28 July 2008

Fourth in a series: Got Healthcare?

This is a fourth in a series of issues pertinent to seniors and working families. Today, Health care. Tomorrow, Working Past 65.

If you were a retiring couple this year, you would need to have $225-thousand set aside just for medical costs according to a recent (Mar. 08) study by Fidelity Investments. An earlier (Feb 08) study by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research put the figure at $206-thousand. The study takes into account retiree expenses which include Medicare premiums and Co-Pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

These costs are up nearly 5% from the previous year’s estimates. The increase is attributed to higher per unit costs, such as; doctor’s visits, higher cost of technology, higher costs for use of basic health-care services and an increase in chronic ailments such as diabetes, according to the Fidelity study.

These exploding costs are hurting retirees and working families. One in four families had difficulty paying for health care last year. Nearly a third of retirees and working families say they deferred or delayed medical care in the last year because of the cost. Nearly 60% of today’s retiree’s will be unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

Now, with inflation and stock collapse corroding retirement accounts older Americans are finding their dream of safe, secure and meaningful old-age slipping away. Men and women in their 70s and 80s have to return to work just to survive. Every 30-seconds, someone files for “medical bankruptcy”, and seniors are the fastest growing group. Bankruptcies increased 433 percent for those aged 75-84 from 2007 to 1991.

According to the Alliance for Retired Americans, only half those retirees with employer provided health care in 2000 are still covered. Almost two-thirds of early retirees (55-64) are without health insurance based on prior employment. Today, 47-million Americans are without health insurance. Many of them are kids.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world while profits for the drug companies soar at 20% while other Fortune 500 companies average 6.3%. Health insurance company profits have increased more than one-thousand percent in five years. Drug company CEOs average nearly four-and-a-half million dollars a year in compensation. Aetna’s honcho, Ron Williams, bags $32-million a year. That is a lot of denied care and kids and working families going without!

The system is broken. Wait! Hell no, broken can be fixed. Our system is so trashed, so monumentally screwed up that it is beyond repair, tune up or overhaul. It is (in the language insurance companies understand) totaled! And really mixing metaphors, it is time to completely retool and put an entirely new model on the streets.

The solution is the creation of a national, high-quality, affordable, universal (cradle-to-grave) health care system which provides comprehensive services, including long-term care, and is based on a sound financing model similar to Medicare. (Private insurance companies spend 15% of their money—our money—on administrative costs compared to Medicare’s less than 3%).

Anything other than this will be a boon-doggle on the same order as the Medicare drug benefit program foisted on seniors.

As we move through this election season, it is critical that seniors make their voices heard through letters to the editor, calls to their representatives, in responding to candidate or party appeals for financial support, and by joining local and state chapters of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

Do not be silent. Anything less than a universal, single-payer health care program for each American is not acceptable. It is a basic human right, not a privilege for the well-to-do few. The time is now. But, reform will only happen if you get involved!

Join with the Alliance for Retired Americans as they fight to bring universal health care to all Americans.

Coming tomorrow: Part Four - Older Workers, past 65 and still at the old grind! Come back and send your friends!

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