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Charlie Vignola: Medicare works, no thanks to the GOP

Posted: March 26, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 26, 2013 2:00 a.m.

This week I am headed to Florida to deal with a solemn duty that no one looks forward to, but which almost everyone will have to face sooner or later: I am going to deal with the imminent death of my father.

Rather than enjoy their retirement, both of my parents were struck down with rare illnesses in their supposedly golden years — my mother with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which imprisoned her inside her own body and took her life two years ago; and my father with mylofibrosis, an incurable disorder that destroys the bone marrow and renders it impossible to make blood.

My parents and I didn’t see eye to eye politically: I was a college Republican who turned liberal Democrat over time, whereas they were apolitical until 9/11, after which they both watched a little too much Fox News and became strongly conservative.

In fact, the last time my father came to town, we got into a heated political argument that nearly ended his visit on a very bitter note. I profusely apologized, never intending to hurt my Dad the way I did, but it just underscored how politics can drive deep wedges, even between family members.

And yet ... as my parents got older and sicker, the irony of their political affiliation began to nettle me more and more.

My mother was diagnosed with ALS about a year before she was eligible for Medicare, and as a result she couldn’t afford her exorbitant medical bills. I helped as best I could, bridging the financial gap until she turned 65 and could safely be covered by Medicare, but were I not able to come up with that money, I’m not sure what she would have done.

For years, my father spouted the right-wing talking points about having to cut government spending on social programs in order to cut down the debt — or rather, to make more room to cut taxes on the wealthy, if you’re following Paul Ryan’s latest budget — but he never seemed to connect the dots that if Republicans got their way, the medical care he needed to survive and the Social Security he relied on to live would be severely curtailed in the future.

The thing is, Republicans like to exhort the need for personal responsibility: you shouldn’t rely on government handouts and should strive to be self-reliant like our pioneering ancestors. Pay no attention to the exploding income inequality and shrinking job benefits of the last 30 years that are making it more and more impossible for hard-working people to cover their families’ medical expenses.

If you can’t afford health insurance, don’t blame the rigged playing field and wildly unequal opportunities it offers depending on the socio-economic class you’re born into: it’s your own fault, so quit bitching about it.

So what if Republicans insist we’re a Christian nation? If you’re sick, you shouldn’t look to the government for help — you should just pray that some charity or church will come along and provide the money for those life-saving drugs, treatments and operations. And if you can’t find one? Well, then you’re just not praying hard enough.

Paul Ryan and the congressional Republicans, who allow his cruel budget to be treated as a legitimate document rather than the laughable Objectivist manifesto that it is, would like to turn Medicare from a guaranteed benefit into a voucher program that would shift the burden of rising health care costs onto the elderly, with no mechanisms to deal with the underlying causes of the rising health care costs, which is the real long-term problem.

Republicans want to "empower people" and give them "freedom of choice," meaning that folks like my parents would be forced to navigate the deliberately obtuse thicket of health insurance programs in the private market.

And if the one they chose turned out to be the wrong one for them? Oh well. They picked it. Personal responsibility, remember?

I think it’s despicable that Republicans manipulate good people like my parents with craftily worded talking points designed by linguistic experts to con them into voting against their own self-interest — in this case, convincing my parents that the patriotic thing to do is to vote for a party that would pass new legislation making it a lot harder for people like my parents to get by.

And after the damage is done, and people like my parents suddenly wake up to discover that the government is doing something that will hurt them, what will their right-wing pundits say then? Easy: the Democrats did this to you — which is why you have to vote Republican.

And once again, the wealthy Republican donor class that just got a whopping tax cut, thanks to the money saved by cutting these essential social programs, can lean back and laugh like P.T. Barnum.

I love my parents, but the political party they supported did them few favors in life. Fortunately, they raised a son who’ll advocate for the interests of people like them and fight the good fight to honor their memories.

Charlie Vignola is a former college Republican turned liberal Democrat. He lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.


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