Sunday, March 27, 2011

Improving Alzheimer's Treatment: The Key to Solving the Retirement/Entitlement Crisis

A sobering article in Newsmax about what Americans expect to see in their own retirement.  Under the headline "Obama's Fiscal Policies Doom Retirement for Millions," writer Chris Gonsalves cites data from the Employee Benefits Research Institute, showing how Americans fear that they won’t have enough money for their retirement and, as an understandable consequence, are planning to work longer.  
It’s perfectly understandable that Americans are pessimistic about the traditional retire-at-65 scenario, and are resigned to working longer.   But from a public policy point of view, all of us could help if we could create a political constituency in favor of a cure--or even a significant improvement in treatment--for diseases that afflict the elderly.    Arthritis is one such malady, as are COPD and diabetes.  But perhaps the most fearful of all is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).   

It’s AD, among other illnesses, that could hobble aging Americans, preventing them from working the jobs they will likely need to be working in the decades ahead.   

According to the EBRI report, a rising percentage of Americans are fearful that the retirement income they need won’t be there for them: 

27 percent of American workers are not confident they'll have enough money to retire and live well. That's up 5 percent from last year, and marks the highest level of unease ever measured in the 21 years of the survey by EBRI, a Washington-based nonprofit research firm focused on health, savings, and retirement issues.  Only 13 percent of the 1,258 adults surveyed in January say they are very confident about their retirement outlook, tied for the all-time low set in 2009.

And so as a result, people are planning on working longer: 

Fully 36 percent of Americans expect to be working after age 65. That's up from 11 percent in 1991 and 25 percent in 2006. Nearly three quarters of workers, 74 percent, say they expect to have to work after they retire to make ends meet. Currently fewer than 23 percent of retirees report working for pay.

The EBRI report focuses on the need for seniors, and future seniors, to save more money now.  But we might further note that these numbers underscore the reality that, as a practical political matter, nobody in Washington is going to be slashing away at entitlement spending, no matter what the elite deficit commissions might wish.    If Americans are fearful of their retirement security, and the retirement security of loved ones, they’re not going to agree to cuts in such spending--the polls show that overwhelmingly.

And yet if we step back, we can see that the entitlement crisis is really a retirement crisis.  That is, people need money on which to live.  If they can depend on the government, that's not so bad, so long as the government has the money.   But fi they can't depend on the government, at least not as soon as they thought, well, they had better be healthy enough to work.

To be sure, if America were to confront a genuine Greece-style crisis, everything will be on the table, and everything will be subject to cuts.   But for now, so long as Washington can find money to pay for Afghanistan, Libya, NPR, and wasteful education programs, few senior citizens, nor their advocacy groups, are going to agree to any kind of cuts.   So if the policy elites wish to continue their anti-deficit campaign, it would be behoove them to heed the wisdom of, for example, Sandra Day O’Connor and Maria Shriver, both of whom wrote last fall that we are spending hundreds of billions, headed toward trillions, on AD, while spending virtually nothing on a cure.   The real cost savings for Medicare, they added, will come from successfully treating AD.   And of course, as noted here at SMS in the past, if we could forestall AD, we could then talk about raising the retirement age for entitlement benefits.   And that would eliminate much of the deficit/debt overhang.  

Oh and by the way, if we could develop an AD treatment, we would have developed a new export industry, because an enriching and aging world wants the same medicines that we want.  

But alas, few in the political/policy world seems to be talking about a cure strategy.  They would rather, instead, argue about financialist ideology.  Such debates can be important, but the problem staring us in the face is medical, not financial.   And so the gloom deepens.   


  1. With the drop in the our country’s birth rate we need our people to work longer plus more legal immigrants.

    AD like a tsunami is coming. We need a cure; maybe nano tech can help us stem the tide with meds.
    But at the moment our “Hill People” have their priorities screwed up. They have their heads in the sand and I don’t know for sure if they are ‘mooning’ us or want us to know they are “A” holes, probably both.

    In the past I have commented that what this country needs on the Hill, so long as they aren’t lawyers, are 535 GRANDMAS. And I’m not kidding!
    Do you think we would be in 3 wars (I, A & P), excuse me, it’s now 4, “L”? Creep! Would GRANDMAS let 30,000 troops stay in Korea? And thousands more in Germany? It has been about 60 YEARS! Do you think GRANDMAS would want us to be in NATO? Can’t Europeans’ wipe their own behinds?
    AD runs in my family and no I don’t have it yet even though I’m ranting.
    But Jim as you say in your own style, the money this country spends on stupidity is stupid.

    Hill People need the wisdom of Grandmas. Yes, even though I’m a 68 yr. old Grandpa I still believe in miracles and the voter's booth.

    Great column Jim. Keep them coming. I don’t want to have to start calling you John, ‘a voice crying in the wilderness’.

  2. This article is fantastic, honestly I have not idea what I expect to see in my own retirement, and I try not to think in that stuff pretty much, by the simply reason I guess is to stress myself with crap.