Core Values in Conflict: The United States Approach to Economic Assistance to the Elderly

19 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2009

See all articles by Lawrence A. Frolik

Lawrence A. Frolik

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law (Emeritus)

Date Written: August 10, 2009


In devising programs to assist the elderly, the United States has, for the most part, rejected the social welfare model, which is premised on a belief that the government has an obligation to care for the elderly. Many Americans believe that beyond a minimum safety net, the government should not, and likely cannot, save everyone from every bad outcome. Individuals must accept personal responsibility and care for themselves. As a result of this conflict in values, the United States does not usually operate programs modeled on social insurance, but rather provides care to those identified as 'needy'. The degree of economic assistance that the government ought to provide to the elderly is a political question open to challenge and debate. Even the premise that the government might want to assist the elderly is open to question in the minds of some. Consequently, the fundamental question is not, 'How much should the government assist the elderly?' but rather, 'Should the government assist the elderly?' The answer to the question of whether the government should assist the elderly is almost always 'yes,' but merely asking the question colors the debate as to who the government should assist, in what way, and how much assistance should be provided. With subsidies for the elderly open to challenge, advocates for the elderly must be prepared to provide answers to the three basic questions: 'Who among the elderly should the government assist?' 'What form should the assistance take?' and 'How much assistance should be provided?'

Keywords: elderly, economic assistance, Medicare, federally subsidized health-care, subsidized healthcare, social welfare, social insurance, Medicaid, long-term care insurance, Social Security, social-insurance programs, economic security, reform

Suggested Citation

Frolik, Lawrence A., Core Values in Conflict: The United States Approach to Economic Assistance to the Elderly (August 10, 2009). Phoenix Law Review, Vol. 1, p. 325, 2008, University of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-21, Available at SSRN:

Lawrence A. Frolik (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law (Emeritus) ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-648-1363 (Phone)


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