In the midst of rancorous debate on entitlement reform, including Social Security and Medicare, Jim Pinkerton has a rather neat outside-the-box proposal. Cure Alzheimer’s, and a lot of health care and other costs go away.
“The great epidemic raging in this country right now is Alzheimer’s Disease. If we could cure Alzheimer’s or even push back its onset, we could make an increase in the retirement age relatively painless; indeed, such a medical breakthrough could be a win-win-win: A win for the government, a win for ordinary Americans who would like to stay healthy and productive for a longer period of time, and a win for the new industry created to manufacture and distribute the hypothetical wonder drug, to Americans and to the world.”
Of course, the tremendous cost of caring for Alzheimer’s sufferers, who slowly but inexorably lose their intellect, their memories, and finally their sense of self until dying, mercifully, of some complication, would also be alleviated. The World Alzheimer Report 2010 suggests that the total cost of dealing with Alzheimer’s is $604 billion in 2010, with 70 percent of the cost being born in North America and Western Europe.
When one is discussing how to decrease the costs of entitlements, one usually mentions the tried and true solutions such as raising the retirement age, cutting back on cost of living adjustments, and even allowing for a certain portion of Social Security FICA taxes to be privately invested.
The increase in life expectancy in the United States is creating a strain on entitlement programs that, if unaddressed, will break them sooner or later. Clearly it is time for some original thinking.
Curing Alzheimer’s will certainly be a good start. There is also other research that is delving into the maladies of aging itself, trying to find ways to slow or even stop the steady breakdown of the human body we refer to as aging. Progress in this area would certainly increase the quality of life of people as they grow older, allowing them to expand their working years. Ultimately it would expand their life spans, allowing governments to push back the age at which the onset of old age benefits such as Social Security and Medicare kick in.
Indeed, if one believes the pronouncements of some futurists, virtual immortality may be just beyond the horizon, in which a treatment could be used to halt and even reverse the effects of aging. That would mean old age programs such as Social Security and Medicare would become obsolete, with the useful working lives of people expanded from decades to centuries.
All of this will depend on governments rethinking how they approach the problems of entitlements. But if Jim Pinkerton is right, we can begin to cure ourselves, literally, out of the entitlement train wreck that awaits us just a few decades away.
Sources: Driving the Conversation, Jim Pinkerton, Politico, October 8th, 2010
World Alzheimer’s Report 2010, Alzheimer’s Association