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Lloyd Omdahl, Published February 03 2013

Omdahl: Religion can fix Medicare

As Washington stews over the national debt, the citizenry is making matters worse by nursing contradictory views that fail to give Congress clear direction.

According to the pollsters, 72 percent of the people want President Barack Obama to make deficit reduction the top priority for his second term. At the same time, around 70 percent want to keep the budget-busting Medicare benefits at the present level.

Meanwhile, Medicare keeps adding to the deficit by giving out more money than it is taking in. In North Dakota, Medicare is paying out $7,000 annually per enrollee. That’s more than any of us ever put in.

According to the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank, a couple earning $89,000 and retiring in 2012 will have paid $114,000 in Medicare taxes and will receive $355,000 in benefits. In other words, Medicare beneficiaries are taking out three times as much as they are putting in.

The consequences are obvious. Unless people start dying earlier, Medicare is unsustainable. We must cut benefits or raise additional revenue.

Now the Republicans will not raise taxes, and the Democrats will not cut benefits. As they argue, the situation gets worse. It has become obvious that the folks in Washington can’t solve this problem. Therefore, we must look elsewhere for the solution.

Now comes Frank Newport to the rescue. Frank is editor-in-chief with the Gallup research and polling organization and has accumulated some fascinating facts for his new book, “God Is Alive and Well.” He has discovered that there is a direct statistical relationship between religiosity and good health.

He reports that the most religious states, such as Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee, rank as the healthiest states on the health scale while the least religious states rank lowest. (North Dakota ranks 13th. We are a churchy bunch.)

Down there in the Bible Belt states, the secret has been no smoking, no drinking, no drugs and other unhealthy forbidden fruit. (Greed, selfishness and gluttony never made the list because they are too universally practiced to attack.)

The only way to stop declining health and mushrooming Medicare is to get religion. In fact, Frank says as much.

“The religious-well-being-health connection has the potential to be of monetary importance,” he claims. “… Those with a big financial interest in the well-being and health of the nation’s population are going to have to talk directly and deeply about religion.”

Medicare cannot wait. The time for implementing his findings is now.

Instead of raising premiums or cutting Medicare benefits, we need to get people in states with low religiosity to move to states with high religiosity. They will become healthier because Frank has found that when people move from states with low religiosity to states with high religiosity, they rise to the level of religiosity of their new state.

The relationship between religiosity and well-being remains strong regardless of religious preference. That exonerates President Dwight Eisenhower who said everybody ought to believe something and he didn’t care what it was. Frank is telling us that to be healthy we must believe.

With Medicare in control of benefits and premiums, it has the stuff to incentivize the redistribution of people. It could cut the premiums and increase the benefits for people moving from nonreligious states to the religious states.

Conversely, it could also raise the premiums and cut the benefits of those who insist on staying in states with low religiosity and poor health.

Frank is optimistic. He thinks that joining a church will be like joining a health club.


Omdahl is former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com