On Saturday, there was a demonstration at the Alberta legislature against a proposal by the provincial government that would see seniors pay a portion of their prescription drugs costs according to their means. Organized by the Friends of Medicare, there were two telling features to the protest: The turnout was pathetic and the sense of entitlement was absolute. Those who bothered to gather -- speakers and protestors alike--believe they have the right to all the health care they desire at someone else's expense, no questions asked.
Sponsors worked for weeks to drive up attendance. Public union locals around the province offered their members free bus trips to the capital for the march. (Public-sector unionists are always in favour of more government health care, not because they are especially concerned about the treatment of those unable to afford private care, but because public care means more public workers, which means more dues and bigger salaries and expense accounts for union bosses.)
Still, the highest guess pegged attendance at no more than 1,000. Most estimates were considerably lower.
The usual agitators couldn't whip up the usual passion among the usual constituencies. That's a good thing. When not even many seniors, union members and special-interest cause-pleaders can be convinced to turn up and demand more tax dollars, you know there isn't much support for organizers' complaints.
Starting in July of next year, Alberta seniors will pay a premium based on their income of as much as $63.50 a month to cover the cost of their medications under the provincial drug plan. There will also be a deductible of $15 per prescription. However, single seniors making less than $24,000 (and couples making under $40,000) annually will have the full cost of their drugs covered.
This means, on average, seniors will be paying less than 10% of the cost of their medications, although the percentage paid by wealthier seniors could be as high as 30%.
Still, even that was too much for the protesters who insisted on "health care security for all" and claimed -- as friends of state-monopoly health always do-- that the move was part of a conspiracy to make way for two-tiered, American-style health care. With seniors having to pay part of their prescription costs, the sinister theory goes, there will be a market created for private insurance to cover the balance.
But that's a fear that has no substance. The added costs will amount to around $20-million a year combined for all the province's seniors. For most, the additional costs will be less than the price of private insurance premiums to cover the difference. And not even all of those who might come out ahead with supplemental private insurance will choose to buy. The potential market is too small -- private insurance salesmen will hardly be lining up outside Alberta seniors' doors.
But even if this were part of some grand plan to subvert medicare, so what?
Why should anyone feel themselves entitled to a social benefit simply by virtue of age (or gender or race or any other immutable genetic factor)? Why is it the obligation of everyone else in society to carry other members who are capable of paying their own way?
Indignant seniors writing letters to Alberta papers have asked, "Have we not earned our place in society by supporting the tax systems during all of our working days? Are we not due consideration as our incomes become smaller in retirement?"
But the new Alberta system does consider reduced incomes. And to answer the first question last: No, no one who can pay their own way deserves a free ride at the expense of others. That applies to those under 65 as much as those over 65, and for all social programs, not just health care
The idea that we are entitled to unlimited health care at someone else's expense is prevalent among all age groups. Until we can disabuse ourselves of the notion that we are owed benefits at no cost to ourselves, our safety net will be unsustainable.