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Pollak: Don’t bank on social security, kids

The 33-year-old Republican candidate for the U.S. House seat representing Evanston says people his age shouldn’t count on getting Social Security.

And Joel Pollak, in an interview with Evanston Now, claims young people are ready to take more responsibility for their own financial future.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

The 33-year-old Republican candidate for the U.S. House seat representing Evanston says people his age shouldn’t count on getting Social Security.

And Joel Pollak, in an interview with Evanston Now, claims young people are ready to take more responsibility for their own financial future.

Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

Joel PollakJoel Pollak: We can’t keep running our entitlement programs the way they have been. I think we have to honor the obligations that we’ve made to current beneficiaries. But people my age can no longer expect to get the same kinds of benefits that people have for the last 60 or 70 years. It’s just not going to work.

With people coming into the system, we have to move toward an insurance-based model rather than an entitlement-based model, where you have some personal control over your health insurance, for example, personal control over income and savings for the future, rather than paying today to pay someone else today. It really does have to move to what many people think it is which is an individualized or personal savings or insurance plan.

Evanston Now: But to shift from an entitlement program to one in which people are setting aside money for their own retirement means that a generation of people are going to have to pay double.

Joel Pollak: I think that my generation — I can’t speak for everybody — but my sense is that we’re not expecting our children to take care of us. We’re ready now to take care of ourselves and start planning for a different kind of future.

I mean we can be that generation. We don’t want our parents and grandparents now to be that generation. We want to make sure we can take care of those generations now. But we understand that things have to change.

I got my annual notice from the Social Security Administration. It says don’t worry about what you’ve heard about trouble in Social Security, the money you put away in Social Security — 70 percent of that will still be there by the time you retire. You know, that’s a terrible investment. That I’m going to lose 30 percent, just in dollar terms, never mind what I could have invested it for.

Evanston Now:  A lot of people approaching retirement have also been through a very traumatic experience over the last couple of years with what’s happened to their private savings. Isn’t there a need to strike some sort of a balance so that people have some government-guaranteed floor?

Joel Pollak: Absolutely, and that’s what I’m saying. We need to have that as well, even in the future that I’m contemplating, there has to be some sort of minimum income guarantee, that’s absolutely necessary. But what we don’t want to do is discourage private savings.

You know there’s a question now on the table about how do we balance this budget. The question that the president’s deficit panel is considering is do we cut spending or what do we do. And they’re looking at this entitlement problem. And Rep. Schakowsky said if we do that then we have to take away the tax credits on 401(k)s and IRA accounts — which would be a disaster for retirees and for working families who are doing the right thing by saving.

And I think that’s the wrong way to go. We don’t want to discourage saving as a way to save the entitlements now and forevermore. I think we have to look at the way the system is set up.

It was established at a time when we didn’t anticipate that we would be looking at the kinds of health care expenses, for example, that we have.

Medicare is hugely costly. In order to save it, to make sure that it works, we have to look first of all look at changing the way we spend money on health care. But we also have to look at moving toward a model where people are planning for their health insurance.

In the future — people in my generation — we know those benefits are probably not going to be there when we start collecting. So we have to do something today.

Evanston Now: The medicare crisis is largely a cost containment issue and an issue of the mechanisms for delivering care. Because we’re not going to say to grandma, "Hop in the kayak, you’re going out to sea, it’s all over for you." That’s just simply not an acceptable alternative. And so it has to be paid for somehow. 

Joel Pollak: Every decision involves rationing. Now, if the rationing happens by the government, people will get angry about it. We don’t want the government telling us that if you’re over 55 you can’t have kidney dialysis, which is the case in some countries. I mean you can have it, you just aren’t going to get paid for it. And nobody can afford that.

So what we have now is a system where its being rationed, essentially, by doctors because doctors can decide whether or not to participate in medicare, and accept those patients.

And that’s a problem as well, because people can’t see the doctors they want. So how do you fix that? Well, the closer you bring those decisions to individuals deciding what they want and don’t want, I think nobody’s happy with having to have these choices, but that’s what life sort of throws at us.

I think people are happy making choices themselves rather than having the government make it for them or some doctor decides not to treat them or some insurance policy that rejects them.

So, the number one thing that I think people are worried about when it comes to health care, not just medicare, is if I get sick am I going to get taken care of, if I get taken care of, can I afford to pay for it.

That means issues of getting denied for pre-existing conditions, losing your insurance when you lose your job.

If we had focused our attention on those two issues actually — loss of insurance when you lose your job and denial of pre-existing conditions– instead of trying to reconfigure the entire health care system, I think we would have seen more consensus around proposals moving forward.

It’s cheaper to cover everybody with pre-existing conditions than it is to redo everyone’s insurance the way we’ve done it now.

But these are tough choices and I think that the anxiety a lot of people are feeling is that if we keep going the way we are those decisions are going to be made by the government.

Now Sarah Palin called it a death panel, and maybe that’s a stretch, but it still means that there is a body with very limited accountability that’s going to be making, if not quite life-and-death decisions, at least cost-benefit analyses that are going to affect individuals.

And I’m not sure that people want those decisions to be made by the government.

Evanston Now: If the government doesn’t control it, then isn’t your insurance company is going to control it?

Joel Pollak: Under the current system. I think over the long run we need to move to a system where patients do control more of it.

Evanston Now: Patients control it now, they can (theoretically) pick up the tab for whatever you need. How are you going to change to an environment in which the patient doesn’t have to pick up the tab but still gets to choose what the treatment is. That seems like it’s impossible.

Joel Pollak: I think you have to distinguish between everyday medical treatment that is less costly and where patients have more discretion and where patients can also do a little more shopping around — if one doctor provides a service for significantly cheaper than another does — you need to allow patients to make those decisions instead of walking into a doctor’s office and not knowing how much something costs. Not knowing whether you need it.

You know, my wife went to the dentist the other day and she had just had her wisdom teeth out a couple months before and they wanted to do another x-ray. And she said, I don’t need another x-ray, I just had an x-ray. And they said, well, you know, we can bill the insurance.

Because none of the decisions are being made at the patient level, doctors have bad incentives to overtreat, patients have bad incentives to over-utilize.
I think what you can do is separate out the catastrophic things — the events and the costs that people are most worried about.

I left my job to focus fulltime on the campaign, and I still have insurance. But look at what happens when it runs out. I don’t want to get caught walking across Chicago Avenue here and get hit by a car and have massive health costs, but I’m perfectly prepared to go and pay for my own medical checkup. I’ll just go to the doctor. I’m pretty healthy. So if I need an annual checkup I’ll just go there, rather than having my insurance pay for it and fill out all the paperwork.

I think that if we can move toward that kind of system where patients are more in control of everyday costs then we can have a broader heatlh system which can include some public elements, not just Medicare, but some form of public insurance where there can be coverage for these catastrophic events that people are worried about.

I think that will preserve the best of our health care system, which is the innovation that happens, and the choices that patients do have, while at hte same time creating a safety net for those people who we are concerned about.

This is the last in a three-part series of stories based on an interview with the candidate. The previous ones dealt with foreign policy and the economy.

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