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The elderly and the entitlements

Were any “seniors” out there as upset as I was by Robert J. Samuelson’s July 29 column, “It’s the elderly, stupid”? The offensiveness started with an accompanying photo of a placard that reads “Medicare Keeps Me Tickin’ ” and moved on to casually referring to Medicare and Social Security recipients over 65 as “retirees” dragging down the economy with our “private pleasures.”

What’s wrong with using Medicare to keep the heart of someone over 65 “tickin’ ”? Did we not work for our retirement nest eggs? Are we not careful of how many pleasure trips we take? Do we not give generously of our time and money to our churches and to victims of disasters in New Orleans, Haiti and Somalia?

Bring on the dialogue, but don’t paint with one brush those of us over 65 who spend our money carefully as enjoying “middle-class welfare.”

Mary Ann Carmody, Washington

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Robert J. Samuelson is, of course, correct in observing that our fundamental long-term deficit problem is ever-increasing health-care transfer payments to the elderly. These are not primarily transfer payments from those who have much to those who have little; they are rather transfers from those who are young to those who are old. Perhaps it was reasonable decades ago to act on the assumption that almost all people over 65 were in financial need, but that plainly is no longer the case.

A fair test of one’s seriousness in addressing the country’s long-term fiscal imbalance is whether one is prepared to apply a means test to determine how much seniors may benefit from inter-generational transfer payments. To anyone unwilling to apply some form of means-testing, I ask: If you could afford to pay the full cost of your health insurance, would you ask your children to pay for it instead?

Demographic trends will impose an unprecedented burden on our children and grandchildren unless we baby boomers begin to take from them only what we truly need.

O. Thomas Johnson Jr., McLean

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