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It is this fearand its crippling effect on the spendable income of the agedthat has made medicare, in one form or another, a compelling social need and a political issue. The long-drawn battle in Congress that led to the recent defeat of the Anderson-Javits bill was in part a dispute over how the need should be met. Some still argue that it is enough to rely largely on private insurance plans, but in a recent study the Brookings Institute concluded: "The fragmentary evidence available suggests that health insurance does not meet more than one-sixth of total medical costs of the insured or one-fourteenth of the total for all the aged."
Doing Nothing. Some 2.4% of the nation's 65-and-over oldsters have been forced to give up the fight for self-reliant existence and have entered one of the thousands of institutions for the aged that range downward from expensive private adequacy to public squalor. Whether they are in converted Manhattan brownstones or onetime country estates, mental and physical deterioration usually comes fast amid the frayed checkerboards, the flickering television sets and the cold tea. In one such home on the Eastern seaboard, a former foreman said softly to a visitor last week: "I can't think of anything useful I can do any more, and I don't want to sit around doing nothing. So I just sleep for longer spells, hoping it will end." But one out of every ten oldsters has had enough energy and gumptionor is sufficiently rootlessto pull up stakes, sell the house, dispose of the furniture, and often strike out for a place where he can warm his thinning blood in the hot sun. Many of the less well-off have flocked to such geriatric capitals as St. Petersburg, Fla., where 28.1% of the population is 65 or over.* The more affluent might choose the expensive isolation of a palm-fringed plot in the Virgin Islands or a Pacific beach front in Southern California.
Geriatric Heresy. But for the growing army of active oldsters willing and able to cut out and start a new life, a dramatically successful solution has grown up during the past few years: the "retirement city," restricted to people of a certain age.
Chief developer of the retirement cities is a 6-ft. 4-in., 63-year-old maelstrom of restless energy named Delbert Eugene Webb (see box). Construction is Del Webb's businessconstruction of anything and everything from a silo to a skyscraperand in 1955, casting about for ways and means to expand his burgeoning Del E. Webb Corp., he bethought himself of the retirement market.
"My grandfather, Jimmy Webb, used to grouch about being old with nothing to do," he says. "My old man used to say it was only the railroad companies that did anything for the guys it retired. Well, it's pretty grim, being old with nothing to do." Webb assigned one of his lieutenants to see what could be done.