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Information for people contemplating
a career in emergency medicine and
other medical specialties

By Kevin Pezzi, MD

Do physicians in the US receive governmental retirement benefits?

Q: Do physicians in the United States receive retirement benefits from the government?

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Answer by , MD: The following answer may appear at first to be a circumlocution, but it will make sense in the end.

The year is 1976. I was sitting at the receptionist's desk in an office in Rochester, Michigan. My boss, Warren Ritchie, founder and president of American Buyers Club (ABC), was in his room when two men looking for him entered. One of the visitors, assuming that I was Warren Ritchie, grabbed my collar and began strangling me as his face contorted in rage. "We don't like it when people don't pay their bills," he snarled.

A strange mixture of emotions flooded my mind. I was afraid, not surprisingly, but for a few fleeting seconds I actually enjoyed the case of mistaken identity. This thug didn't think that I was an 18-year-old kid just trying to make money for college, he thought that I was Warren Ritchie, the president of ABC. Wow, me, a president of something.

After basking in the joy of this erroneous promotion for a few seconds, my instinct for self-preservation commanded me to speak—or to try to, since it's difficult to talk while being choked. "I . . . am . . . not . . . Warren . . . Ritchie," I said, struggling to get the words out. "He's . . . in . . . the . . . back . . . room." I pointed down the hall.

The goon released his grip. I didn't bother to tell him about Warren, because I knew he would find out soon enough. Warren had severe congenital malformations, the most prominent of which were that his legs were only a few inches long. He could drive a specially modified vehicle, but he could not get in or out of his wheelchair without assistance. He'd therefore hired me to help him do that as he drove around making sales calls. When I wasn't helping Warren slide to and from his wheelchair, or pushing it, I would sit around and read gun magazines and books until the next time he needed my help. Hence my brief stay at the receptionist's desk.

Not Kim, but close

I admired Warren's drive. Rather than giving up and letting the government support him, he had hopes and dreams and a "can do" attitude that never wavered. Warren was a born salesman, which is the talent I presumed that enabled him to marry his wife, a young woman who appeared to be about half his age. Kim—I think that was her name—was gorgeous, with a beautiful face and a body hot enough to draw envy from Miss America contestants.

I didn't think that Kim Ritchie was in any danger of becoming a widow, because I thought the gangsters would not attack a man in a wheelchair. I assumed they were Mafioso based on their strong-arm tactics of bill collection, but their employer—one of the big-name office supply stores in the Birmingham/Bloomfield Hills/Royal Oak area—couldn't stand the bad publicity. I'd driven by their Woodward Avenue store, and it seemed to be a mainstream, legitimate business, not one that would have pea-brained thugs commit a felony while attempting to collect money from a customer. Freelancers, perhaps?

That office supply store wasn't the only one who Warren owed money to. Warren paid me for a few weeks (the whopping sum of $65/week, if I remember correctly), and then his cash ran out, or so he said. I worked several more weeks, until his debt to me totaled about $390. I had to spend money to make the 90-minute drive to and from his home every day, so I knew that I would be further ahead by quitting. Warren promised to pay me the money, but I am still waiting for it, 31 years later. With interim inflation and interest, that would now be worth thousands of dollars.

Let's leave 1976 and flash-forward a few decades. I'm now a doctor in a staff meeting with my ER colleagues as our boss explained our new retirement plan. In a nutshell, it went something like this: Each physician employed by the group could put money—his money, not the employer's money—into a retirement plan. If the employee worked until the age of retirement for that group, he could collect his retirement money. However, if he left before that for any reason—he quit, died, was fired, or the group lost their contract with the hospital (which is very common for ER groups)—then the corporation, owned by my boss and his partner, would keep all of the retirement money. I was stunned. What kind of flimsy legal excuse justifies them keeping all of the money that I had contributed? Yet another "screw the little man" scam.

Unfortunately, this isn't the only "screw the little man" swindle that you and I will encounter. Every day, hard-working men and women in the United States have money stolen from them via a variety of ruses. If people paid less attention to Paris Hilton and more attention to financial and political matters, they would be furious when they learned how much of their money goes into someone else's pocket.

Another example: After leaving Warren with his stunning wife (who presumably could have taken over my position as his personal aide), I began working for a company that built roof and floor trusses for homes. After working the probationary period, I had to join their union to continue working. My paycheck indicated that money was deducted every week for my vacation fund. I'd earned that money but never saw a penny of it, so I called the union and inquired how I could get the money back. Their answer was essentially, "You can't." Aha, so that's why the union bosses lived like kings while the paupers who supported them were robbed blind.

