medicare provides. They have, most recently, collectively lobbied for the Bush Medicare Drugs program, which actually encourages employers to do away with coverage, hastening the process.

This elimination of employer retirement health coverage is being aided by the trend--so outrageously celebrated by George Bush in his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention earlier this month--towards shorter and shorter job tenure. As workers increasingly become accustomed to being laid off their jobs after only a few years, of seeing the career that they trained for disappear overseas so that they have to repeatedly retrain for some new, and often lower-paid profession, fewer and fewer even ask about retirement plans, much less retirement health coverage, figuring that the likelihood of their reaching retirement with a current employer is next to zero.

But as Pat Wechsler, editor of the trade journal Treasury&Risk Management, writes in an editorial in the magazine’s September issue, the wholesale abandonment of employee retirement coverage by cost-cutting executives threatens to “leave this country hobbled by a generation of impoverished older Americans.”

Make no mistake. Despite all the denials, the Republican Party is out to destroy the entire Social Security and Medicare system that was built up over the three decades between 1936 and 1966. The Medicare Drug program was a first step in this long-planned wrecking campaign. After November 2, if Bush wins re-election, we can expect to see the further undermining of Medicare, as well as a frontal assault on Social Security itself through the introduction of personal investment accounts. As for the Democrats, they have routinely acquiesced in the erosion of Social Security and Medicare, while claiming to be defending the system by resisting the most blatant attacks on it.

John Kerry has made vague promises not to privatize Social Security, but he has yet to stake out a strong defense of the basic right to health care and retirement security. Democratic voters need to hold his feet to the fire and insist on much more, before they offer him their vote.

For the rest of this column, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .

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