June 13, 2021
There’s more truth than rumor in the joke about “getting old isn’t for wimps” or words to that effect.
My dad passed at 87. It happened in the wink of an eye. His heart just stopped. Period. We weren’t ready, even though intellectually we knew he had a pacemaker and this and that. He was clear as a bell. Active, driving, walking, reading, and even occasionally working on this and that. He had stopped painting the house, mowing the grass, and jogging, but that was about the extent of it. My mother made it to 95, and was dear to all of us. By the time she passed she couldn’t really hear, and aids were no good to her. She couldn’t really see much, and glasses were a waste of money with macular degeneration. She never ate much, but then ate less, teeth being yet another set of bones that we learn as we age don’t last forever. She also had dementia, but I think it was hastened when she couldn’t read a book a day, as she once did, watch television, or hear and opine in constant conversation with her thousand-watt personality.
And, yet, in a strange way as the years now spread out, we knew both of them were lucky. My dad didn’t have to live with the deterioration that my mother faced or the pain and confusion. Thanks to my dad’s savings, my mother had constant care until her last breath. Working with a membership organization of low-and-moderate income families, I can easily compare their good fortune with thousands of others I have known well, who brushed hard up against the steel-strong limits of Medicare.
Social security may offer a subsistence food and shelter. Medicare is invaluable for the elderly, especially on catastrophic emergencies. Neither are enough, but Medicare is especially lacking with drug coverage an automatic deduction, lowering the spendable sum, and practically speaking nothing on dental, vision, and hearing. If a bridge falls out of your mouth, be ready to pay $5000, if you’re lucky, and maybe more if they have to do other work around it. Cataracts are covered but not all the way, so be ready to pay that much and more, even after Medicare. Hearing, pretty much forget about it, and I know well that a good hearing aid can also cost several thousand, and that’s on the low end. Lower income families have no choice, but to suffer. These bills are mountains to climb.
I don’t know how as a people we can accept any of these conditions as the way things should be. I don’t want to go with the old saw about the fact that we’re living in the richest country in the world, but I have to go there, especially when I read about the billionaire tax scams, legal or not. Collecting the taxes from just the private equity partnerships was estimated to be enough to double the federal education budget. Collecting fair taxes from corporations and billionaires would easily pay for expanded Medicare coverage for the elderly poor and more.
Social security and many other benefits were won by mass movements. Sadly, there isn’t one currently demanding Medicare benefit expansion, but there needs to be one. Reportedly, the Biden budget includes progress in this area. I can already hear the Republican Senators saying, heck, no, let them eat cake. Trust me, they would love to do so, but they can’t hear the offer, can’t see the cake, and don’t have the teeth to handle the sugar and gulp it down.
Aging still won’t be easy, but there’s no excuse in America for it to all be this hard for so many millions not lucky enough or rich enough to have a chance to hear, see, smile, and swallow.