Even if you've never worked for Warren Ritchie-types, or had your money stolen via a union or other morally corrupt con, you and virtually everyone else who reads this will still be screwed when it is time for you to retire. Ever since the federal government began the Social Security system decades ago, shortsighted politicians bought votes by doling out far more money to the average retiree than he paid in. This Ponzi scheme was bound to crash sooner or later, and my generation and subsequent ones will be the ones who pay the price. We will be asked (or required) to work longer before retiring, and when we do retire, we will receive little or nothing from the government. Furthermore, what little we do receive will likely be taxed. Let's see . . . for every dollar taken from me for my involuntary Social Security contribution, I will be very lucky to receive 25 cents before taxes and about half that after taxes. If a bank gave me a quarter for every dollar I paid in, and then nabbed half of every withdrawal as a tax, I would be crazy to put money into that bank. It's no less absurd to give money to the federal government, except our politicians, thugs that they are, have enacted laws that compel us to fund their unconscionable schemes. Either we acquiesce to their demands, or they will put us in prison and seize our property. Politicians need our money to keep buying votes, and to fund their exceedingly generous retirement plans—you can bet they'll never go hungry after they retire!

One might think that this inevitable crash of the Social Security Ponzi scheme would dictate that politicians become more prudent in lavishing benefits upon today's retirees, but instead of cutting back, they created the multi-billion-dollar prescription drug plan that robs my generation of even more money. This bill was signed into law by President George W. "I need more votes" Bush, who has zero concern for his retirement, thanks to being a multimillionaire and someone who is guaranteed millions of dollars in retirement benefits. It doesn't matter that he and countless other politicians have legislated a miserable retirement for my generation; we must pay them, or face the consequences: prison. It's no wonder that some of my friends who are staunch conservatives loathe the President.

Years ago, I was taught that our two-party political system gave voters the freedom to change things they didn't like. Years ago, I was also told other fairy tales, such as ones about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Our two-party political system gives us only the illusion of choice. We have very little power to truly reshape our government, which is inexorably cheating the little man in so many ways that even people who dedicate their lives to exposing the government's many frauds, schemes, swindles, and scams cannot begin to catalog all of them. Of course, most people care more about their petty pastimes, such as watching sports or drinking beer, than they do about politics. Or perhaps they once cared, but gave up after deciding that it was futile to fight the government. In the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers wrote:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The citizens of the United States have a tacit agreement with our government: they enacted a million and one laws that dictate what we cannot do, but we are still given some freedom as long as we don't object when the government steals half or more of our money (if you're under the mistaken impression that you pay less, read one of my blog postings in which I list countless taxes that people neglect to consider when assessing their tax burden, and this posting in which I question whether we're getting our money's worth). Basically, we're free part of the time, and slaves the rest, working endless hours to fund our insatiable government.

Contrary to what our Founding Fathers promised us, we can't decide to abolish the current government when it is destructive of our "unalienable Rights" that include "Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Let me tell you, when I spend half of the year working for politicians and half of the year working for myself, I am none too happy. I don't have the liberty to opt out of this unscrupulous system, unless I want to leave the county (not a bad idea, actually) or spend years in federal prison. At best, most citizens of the United States enjoy partial freedom and liberty. Only the ruling class—the beneficiaries of the myriad governmental and other scams perpetrated upon the "little guys"—has true freedom and liberty. They use our money to shaft us in innumerable ways. Would our Founding Fathers be happy with the current government? Ha! They'd instead grab their flintlock rifles and abolish it, deeming it beyond salvation.

So, to finish answering your question, the US government has no specific retirement plan for physicians, but it does have a great scheme for stealing money from them and from millions of other taxpayers who face the possibility of being destitute during what is supposed to be their golden years.

My advice? Forget about Social Security. If you become a doctor, you should assume that every penny you "contribute" is a penny you will never see again. You will have to fund your own retirement, but beware of retirement plan scams, such as the one I mentioned above, in which your retirement money may be legally confiscated by someone else . . . and while you're at it, you might do what our Founding Fathers did, and begin shooting people who steal your money.

Also beware of people who owe you money but never pay it, even if they are disabled and otherwise admirable people. If you're a softie, people will take advantage of you every time you turn around.

Learn to spot the vultures, and whack them whenever you can. Don't believe what politicians say, look at what they do. Democrat or Republican, they do one thing supremely well: they fleece the little guys in the United States while enriching themselves and their cronies.

I believe that terrorists fundamentally do not understand our government and how it could be overthrown. By attacking innocent citizens, the terrorists are playing into the hands of the politicians who, despite what they say, want a government that is bigger and more powerful, and hence one that usurps more of our rights, and more of our money. Despite its seemingly limitless power, our government has a soft underbelly that smart terrorists could exploit to achieve their ends. The United States may seem invincible and destined to exist in perpetuity, but the USSR once seemed that way, too. Every student of history knows that every great power eventually loses its dominance. It's not a question of if the United States will become a has-been, but when that will happen. Smart terrorists could accelerate that process, but the fact that they are using violence is proof that they fail to understand how the US government could be supplanted.

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