Need government to meet people’s needs

By Tom Ellis
The Daily Gazette (Schenectady, N.Y.), Letters, Nov. 7, 2014

In her Oct. 30 column, “GE breaks its promise to retirees,” Sara Foss commented on General Electric’s sudden alteration of its long-established health care program for GE retirees, many of who are quite elderly and who thought GE had promised benefits that are now about to be dropped. She also noted that today, few private-sector workers can expect to have lifetime employee-sponsored health insurance.

We do not have to live like this. Either New York state or the federal government could establish an Expanded and Improved Medicare For All program that would largely eliminate the need for private health insurance. Many of the world’s developed nations have such systems; their residents visit physicians and pick up medications and never see or worry about a bill.

These plans cover every necessary medical cost, from pre-natal to death, regardless of age, marriage, health, citizenship, or employment status. In the United States, they could be financed via payroll taxes or a combination of payroll and income or stock transaction taxes.

Why do federal and state elected officials refuse to do for the United States what so many other nations do well? Are they incompetent, callous or corrupted by health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations who bribe them with “campaign contributions?” It seems as if a majority of our elected state and federal officials desire to keep us in a state of perpetual insecurity — even in old age — worried about outliving our money and not being able to pay our medical costs.

Not only are corporations ditching health insurance for their retirees, but they are also discontinuing defined benefit pensions. To ensure adequate lifetime income for all New Yorkers, the state government could enact a New York state Social Security system, modeled on the federal system, and make participation voluntary or mandatory. Some revenues collected but not yet needed for pensions could be invested in maintaining and installing water, sewers, roads, railroads, bridges, tunnels, mass transit, libraries, and other public infrastructure, creating millions of good jobs and improving our quality of life. New York has a good pension system for public-sector workers; it should establish one for other workers.

Imagine how prosperous New York would be if all New Yorkers had access to lifetime, high-quality health care and sufficient old-age income. New York used to be the leader in the U.S., and the U.S. used to lead the world. We need to replace elected officials who preach the false gospel of perpetual austerity with those who have a positive vision of what government can do. We can make government work to meet our needs. Northern Europeans do it; so can we.

Tom Ellis resides in Albany.