This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A copy of the speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library. Page images of the speech can be found here.
At the top of the list of this nation's wasting resources is its older citizens. Too many are compelled to retire at the age of 65, regardless of their excellent health and regardless of the fact that they have skills this nation urgently needs. Too many older workers able and willing to enter a new occupation are wasting their time and talent in menial work or idleness. Too much of the contribution to our way of life which can come only from older men and women is lost today - our society, our family life, our community life lack the wisdom of our elders - simply because too many of them are in substandard nursing homes, inadequate housing or are struggling to get by on an inadequate retirement income.
This is not a problem to be dismissed lightly. In recent years there has been a dramatic change in the age distribution and composition of our population. In 1900, influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis and typhoid still took a high toll of older people. Medical science as we know it today was in its infancy. A baby girl born in the United States could expect to live 48 years. Today she can expect to live to the age of 73.
Today almost 10 per cent of the population - 16 million people - are over the age of 65. Forty per cent of these are over 75. Only a small fraction of the 16 million - about 3 million - are employed.
This means that the great bulk of our older citizens must get by on a Social Security check that averages 72 dollars a month. Three out of five of them receive less than one thousand dollars a year. Four out of five receive less than two thousand dollars a year.
No matter how they retrench - no matter how many comforts they had learned to do without - no matter how many expenses they reduce - it is obvious that the later years of too many of our older citizens will be attended by hardships. And their hardship becomes despair when they are faced with illness and medical expenses. No matter how drastically their standard of living is cut back, they still cannot reduce their need for essential health care.
Ironically, it is just when their income is lowest that their medical expenses are highest. They are most threatened by the costs of serious illness when their earning capacity is exhausted. This is the time in life when they are most susceptible to chronic illness and long term crippling and disabling diseases. This is the time of life when the need for health care rises sharply.
Of all the costs of living the one which has soared highest is the cost of medical care. In the past ten years the cost of living has risen 25 per cent. But medical care is up 52%. And hospital room rates are up 110 per cent.
Obviously we cannot expect a person with an income of less than one thousand dollars per year to pay such high hospital and medical bills - not with a pension that is worth less in terms of real purchasing power than ever before. In as many as one out of six cases, these expenses total in excess of five hundred dollars a year.
I am convinced that the only solution is an extension of our social security system to provide hospital and medical care for our older citizens. That is why I offered a medical care bill early this year to provide for such a program, completely self-financing and based on sound insurance principles. That bill, I know, will be debated at length. But there is no debate as to the harsh facts of life our older citizens face. And there should be no debate about the fact that this bill must be passed if we are to make even a beginning in solving this critical problem.