The root (canal) of all evil

English: A dentist performs a root canal on a ...

English: A dentist performs a root canal on a patient. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am nearly 72 years old or young and I have lost only two of my teeth. The most recent extraction was to avoid the cost of a root canal and subsequent crown. My dentist charges $1500.00 for a crown after a discount for cash, since I lack all insurance. I decided to be more proactive rather than wait for more problems. Yesterday I left the dentist’s office with a $122.00 bill for x-rays and a treatment plan of about $2500.00 to think about. My dentist emphasizes quality of life for the retention of as many of one’s teeth as possible. I am not in that situation yet where it is a choice between quality of life (retention of teeth) and affording food, but I believe that it is choice faced by many elderly retired living on a fixed income. After all, what is the point of good teeth if you cannot afford food to chew, or what good is food without teeth to chew it?

I have neglected seeing a dentist regularly so I was shocked at how expensive dentistry has become. To maintain the quality of life of our retired seniors, I believe that it is mandatory to expand Medicare to include dental charges, eye-care and hearing services for the hearing impaired. My hearing is impaired and it limits my ability to interact with others. It is my understanding that the best hearing aids are made in Denmark and cost many thousands of dollars, a sum I cannot afford.

Half-full or half-empty

Aerial photo: Santa Barbara, California

Aerial photo: Santa Barbara, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fill a glass with your favorite beverage; drink half of it, and then put it down and look at it carefully. What do you see? Is the glass half-full or is it half-empty? It is all a matter of perception.

For six years in the 1990s, I worked two part-time jobs at a hospital in Santa Barbara, California. One job paid around $9.00/hour while the other, easier job required more training and paid $20.50/hour. Both jobs lacked full-time benefits. I loved my schedule because every week of the year had a different work schedule. I worked a variety of shifts around the clock and floated from department to department. And although I loved the variety, the payroll department made frequent errors in computing my salary.

We received our paychecks every other Friday around 11:00 am. I enrolled in direct deposit so my check was only for my information. During one particular period, I had worked 58 hours and I was expecting a check in the amount of $900+. When I opened the envelope, I was shocked to see that my take-home pay was $3,900+. The gross amount of the check was $8,100+. That meant that slightly more than half had been deducted for Federal income tax, state income tax, Social Security, Medicare, State Disability Insurance, charitable deductions and other. I was incensed that so much was deducted, and I was elated at the amount of take-home pay, $3,000 more than I was expecting. I brought the error to the attention of payroll, but since it had been directly deposited, there was nothing they could do that day. On Monday, I wrote a check to the hospital to correct the error.

I calculated that if I worked full-time at the $205.00/hour rate that they had used to miscalculate my salary instead of the correct rate of $20.50, in a year I would earn $400,000+. Even if deductions exceeded 50%, my annual take-home pay would be $175,000+. At that time working part-time, my net pay was around $25,000/annually. Would I have been happy with $175,000/year instead of $25,000? You’d better believe it.

So it’s all a matter of perception. Of course, I would like take-home pay to be more and deductions less. Still it is much easier to make ends meet with $175,000 than it is with $25,000 and this occurred about 15 years ago. Economic times have only gotten more difficult.

Retirement age

Hot Wheels Michael Schumacher Monza Retirement...

Hot Wheels Michael Schumacher Monza Retirement 2006 Ferrari F248 F1 (08) (Photo credit: Sevi_Lwa)

Daffy definition, retirement: putting four new tires on the family car.

Talk in Washington these days is of raising the retirement age. WRONG. Instead of raising the retirement age, they should be considering lowering it so that there is more room for advancement for younger workers. I would like to see the retirement age lowered in steps to age 50. After age 50, workers could elect to retire or to work part-time. If a worker elected to work 3 days per week, he/she would receive 60% of his/her wages from the employer and 40% of his/her Social Security and Medicare benefits.

This would be a way to keep working at a reduced pace and slide into retirement gradually. It is not easy, in my opinion, to work for 40-50 years and then retire “cold turkey.” I retired gradually and found the adjustment easier than if I had tried to retire in one full swoop.

Age 50

Cover of "In America"

Cover of In America

In America, life gets tough at age 50 for many people, especially if you lose your job. By age 50, many are entering their peak earning years and are planning to save for retirement. That is difficult to do if you are unemployed and can’t find a job that pays as well as the job you lost. Good paying jobs are disappearing in good times and are next to impossible to find during bad times like the present Great Recession. Employers seeking to cut costs have an incentive to replace highly paid older workers with younger workers who aren’t paid as much. Age discrimination is illegal, but poorly enforced. It is much more widely practiced that most people realize until it happens to you.

In addition, health problems start to appear around age 50. I spent the final 20 working years of my life working in hospitals and particularly hospital ERs. I noticed that patients started appearing at around age 50. To make that point, I started telling my co-workers that everyone comes from our Maker with a limited warranty on parts and labor that expires at age 50. Every day beyond age 50 is a blessing to be thankful for. Insurance companies noticed that fact too and charge higher premiums for health insurance for older workers. That represents a double whammy for the employer, paying higher wages and higher health insurance premiums for older workers. No wonder there are concerted efforts to push older workers out the door.

Now there is an effort in Washington to raise the age for Medicare and Social Security to 67 or higher. What do our politicians expect people to do to survive between age 50 and retirement at age 67, 68, 69 or 70? In a more perfect world, age discrimination would be penalized and an employer’s health care costs would be superseded by a single payer system. In a truly perfect world, people could retire at age 50 with full Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Wasted spending in health care

The November, 2012, issue of the AARP Bulletin has an interesting article on wasted spending in health care. They estimate wasted spending at $765 billion, which is about 27% of all health care spending at $2.8 trillion. The $765 billion figure is more than the amount Mitt Romney is accusing President Obama of taking from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. It is an interesting article with the largest source of waste being unnecessary services followed closely by insurance and bureaucratic costs. AARP’s site is at www.aarp.org As of this morning, the site has not yet posted the November issue of the Bulletin.